Wadi Rum, Jordan – Journey to the moon

WADI RUM, JORDAN: Journey to Wadi Rum was like journey to another world or another planet. Wadi Rum, meaning Valley of the Moon, is the largest and most magnificent of Jordan’s desert landscapes. Vast scenery of Wadi Rum is endless and is at everywhere you look. This silent and timeless place is still untouched by humans although it has been inhabited by many cultures since prehistoric time. This is a vast wilderness that holds spectacular treasures from as early as 4000 years ago. Wadi Rum was added to UNESCO World Heritage site for its natural and cultural significance in 2011.

Vast and empty land of Wadi Rum, Jordan
Vast and empty land of Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

This makes a great day trip from Petra or Aqaba. Many people come to Wadi Rum for overnight or weekly camping. There are some designated areas where they can stay like the Bedouins, roam around in camels, horses, or donkeys, and eat meals prepared by the Bedouins in traditional style. Trekkers, hikers, and rock climbers come here to enjoy the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces. This place can also interest professionals like geologists, scientists, and historians. To the west, this became very well-known after the epic movie “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962. It was also used as the surface of mars in the movie “Red Planet”.

Amazing landscape of Wadi Rum, Jordan - it does look like the surface of the moon
Amazing landscape of Wadi Rum, Jordan – it does look like the surface of the moon
     

It took us about hour and half from Petra to reach Wadi Rum. We paid 150 JD (50 JD per person & my 3-yr was free) for all four of us for about 5 hours of stay in Wadi Rum. The price included the tour and Bedouin-style lunch. Our guide met with the Bedouin in a spot near Wadi Rum, not near the Visitors’ Center. So, we avoided paying the entry fee there. But usually tourists have to pay about 50 JD to enter the valley and pay separately to the Bedouins for tour and everything else. There are many options to choose from to explore the desert and they can be arranged by the Visitors’ Center or your hotel beforehand.

Beautiful Wadi Rum, Jordan
Beautiful Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Jordan in mid-February in 2013. Wadi Rum was our last trip there after Petra. It was slightly chilly in the city, but once we were in the desert…it was really pleasant. Try avoiding going there during summer…it can get crazy hot. Even most of the Bedouins move off the desert to elevated mountains in hot summer months.

A nice afternoon in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
A nice afternoon in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
    

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Movenpick Resort in Petra, right outside the Visitors’ Center. I don’t think I need to say much about Movenpick, it’s a 5-star hotel…very luxurious rooms with excellent customer service. Wi-Fi wasn’t free but breakfast buffet, with variety of different items to choose from, was free for its customers. We checked out of the hotel in the morning and headed straight towards Wadi Rum on the last day of our trip and checked in Arab Tower Hotel in Amman at night.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Wadi Rum is a classic picture of sandy desert. Whole area is 280 sq. miles (780 sq. m.) of natural scenic site. Visitors can spend days or weeks exploring its mountains, hills, vast landscapes, sand dunes, many natural rock bridges, sandstone and granite rocks, Bedouin inhabitants, natural and hand-cut caves, inscriptions and petroglyphs, and many other wonders of nature and pre-historic time. Our Bedouin guide brought an old white 4×4 SUV to take us around the desert. Adventure is having your SUV stuck in the sand or taking a ride thru the empty path of desert without following any signs or paved road, and sliding down small sand-dunes with the vehicle.

Our 4x4 transportation in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
Our 4×4 transportation in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan

1) Mushroom Rock: This was our first stop in the desert. Our Bedouin guide has a small shop of his own and a place for tea and coffee (only open after dark) inside a tent. There is a natural rock formation close to the tent, looks much like a mushroom in a way.

Mushroom rock in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Mushroom rock in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

2) Seven Pillars of Wisdom: We saw this bold rock formation almost right after we entered the valley. The name came from T. E. Lawrence’s book although name has nothing to do with the valley.

This amazing columns of rock is known as Seven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Rum, Jordan
This amazing columns of rock is known as Seven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

3) Caves and Lifestyle: Many natural and hand-cut caves can be found in Wadi Rum. Some of them are from the time of Nabataeans. We stopped at two of these caves (one from Nabataean period) where no one lives anymore.

One of many natural caves of Wadi Rum, Jordan
One of many natural caves of Wadi Rum, Jordan
    

Another interesting thing he showed us was how Bedouins used to wash their hands or body in the old times before soaps were available. I don’t know the name of the plant, but he took some branches, tore them in small pieces, smashed with rock, added some water, and started to rub in his hands then bubble started to form…a natural anti-bacterial soap.

Our Bedouin friend is showing how they used to use plants to clean their hands in the old time - Wadi Rum, Jordan
Our Bedouin friend is showing how they used to use plants to clean their hands in the old time – Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

4) Castle from “Lawrence of Arabia”: There was a castle built in Wadi Rum during the shooting of the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”. The sandstone castle is still standing in one part of the valley. We just drove by the castle without stopping.

