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.

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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
   

Half a day in Doha, Qatar

Just got back from Jeddah, KSA three days ago. On our way to Jeddah, we had a stop over at Doha Int’l Airport in Qatar for 22 hours. Ofcourse who would miss that opportunity to visit this small but rich and very organized country? We spent a night in Movenpick Hotel near the airport. Next day our flight to Jeddah was at night. So we had the whole day to roam around the city. Not to mention, going from below freezing temperature in Belgium to a hot place was simply fabulous. Hope you enjoy the following pictures while I work on the page on Doha, Qatar with travel tips and other info.

Doha - A clean and organized city

Islamic Center of Doha

There were hundreds of pigeons at one of the gates of Souk Al Waqif

A restaurant in Souk Al Waqif, very plain yet elegant

Jallab - a sweet drink with nuts and rose water, perfect for a hot day

I had to take this picture of 2 Arabs in their thoubs smoking sheesha/hookah in Souk Al Waqif - classic

Giant pearl shell on Doha Corniche

Museum of Islamic Art on the background, Doha, Qatar

Entrance to the Musuem of Islamic Art

Islamic Calligraphy (some verses from Qu'ran) in Museum of Islamic Art

Another gorgeous calligraphic work in the Museum of Islamic Art

Back to hotel before heading towards the airport, needed my mint tea with a piece of Lindt

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