Ahh...The lure of Petra, known as the Rose City for the color of the rock the architecture of the city was cut or carved out of. Petra was made famous in pop culture by the Indiana Jones film series It seemed mysterious and intriguing. How was this city built, who built it and why? How did it remain hidden all this years? Petra really peaked my curiosity and I wanted to see it in person. The opportunity came when we decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The tour operator offered an add-on tour of Jordan with a visit to Petra and we jumped at the chance.
The morning after our tour of Israel, we were picked up 45 minutes earlier than scheduled by a guy who identified himself as Mo. We hesitated going with him since he had no ID, was picking us up too early and was in a taxi. Many kidnapping stories relate of the same scenario, but call it dumb trust, we still boarded the taxi, suitcases in tow. He brought us to another hotel, where he was to pick up more passengers. He was early also and similarly, these passengers were hesitant about riding the cab. For whatever reason, they boarded the cab also. The cab brought us to another hotel where a bus was waiting. It was filled with about a dozen tourists from Central and South America and had a sign that it was a Spanish tour. Again, we were apprehensive but after talking in our limited Spanish with some of the tourist from Latin America, we were later convinced to get on the bus and proceeded to load our luggage. Also, I figured, if this was an abduction, it would be an interesting adventure - a Spanish speaking 'guide', Spanish and Portuguese speaking tourists and a corresponding number of English speaking Americans, Canadians and British. Hopefully, we live to tell the story. It ended up, this was the bus that would take us to the border of Israel and Jordan.
On the way, we passed through the city of Jericho, one of the oldest settlements in the world dating back to at least 9000BC. It features prominently in the Bible, most notable of which is the Fall of Jericho in The Book of Joshua. It is today under the Palestinian Authority and unfortunately, we were not able to stop and visit the sites here. Then we passed through the Beth Shean where I spotted the place where we had the best chicken schwarma for lunch just a few days ago.
A mosque in Jericho
At the Border
It took us about 45 minutes to get to the Israeli-Jordan northern border (Jordan River (Nahar Ha Yarden) or Sheikh Hussein Crossing where we disembarked to pay an Israeli departure tax and had our passports stamped. Then we had to retrieve our luggage from the bus and waited about half an hour for the transfer shuttle to the Jordan border. Once, we loaded our luggage, paid a $2 per person shuttle fee and boarded the bus, it took about 15 to 20 minutes to drive to the Jordanian border where we all disembarked. Everyone agreed that it was a nerve-wracking border crossing. Our Jordanian guide, Omar, was waiting for us and he walked us through the official stuff including paying the entry fee into Jordan, getting our pictures taken, our passport stamped and our luggage checked at customs. Our group was then divided into two vans, one Spanish speaking and another English and the two vans pretty much stayed close together as a convoy for our entire stay in Jordan. Apparently, we were all traveling on one manifest (as in shipping) and we will all have to leave Jordan as one package. An armed Jordanian Travel police boarded our bus and would accompany us during the duration of our stay in Jordan ostensibly, to facilitate any problems at the sites such as medical emergencies. We were not sure if we should be more fearful or feel more safe. We are now officially welcomed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan ruled by King Abdullah II. For this trip, we will jokingly refer to ourselves as King Rudy and Queen Jojo of the 'Has-No-Might' Kingdom, a play on words on The Hashemite Kingdom.
The terrain, as we drove towards Amman went from desert to hills with vegetation, back to desert and mountains and valleys with vegetation. As a matter of fact, for most of our drive through Jordan, we are in the desert but the climate is apparently semi-arid.
|The bread basket area of Jordan|
|Scene on the highway in Jordan|
We drove another 90 minutes to reach our lunch stop in the town of Jerash where we had a buffet lunch served with warm flat bread freshly baked in a clay oven. It was so good with hummus.
Jerash Archaelogical Site
After lunch, we went to visit the archaeological site of Jerash where Greco-Roman ruins are found. And what an amazing site this is. I thought to myself, if this is all we would see in Jordan, it was worth the trip. Jerash or Gerasa is located in a protected valley. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, the city of Jerash was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD with more destruction from wars. It remained buried in the ground until its discovery in 1820 and archaeology still continues to the present day. This is the largest and most complete Greco-Roman archaeological site in the Near East and it is easy to see the city as it was since many of the columns and walls were found just as they fell and easily put back in place. Our guide Omar participated in digs of the Bronze Age Era here. Of course, like many sites like this, some of the stones were 'harvested' by people to use as building materials elsewhere. Walking the entire site that has already been uncovered gave us a perspective of how big this ancient city was.
Remains in the Greco-Roman Jerash include
Gates of Jerash
Visitors enter on the south side through Hadrian's Arch, built in honor of its namesake
|South Gate - part of the 4th-century AD city wall.|
|One of the Gates from The Cardo|
|Hippodrome - where chariot races and sporting events were held.|
The Oval Forum
|Oval Forum surrounded by a colonnade of 1st-century Ionic columns,|
|View of the Oval Forum from the Temple of Zeus. Notice Old and New Jerash|
|The Nymphaeum Fountain found along The Cardo|
Temple of Artemis
|Temple of Artemis|
|Columns in Temple of Artemis|
Our drive south from Jerash to Amman was about 55 miles. This is where we are staying for the night. Located on a hilly area in NE Jordan, Amman is the political, cultural and economic center of Jordan. It is considered the most liberated Arab nation. We arrived almost at sundown and immediately went to the oldest settlement in the city at the downtown area. We were on Citadel Hill (Jabal al-Qal'a), where we were treated to a panoramic view of Old Amman. Most of the structures in Amman are made of white stone so it presents itself as very homogeneous. A very large Jordanian flag flies over the area, it is the biggest flag in the world. At the Citadel Area is the Temple of Hercules built in the 2nd century and the Umayyad Palace built in the early years of Islam. The hill has been occupied since the Bronze Age. Not far from this area, they are developing a new commercial center where, Jordan Gate Towers, the highest skyscraper in Amman is almost ready for business. It will be a mixed use building with residential and commercial space. It seems out of place since it is tall and made of dark materials, so it stands out from the mostly white and relatively low buildings in the city. Our hotel was closer to the west side of Amman, where the area they call the 'Beverly Hills' of Amman is located. It has a lot of huge villas and is close to the American Embassy in Jordan, possibly the largest in the world.
|Downtown shopping in Amman|
|View from Citadel Hill (Notice the flag in the background)|
|Close up of Jordanian Flag flying over Old City of Amman, the largest flag in the world|
|The Umayyad Palace Dome on Citadel Hill|
We did not want to partake of dinner at the hotel this time since we were tired of having buffet dinners and breakfasts everyday. There was a mall just across from our hotel catering to the Rolex set. We tried to find a café where we could just have something light. Unfortunately, the cafes don't take American dollars and we would have to exchange some dollars to dinars, which would have been a hassle. We were very exhausted from the long day anyway, so we just ate some snacks that we had packed up for emergency. Tomorrow, we have a 6:45 am pick-up. The King and Queen of the 'Has-No-Might' Kingdom are calling it a night. Leyla Saida! (Good night in Arabic)