Castle that was built for the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" in 1962 in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Castle that was built for the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962 in Wadi Rum, Jordan
    

5) Inscriptions on rocks: There are many sites in Wadi Rum where you can find etched inscriptions, paintings, graffiti, and petroglyphs. They are usually from Nabataean or Thamudic periods. We stopped at 2 places and climbed up small hills to see them.

Etched inscription on mountain walls in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Etched inscription on mountain walls in Wadi Rum, Jordan
     

6) Natural rock bridges: Natural rock bridges are also very common in this Wadi. We saw total of 4 of these bridges in the middle of the valleys. These arches are absolutely sexy and can be climbed to the top to get a view from high above.

A natural rock bridge in Wadi Rum, Jordan
A natural rock bridge in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   
    
Another natural bridge of Wadi Rum
Another natural bridge of Wadi Rum
     
A stone arch in Wadi Rum
A stone arch in Wadi Rum
      

7) Our Lunch: After about 2 hours ride in the SUV with our guide and the Bedouin driver, we stopped at a nice picnic spot with awesome “backyard” view for lunch. The Bedouin had our lunch marinated and foiled beforehand.

Our Bedouin guide is trying to lit the fire up to cook our lunch
Our Bedouin guide is trying to light the fire up to cook our lunch
     

Both of them collected some dry branches to cook the food on. Then lit up fire and placed foiled meal on it. It took about an hour to cook that chicken. In the mean time he put some Bedouin music in his radio-looking machine, placed small mattresses on the sand for us to sit or lay down, and put a pot of water on fire to have some tea after lunch.

Lunch is cooking on hot sand and ashes
Lunch is cooking on hot sand and ashes
     

It was about 4 pm when the food was ready. He had everything very well planned …brought some breads, yogurt, even a bottle of coke, and some disposable utensils for lunch. The smell and look of our lunch looked oh-so-good. The dish is called Madfouna…a chicken dish with potatoes, carrots, peppers, lots of lemon with salt and pepper. We sat on the mattress with our food in our hands and some sand on our food (couldn’t help it, there were some whirling sand around us, they kept flying on our plate). But either way, that food was delicious. After lunch, it was time for some hot tea. I never had sage tea before. Usually people here drink lots of mint tea. But he made some sage tea for us…tasted very refreshing in the hot desert.

Our lunch in Wadi Rum, called Madfouna
Our lunch in Wadi Rum, called Madfouna
     

By the time we were done with our lunch it was about 5 pm and very close to sunset. On the SUV again and to the unknown…

8) Panoramic Site: This was the best part of the tour for me. The color of desert started to change its shades near the sunset time. Nature looked more mystical and astounding. Our Bedouin friend took us to a panoramic spot where we were amazed by the beautiful atmosphere. We were on top of a small hill surrounded by some sand dunes, a lower valley view, and uniquely cut rocks and hills. It was immense and boundless.

Sunset in a panoramic spot in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Sunset in a panoramic spot in Wadi Rum, Jordan
       

After all the traveling I did in my little life, Wadi Rum is the only place where I truly left my heart. I kept going back to its enormous and ageless place of beauty in my thoughts every now and then…thinking about miles after miles of its gratifying look. It truly felt like I was on the moon for the first time in my life.

Best sunset I have ever seen in my life was in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Best sunset I have ever seen in my life was in Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

Jordan Trip 2013 – Wadi Mujib, Karak, Dana, and Shobak

DAY TRIP to WADI MUJIB, KARAK, DANA, and SHOBAK: We took this trip on our way to Petra from Amman during our stay in Jordan in February, 2013. Our guide took King’s Way for this trip instead of regular highway although this takes little bit longer time. King’s Way is a beautiful scenic route that runs from Amman all the way near Petra. This long stretch of road crawls thru green fields, rugged terrains, majestic mountains, vast deserts, deep valleys, and steep canyons. You get to see many small villages up close and personal when driving thru local busy markets or neighborhoods. King’s Way is like U.S. Route 101 or Route 66, some portions are like fast high-ways while some are congested bustling streets.

People usually take this as a day-trip and include Petra along with it and go back to Amman the same day. But since it would be too much on the kids and we wanted to do it in a relaxed way, we paid more than double the price and did it in 2 days. We paid 120 JD for this trip and our driver showed us these 4 small towns, then left us in our hotel in Petra. The plan was to take all the time next day to visit Petra leisurely and go back to Amman via Wadi Rum on our last day in Jordan.

A small portion of King's Way in Jordan
A small portion of King’s Way in Jordan

OUR HOTEL: After leaving our hotel in Amman and getting on with the journey, we reached Movenpick Resort in Petra around 6 pm. Of course this is a 5-star hotel, so everything is perfect here, you can say. Although Wi-Fi is not free, the breakfast is included in the room-fare. The location was great too, since it’s just outside the visitor center of Petra.

EATING and SHOPPING: We started the day a bit late (my girls were sick and we were exhausted from previous day-trips) and were rushing thru the day to be able to see everything before the closing times. We ended up having lunch around 4:30 in a street-side kebab place in Shobak. You can say that was our dinner too.

For shopping, I really didn’t come across any souvenir shops in this trip, other than single individual Bedouins selling stuff right outside the 2 castles we’ve visited.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We left Amman around 10 am and were done with everything by 6 pm. This was a bit tight schedule since we barely made it to our last destination right before closing. May be leaving at 9 am would have given us some extra time. But unfortunately my kids and I fell sick after we reached Jordan, it’s a not that easy waking your toddlers who are suffering from fever and sore throat at 8 am and get them ready for a long day of journey. Anyways, good part is that we got to see everything we wanted to see and more and reached Petra safely at the end of the day. I think we all slept like babies that night, I know I did.

Driving by beautiful mountains of Jordan
Driving by beautiful mountains of Jordan

1) WADI MUJIB VIEWPOINT: After driving through some gigantic mountains and zigzagging roads of King’s Way we reached the viewpoint of Wadi Mujib. This is about 95 km from Amman. Although we didn’t go down to the valley, Mujib Nature Reserve is the lowest nature reserve in the world. The immense beauty from this point of Wadi Mujib is unforgettable. The deep valley looks breathtaking from up above. Dam Al-Mujib with its body of water surrounding looks like an oasis in the middle of the desert and stony mountains. The cliffs and the gorges of monstrous mountains and Bedouin settlements tucked away in the wadis make this place a picture perfect sight too. By the way, don’t forget to breathe fresh mountain air while you are up there…very refreshing.

View of Al Mujib Dam in Jordan
View of Al Mujib Dam in Jordan

2) KARAK CASTLE in KARAK: Karak is rather a big town and is about 65 km from Wadi Mujib on King’s Way. The castle reached its present form very gradually. The two main building phases were made by the Crusaders from 1142 – 1188 AD (later was occupied by Salahdin) and Mamluk from 1263 – 1517 AD. You can see typical Crusaders’ masonry here characterized by the use of large, roughly cut blocks of hard, dark limestone. On the other hand Mamluk builders used a soft limestone, neatly cut into rectangular blocks, but with a rough or rusticated outer face. Built on a ridge, the massive outer defense wall raises from the steep valleys of Karak isolating from the town and from nearby hills.

The outer defense wall of Karak Castle in Jordan
The outer defense wall of Karak Castle in Jordan

This is a humongous castle, I mean the whole perimeter is very big and open. This is one of the three largest castles in the region, the other two being in Syria. Standing by the outer walls gives a grand view of the whole town and afar. One of the adventurous parts is to walk inside the medieval cluster phobic tunnels and explore small bedrooms (some prisons). The main outer wall remains fairly intact but the buildings inside the boundary are somewhat in ruins.

One of the dark tunnels of Karak Castle in Jordan
One of the dark tunnels of Karak Castle in Jordan

Entrance to the castle is only 1 JD per person and it took us little more than hour and half to walk around its big open space on the hill. Visitors can spend more time exploring all the levels of this castle, walk thru the dark passages, and going inside its many small and big rooms.

3) DANA VIEWPOINT: Our 3rd stop Dana was simply a short break with some great views of Dana Village at the foothill of giant mountains. It’s about 120 km from Karak. The adjacent canyon in between two hills is also dangerously beautiful. We stopped here only for 10 minutes, took some pictures, ran fast towards Shobak before the castle closes at 4 pm.

View from Dana and its adjacent valley in Jordan
View from Dana and its adjacent valley in Jordan

4) SHOBAK CASTLE in SHOBAK: City of Shobak/Shawbak/Shoubak is about 60 km from Dana and about 40 km away from Petra. This is a much smaller castle than the one in Karak. This was our last destination of the day before reaching Petra. We made it to the Shobak Castle only 5 minutes before the closing time but the guard allowed us in and let us spend 15 minutes to walk around. There is no charge to enter the castle.

Ruins of Shobak Castle in Jordan
Ruins of Shobak Castle in Jordan

Shobak Castle, built by the Crusaders in 1115 AD, is located up on a high steep mountain…I was kind of scared when our car was going thru that narrow road by the cliff to the main entrance. There are many caves on the body of the mountains where some Bedouins still reside. Our driver was saying, there is one particular cave which is linked to the castle and can be hiked for 30 minutes to go on top of it. The only thing left of Shobak Castle is the dull skeleton of it. We walked by the old walls and some small rooms and tunnels made with sandstone. Ruins of its tower with Arabic calligraphy is visible from outside the castle. Looking out to the rocky and conical mountains was very appealing and glamorous.

Shobak Castle was built by the Crusaders in 1115 AD
Shobak Castle was built by the Crusaders in 1115 AD

Jordan Trip 2013 – Day Trip to Ashabul Kahf, Ajloun, and Jarash

DAY TRIP to ASHABUL KAHF, AJLOUN, and JARASH: This trip was not in our itinerary at first, but our guide/driver suggested that if we have a day to spare we should definitely go and visit these places. Thank God we took his advice and decided to take this trip. I don’t know which one would be my favorite site since each of these sites has different significance and mind-boggling history attached to them. This was arranged by our hotel Arab Tower Hotel in Amman. We paid 54 JD to our driver/guide which didn’t include entry fee to any sites.

On our way to Ajloun, Jordan...beautiful scenic drive
On our way to Ajloun, Jordan…beautiful scenic drive
    

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in a very nice restaurant (Jordanian House) right outside the ancient Roman city in Jarash. It’s a traditional Jordanian restaurant where you can eat all you want for 10 JD per person (kids eat free). Drinks aren’t included and it was weird that even the customers have to pay to use their restroom.

Lunch buffet in Jordanian House in Jarash
Lunch buffet in Jordanian House in Jarash
      

For shopping, the best place is in Jarash right before the ticket office to enter the Roman city. There are tons of small shops selling many local souvenirs, like paintings, colorful scene of desert in bottles made with sands, home decors, kuffiyeh (checkered scarves), religious gift items, and much more. We bought an oil painting for 35 JD and my husband bought 2 kuffiyehs for 5 JD each.

Souvenir shop in Jarash where we bought our painting from
Souvenir shop in Jarash where we bought our painting from
     

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We started our journey from Amman about 10 am, were done with all the places, and reached our hotel at 6:30pm in the evening. It was a pleasant weather during day but a bit chilly in the late afternoon.

Sunset in the mountains near Jarash, Jordan
Sunset in the mountains near Jarash, Jordan
      

1) ASHABUL KAHF (CAVE of 7 SLEEPERS): This is a historic cave for the Muslims which was mentioned in some verses of the Qur’an (Sura Al-Kahf). The story goes that some 7 young boys were not happy with their king, so they left their city and started to walk in the desert. After a while when they were tired, they stopped and decided to take some rest in a cave. When they woke up, not realizing that they were sleeping for hundreds of years, they went to the market to buy some food and saw their old coins were not usable.

The door of Ashabul Kahf, Jordan - the cave of 7 sleepers
The door of Ashabul Kahf, Jordan – the cave of 7 sleepers
        

There were 3 other of such caves were found around different places in Middle-East. But this was proven to be more authentic according to all the evidences given in another Surah of the Qur’an (Surah Yasin). You can still see the place where those 7 boys and their dog slept as well as their burial site inside the cave. There are some ruins of the old mosque that was built by the Umayyad dynasty right on top of this Quranic site. After it was destroyed, a new mosque was built beside the old one.

The cave is about 25 minutes’ drive from city center of Amman. There is no fee to enter but the visitors have to get someone from the gate to come and open the door of the cave.

2) AJLOUN CASTLE: This was our second stop after visiting the cave. City of Ajloun is located about 120 km north of Amman and took us about hour and half to reach. Visitors mainly come to this beautiful town situated on several hills to see an old castle built by the mighty Salahdin’s General in 1184. This castle aided in the defeat of the Crusaders 8 centuries ago. The castle is located on a high-top mountain and can be seen from very far distance. This sandstone castle is overlooking the valley and the city of Ajloun. There is a small museum displaying some potteries from Byzantine period and some ancient mosaic works, may be from 5th or 6th century. Inside the castle is like a small maze with many stairs and small rooms. Go all the way to the top of the terrace for an astonishing view of Ajloun settlements. The castle looked very well-preserved but I wish it was well-marked with more information boards.

Inside Ajloun Castle (from the 12th century) in Ajloun, Jordan
Inside Ajloun Castle (from the 12th century) in Ajloun, Jordan
     

Entrance to the castle is 1 JD for adults and free for the kids. Summer hours are 8 – 6 pm and for winter, is 8 – 4 pm. Roaming around the castle with a stroller is not a good idea since there are many stairs to climb but no ramps. It didn’t take us more than 30 minutes inside the castle. There are some pricey souvenir shops outside the castle selling local goods and gift items.

From the terrace of Ajloun Castle, looking over some ruins and the city
From the terrace of Ajloun Castle, looking over some ruins and the city
    

A Muslim Prophet Khidr’s (AS) shrine, from Moses’ time period, is also located in Ajloun. No one knows the exact location of his burial place, just a sign points towards the mountain nearby where he was buried.

Another important place which may interest to some people is that Jesus, his mother, and his disciples passed through and rested in a cave very close to Ajloun city. Now Church of Our Lady of the Mountain stands there to commemorate their journey.

3) ANCIENT ROMAN CITY in JARASH: Our third and final stop of this trip was Jarash and its ancient Roman city. Jarash is located about 35 km south of Ajloun. The history of this city dates back more than 6500 years. This Roman settlement is acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved one in the world.

A Roman city from the 2nd century  in Jerash, Jordan
A Roman city from the 2nd century in Jerash, Jordan
      

Tour of the city starts with the grand Hadrian’s Arch, which was built in 127 AD when Emperor Hadrian from Roma came to visit Jarash. We walked a little more and came across Hippodrome where horse chariot race once used to take place in the Roman times (the locals still enjoy horse race here few times a month). This is a stadium-like sitting arrangements with a big field in the front to entertain the crowd with the race. The ruins of old stable are still visible. Leaving behind some more ruins we saw the Oval Plaza which looked like a big oval-shaped square fenced with tall columns. Temple of Zeus and South Theater can be seen on your left hand side on a small hill. South Theater was an amphitheater where few locals were entertaining the tourists by playing some bag-pipes. Remaining of Temple of Zeus include few typical Roman-style columns and some walls made with sandstone. I did climb up to the temple and the picture-perfect view from up there was something no one should miss. Then  started walking again along a green meadow and saw some shepherds feeding their goats and lambs. The soaring Temple of Aramatis can be seen from afar. This is another very nice and well-preserved temple of the city. After passing the temple, comes the North Theater. Similarly structured like South Theater, this amphitheater looked more for like wealthy people. Take few steps further and you can see another entrance, North Gate, and couple other small arches on the sides to enter the city. One of the major highlights of this city is the Colonnade Street which was once the main road of the city. This majestic walkway guarded by many pillars on both sides runs from the North Gate to all the way to the South Gate.

The Colonnaded or the main street of Roman city in Jarash, Jordan...decorated with many columns
The Colonnaded or the main street of Roman city in Jarash, Jordan…decorated with many columns
        

Jarash is a city that should be included in everyone’s plan when visiting Jordan. Kudos to Jordanian authority for keeping this place so clean and organized. Unlike many other places we’ve visited in the Middle-East or even in the Western world, this Roman city definitely deserves appreciation for its talented past history and charming present day look. The view of the whole town from these ruins are heavenly. I am sure it never fails to impress its guests with its architectural and natural beauty.  Many events still take place in Jarash every year, including Jarash Festival, chariot race, gladiator fights, and etc.

The column fence of Oval Plaza in Roman city, Jarash
The column fence of Oval Plaza in Roman city, Jarash
  

Entrance is 8 JD per person and free for the kids. Visitors can stay here until 5 pm. It takes about 2 hours or little more to walk around leisurely among the ruins and go to all the main points of this historic town.

Jordan 2013 – Day trip to Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Bethany, and Dead Sea

DAY TRIP to MADABA, MT. NEBO, BETHANY, and DEAD SEA: This was a great day-trip to get out from hustling bustling Old Town Amman. We saw all the things that we wanted to see in Amman on our first day. 2nd day was kept for this trip which was booked thru Arab Tower Hotel/Al-Burj Arab in Amman. We rented a private taxi for 54JD for the whole day (entrance fee to the below places weren’t included in this fee). The driver spoke very little English but he was a friendly young man and could explain some histories on these places.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in a street-side restaurant in Bethany before entering the site. It was mainly bread, Jordanian style rice, hummus, salad, pickles, and kebab. It was nothing fancy but they had good food and clean bathroom. Food here, in these small villages, is very cheap; we ordered food for 2 adults and 2 kids but the bill was only around 14 JD…not bad at all.

Lunch (chicken kebab, hummus, pickles, bread, and rice near Bethany, Jordan
Lunch (chicken kebabs, hummus, pickles, bread, and rice near Bethany, Jordan
     

For shopping, you must buy some hand-crafted mosaics when in Madaba. That’s what the city is famous for, but don’t just go anywhere…otherwise the only thing you will get is mosaics made in China. Go to the real factories and showroom in Madaba…they are plenty of them here. They not only have wide variety of mosaic artwork, but also you don’t have to worry about buying fake things and pay extra prices. You can tour the factory, then they will take you to their shop. These hand-crafted mosaics are not cheap. The artists work very hard making these items with hand and many of them take months before getting the final products. These showrooms also usually carry Dead Sea products (like salt, mud, lotion, soaps, and etc.) for much cheaper price than the stores in Dead Sea.

Hand-made souvenirs in the showroom of Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan
Hand-made souvenirs in the showroom of Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan
     

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We left our hotel around 10 in the morning and headed straight towards Madaba. By the time we were done with Dead Sea, it was almost 5pm. The drive was very scenic thru the rugged mountains, stony deserts, some green valleys, and dramatic vast landscape. Look out for Bedouin settlements also, you will know they are Bedouins when you see tents in the middle of nowhere.

1) MADABA: This is a small city about 40 minutes south of Amman. The city itself dates from the Middle Bronze Age. Madaba is known as the “City of Mosaics” for its century’s old history of mosaic arts and designs.

Map of Holy Land from the 6th century inside Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Jordan
Map of Holy Land from the 6th century inside Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Jordan
    

a) GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH of ST. GEORGE: This was our first stop of the day in Madaba. It is the chief attraction of the city which preserved the original piece of Byzantine-era mosaic map of “Holy Land” from 6th century on its floor. This 25×5 sq. m. map in front of the altar depicts some important details of that time, like hills and valleys, villages and towns of Jerusalem and other holy sites. The church itself is small but a wonderfully vivid and colorful place with many other mosaic wall-hangings and religious paintings. It’s 1 JD to enter the church.

Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba which houses the mosaic map of Holy Land from the 6th century.
Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba which houses the mosaic map of Holy Land from the 6th century
     

b) MADABA HAND-CRAFTS CENTER: As I have mentioned above that if you want to buy Madaba’s traditional hand-crafted mosaics then it’s better to go to a factory other than buying cheap, fake stuff from small shops on the streets. There are plenty of these government approved places here who will gladly show you around their factories and then bring you to their showrooms. Our driver/guide took us to one such place, called Madaba Hand-Crafts Center. All of the mosaic stones come mainly from the deserts of Madaba, Jarash, or Wadi Rum and they only use natural stone color to design each of their masterpieces. The man inside first showed us how they cut the stones into small square pieces, then how the artists first sketch a design on a piece of white cloth where later they glue the stone pieces one by one. Then it takes few days to dry the glue, after that it’s grouted on a frame upside down and finally, take the white cloth off the stones. It was quite educational for us and the kids. There were ladies who also paint on ceramics and clay pot and later give the mosaic-look on them. After that we walked over to the showroom. This was an incredible place and shoppers’ paradise for those who like collecting authentic and traditional artworks. They not only have furniture or wall-hangings with mosaics, but also very rich quality rugs, Bedouin jewelries, scarves, Dead Sea products, and many more attractive home décor souvenirs. And the good deal is that they can ship any big items to your city’s airport free of charge…all you have to do is just pick it up when it arrives at the airport. There were also some unframed mosaic works which you can take and grout them yourself on floors or kitchen walls.

An artist working on a mosaic decor in Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan
An artist cutting stones to make designs on a mosaic decor in Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan
      

2) MT. NEBO: After driving for about 20 more minutes from Madaba Handcrafts Center, we reached Mt. Nebo. This is a holy site for both Muslims and Christians. This is where Prophet Moses climbed at the end of his life to see the “Promised Land” which he never could enter. He also died and was buried here, although no one knows the exact place of his burial to this date.

View of "Promised Land" - Jericho, Jerusalem, and Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo, Jordan
View of “Promised Land” – Jericho, Jerusalem, and Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo, Jordan
      

From the summit of the mountain visitors can see, as Moses did, the vast panorama of Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho (about 27 km), and Jerusalem (46 km). This place has been a place of pilgrimage for Christians for hundreds of years. The Serpentine Cross on the mountain is one of the most photographed sculptures of this place that represents serpent taken by Moses into the desert and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. A big stone-statue marks the visit of Pope John Paul II in 2000 AD near the main entrance.

The Serpentine Cross sculpture on Mt. Nebo, Jordan
The Serpentine Cross sculpture on Mt. Nebo, Jordan
    

There was a massive renovation going on in the sanctuary for Moses when we went to visit Mt. Nebo. We only could see the original mosaic floors of Mt. Nebo’ first church from the 4th century along with some other old mosaic pieces and artifacts. Mt. Nebo is open from 8 – 4 pm and the entry fee is 1 JD per adult (kids free). You can easily spend an hour or more walking on top of Mt. Nebo looking at the near and far distance pretty sights.

3) BETHANY: After about another half an hour drive from Mt. Nebo, we reached the visitor center of Bethany. Bethany has been identified as a biblical site where Jesus was baptized. The exact point of baptism is known as “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” and this is the place where John was living when he baptized Jesus.

"Bethany Beyond the Jordan" - The holy site where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist in Bethany, Jordan
“Bethany Beyond the Jordan” – The holy site where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist in Bethany, Jordan
   

Three chapels were built on the eastern side of the river during the Byzantine period (5th – 6th century AD) with colored mosaic and marble flooring. These excavated remains still can be seen by the visitors in their original states. There are many beautiful churches in this area from almost each sect of Christianity. This is supposed to be a holy site for all 3 monotheistic religions. For Christians it is obvious…Jesus was baptized by John at this very spot and the doors to heaven believed to open here during Christ’s baptism. For Muslims, Mohamed (SAW) said to have crossed this place before going to Jerusalem before his Night Journey (Mir’aj) to the heaven. Finally, one of the hills here is believed to be the place from where Jewish Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire. Some portion of “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” is actually in West Bank. Therefore, we had to go in a gov’t shuttle bus and an escort to access the area. This whole trip is for 12 JD per person which also includes audio guide. The service is open from 8:30 – 5 pm and bus runs every half an hour. It takes about 10 minutes from the visitor’s center to go to the Baptism site and the whole tour is for about an hour. First we walked to the Jordan River, then walked another 5 minutes to see the baptism site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, and then another site of Jordan River where you can see the Palestinian border only few feet away.

4) DEAD SEA: Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost other-worldly beauty. This is also believed to have been home to some Biblical cities, like Sodom and Gomorrah. Either for religious reasons or to enjoy the calm surroundings of the place Dead Sea is a must-see and must-experience place in Jordan. Look on the other side of Dead Sea and you will see Jericho in West Bank.

Dead Sea, Jordan...looking at West Bank on the other side
Dead Sea, Jordan…looking at West Bank on the other side
   

Dead Sea is not the place where people come to “swim”, you can only float on your back in this thick salty body of water. Amman Beach is the place where our guide was saying people pay to go inside for swimming, dining, spa treatment, and lot for things. Since we weren’t going to go for swimming and had little time left before sunset, we just went to a shore of Dead Sea which was free of charge and without any nice amenities. You can rent camels or horses for few minutes here to ride by the water. I saw people floating on their back in this beach too, but there is no shower to clean the heavy salt off your body. Please also visit my page on Dead Sea on the right-hand side under Israel/Palestine for more background information on this unique lake.

Amman and Back

AMMAN, JORDAN: Guess what was the ancient name of Jordan’s capital Amman? Philadelphia…sounds weird, but this city, once used to be known as Philadelphia, dates back to some 7000 years, as some estimate. Old Amman is situated mostly on hilly areas and built of white stone. The city has witnessed many ages, dynasties, and rulers, starting from pottery Neolithic from 5500 BC to Bronze and Iron ages, to Persian and Hellenistic, then Roman and Byzantine. Then finally by Muslim dynasties like Umayyad, Fatimid, Mamluk, and Ottoman. Currently the King of Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (country’s formal name) Abdul Aziz and his officials have built the country to be one of the most developed in the Middle-East while keeping the heritage of thousands of years of history. Interesting fact about the king is that King Abdul Aziz is from Bedouin family, therefore the Jordanian Bedouins are a bit well-off. They get about few hundreds JD per month from the gov’t and can live in any mountains or deserts outside of city boundaries.

Busy street of Old Amman, Jordan
Busy street of Old Amman, Jordan
  

The old town of Amman is situated on few small hills. Don’t hesitate to ask help from the local…they are very friendly and will try their best to help you even if they don’t speak good English.

You can get visa to enter Jordan right at their airport for 20 JD per person and the airport is about half an hour drive from the old city center of Amman.

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Amman from Tervuren on 3rd week of February, 2013. It was nice and pleasant during the day but chilly at night. May be carrying a sweater is not a bad idea if you are traveling around this time of the year.

OUR HOTEL: Our hotel in Amman, Arab Tower Hotel, was a very nice and clean place with friendly staffs. The hotel offers free breakfast but didn’t have in-room Wi-Fi (although it was mentioned when we were booking through Hotel.com). The hotel is located in the heart of Old Amman surrounded by any shops and busy streets. We could actually both Citadel and Roman Theater from our 6th floor window.

EATING and SHOPPING: Eat at Anwar Makkah in the old city center…seems like almost every local know about this restaurant. This is more like a street-side cheap place for traditional food like kebab, bread, salad, and Jordanian style rice.

There are many souks and souvenir shops in the Old Amman. Never jump to buy something you like without bargaining. Sand art in bottles are very popular here, as well as decorative wall hangings and tea accessories. Kuffiyeh, the checkered scarves, are good to blend yourself in with the locals and protect you from sun too.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We literary spent about 5 hours in Old Town Amman and as many others have suggested, it’s more than enough to explore the city. The main beauty of Jordan is not in the city, rather in the deserts and mountains. That’s why we ended up taking few day-trips here and there to maximize the fun.

1) ROMAN AMPHITHEATER: The amphitheater was built by the Roman Emperor in 138-161 AD and until today it has been the largest theater in Jordan. Ruins of some Roman-style columns near the ticket office are also part of its beauty. With the capacity of 6000 spectators, this is an important archaeological monument of the ancient Roman. It is still used today for artistic performances. View of the fortification walls of citadel in front and the white stone buildings on the hills are magnificent from the top stairs of the theater.

Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan
Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan
  

Jordanian Museum of Popular Tradition inside the amphitheater is worth spending 10-15 minutes to see traditional clothes/thobes from different villages or regions of Jordan and Palestine. Other than some jewelries, pots, gadgets, ancient mosaics discovered from 6th century (mainly from Jarash or Madaba) are worth looking at. There is also a smaller amphitheater right outside the main gate of the big one and can be covered using the same ticket.

It shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to visit the museum and go on top of the amphitheater. 1 JD entrance fee per person above 15 yrs. of age and covers the main amphitheater, the museum inside it, and the smaller theater close to the main one. This is open from 8-4 pm for the visitors.

2) CITADEL: Situated up on top of one of the city’s high hills, this is a National Historic site and one of Amman’s oldest known places. It’s known as Jabal al Qala’a to the locals. This has been used as a settlement and a fortress for thousands of years. This is an astounding open-air museum where visitors can walk through time and see the relics of numerous civilizations.  Within the fortification wall of the Citadel, you can see the cave from Early Bronze Age, signature columns and temple of Romans, then ruins from Umayyad dynasty. It seems the local authority takes good care of this place. It’s not only clean and organized but also very well-marked with information board at each corner. Located on a mountain, it gives visitors a perspective of the city’s incredible history and also provides stunning views of the entire area. We couldn’t stay until the sunset but I am assuming it should be a great experience from this elevation.

The Citadel - Temple of Hercules on the right in Amman, Jordan
The Citadel – Temple of Hercules on the right in Amman, Jordan
  

Some of the highlights of this place are Roman Temple of Hercules, Early Bronze Age cave, Byzantine Church, Umayyad Mosque, Umayyad residential units, and Umayyad Palace. The cave that I’ve mentioned dates back to the 23rd century BC. This cave houses a series of rock-cut tombs which was later used as a place to prepare the stones to build the massive Citadel. Umayyad Mosque and the residential units are now in complete ruins, nothing but few columns and walls still stand to give you an idea of their existence.

Ruins in Citadel and view of the city from the top in Amman, Jordan
Ruins in Citadel and view of the city from the top in Amman, Jordan
  

The Citadel is open from 8 – 6 pm during the summer season and 8 – 4 pm during winter. 2 JD is per person is the entrance fee (kids <15 yrs. are free) just for the citadel itself, but you want to visit the museum inside it, then the ticket is 5 JD. To ascend to Citadel, you can either take the stairs (takes about 10/15 minutes) or an easier option is to just a taxi (about 2 JD from bottom of the hill).

An Early Bronge Age cave in Citadel, Amman, Jordan
An Early Bronze Age cave in Citadel, Amman, Jordan
  

3) DAY TRIP to MADABA, MT. NEBO, BETHANY, and DEAD SEA: This can be a great day-trip from Amman if you are interested in the history of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Madaba is famous for its ancient mosaic work which can still be seen from the 6th century AD. Mt. Nebo is where Moses was granted to view the “Promised Land” from and where he died and was buried. Bethany is a sacred place for Christians since this is the place where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. Finally, Dead Sea is earth’s lowest point and the largest land-locked salty body of water in the world. Please visit my page on the right-hand side for detailed information and pictures from this trip.

"Bethany Beyond the Jordan" - The holy site where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist in Bethany, Jordan
“Bethany Beyond the Jordan” – The holy site where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist in Bethany, Jordan
  

4DAY TRIP to ASHABUL KAHF, AJLOUN, and JARASH: This was another fantastic day trip which was not in our itinerary but our guide advised it. Ashabul Kahf is a historic cave for the Muslims where 7 boys and their dog slept for hundreds of years and this event was mentioned in the Qur’an under Surah Kahf. Ajloun is a city about 120 km north of Amman. Other than the scenic drive to Ajloun, there is a Castle made by the mighty Salahdin’s General in 1184, called Ajloun Castle. There is also a church on the mountain, Our Lady of Virgin Mary, which was built right beside the cave where Jesus, Mary, and his disciples stayed for a short time while passing by this city. Finally, Jarash is a city which had a big Roman settlement in the early 1st and 2nd century. This is known to be one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. The whole city, including its few gates, churches, amphitheaters, main street take you back in the time of the Romans. I can compare it to the Roma Forum in Rome, except the ruins in Jarash are more well-maintained and taken care off. Please visit my separate page on this day trip for full information and to see the pictures.

A Roman city from the 2nd century  in Jerash, Jordan
A Roman city from the 2nd century in Jerash, Jordan
  

5) DAY TRIP to MUJIB, KARAK, DANA, and SHOBAK: We took this trip on our way to Petra. King’s Way is a beautiful scenic route from Amman to Petra and these 4 small towns fall on this long stretch of road. Wadi Mujib or Valley Mujib has a dam called Dam Al Mujib. We stopped here only for 15-20 minutes to see the valley and canyon created by the monstrous mountains. Dana was also was just a view-point from top of a mountain. Karak has an old crusaders’ castle called Karak Castle on a hill-top which was later occupied by Salahdin around 12th century. Shobak also has some ruins of a smaller castle, called Shobak Castle. This was also built by the crusaders somewhere around 11th or 12th century. Please visit my page on the right-hand side for more detailed information and pictures.

Wadi Mujib and Dam Al Mujib from the view-point
Wadi Mujib and Dam Al Mujib from the view-point
  

6) TRIP to PETRA: Trip to Jordan won’t be half as excited without visiting Petra. Petra is like a totally different world and in different time setting. You can’t picture the grandness of Petra without physically experiencing it. This place gives you a scenic view of Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) as well as glimpse of the ancient Nabataean civilization from the 6th century BC.

Khazana (The Treasurey) in Petra, Jordan
Khazana (The Treasury) in Petra, Jordan
  

7) DAY TRIP to WADI RUM: This was probably the 2nd best day-trip that we took in Jordan after Petra. To actually go into the heart of a desert is a timeless experience, especially with a Bedouin in his 4×4 jeep. Wadi Rum means “Valley of the Moon” and the terrain here does look like the surface of the moon with many small mountains, fascinating rock-formations, and white sand-dunes. Finally, can’t beat the experience of having Bedouin cooked lunch out in the valley. Wadi Rum is also popular for overnight camping to get up close and personal with the Bedouins.

One of many natural bridges in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
One of many natural bridges in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
   

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