“You’d need six months to see all there is to see in Jordan” says Nasser Abu-Rezeq, our guide. To which he adds that he knows 100.000 places to see in his country,
It sounds discouraging to someone who only has three days to spend here. Nasser goes on to praise his country and its King and highlights that, despite the conflicts in the region, Jordan is a safe country.
I ask him what’s their secret: religious tolerance and the King’s vision, he replies without hesitation. “The relationship between Muslims and Christians in Jordan is unique. In Ramadan, the Christians cook for the Muslims, which is something that happens only in Jordan. In Jordan you will see Muslims praying in churches. We are all a big family and help each other.”
Jordan is often praised as an open air museum and a land of hospitality. You can visit it for its impressive historic sites, its biblical places or its incredible landscapes.
And all of that on a land area of a third of Romania’s territory, three quarters of which is desert. Truth be told, a spectacular desert: Wadi Rum.
Even though I never got to see it with my own eyes, I was able to marvel at its beauty in images that looked like they were taken on another planet.
Aside its beauty, Wadi Rum holds other surprises as well: the desert hides substantial groundwater reserves. However, for almost any tourist, the first place to visit in Jordan is its capital, Amman, a city originally built on seven hills, just like Rome.
Thanks to its development, the capital has grown to cover almost 20 hills today. The city of Amman is a mix of contrasts: you can see camels or goat herders, but also villas, luxury hotels or ruins that are thousands of years old.
An exciting combination of old and new with two major tourist attractions: The Amman Citadel and the Roman Theatre (be advised, they both close at 4 PM).
The Citadel sits atop the highest hill in the city and it offers the best panoramic view of the capital. From here, if you know where to look, you can also observe the influences of the five civilizations: Ammonite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Muslim.
The Roman Theatre that is located at the bottom of the Citadel was built in the second century B.C. and restored in the 1950s’. It has a total capacity of six thousand places and is still used to this day for cultural events, in films and commercials.
Amman (Philadelphia in the time of the Romans), was part of what is called Decapolis. A group of ten cities located at the eastern boundary of the Roman empire, along the commercial route.
Of the ten ancient cities, seven are on Jordanian territory today. The best preserved roman city is Jerash, boasting an impressive arch at the entrance, a hippodrome with a capacity of fifteen thousand seats, a theatre where five thousand spectators could enter, temples and fifty-six Ionic columns.
Sadly for Jerash, we couldn’t fit it in our schedule, but it is impossible not to mention it among Jordan’s wonders.
In the eyes of the world, however, the symbol of Jordan is the city of Petra, one of the seven new wonders of the world and UNESCO world heritage site. The ancient city is located in the Valley of Moses, three and half hours away from Amman.
The city is accessed through a 2 km-long norrow path. Within the first rocks of this road you can see the tombs of Petra. Some “Luxury” tombs, some for the poor, individual or for the whole family.
You can tell which category they belonged to by the obelisks above them: the number of obelisks indicates the number of people that were buried inside, and the social status can be inferred from their complexity.
Petra, the wondrous city carved in rock by the Nabataeans, an Arab people, was a big center of trade, strategically placed on the caravan road, linking India, Saudi Arabia and China to Egypt, Syria, Greece or Rome.
There are no documents telling Petra’s history and many things are yet to be discovered. This is why it is called the “City of Mysteries".
It was conquered by the romans in the year 106 and it was inhabited until the 14th century, when it was abandoned. It wasn’t until 1812 that it was rediscovered. It is a spectacular place, especially for history enthusiasts.
The narrow path that serves as access, the red cliffs, the carved rock faces, the feeling that you are seeing a multitude of things, but especially the fact that many mysteries still remain, all contribute to the wonder of this place.
And what is visible to the naked eye is only half of its true size. Inside these cliffs there are living spaces, tombs, baths, temples, a church and an open-air theatre that can hold three thousand spectators.
Out of everything, the symbol image of Petra is that of the Treasury, which is almost forty meters tall.
A short distance from Petra is “Little Petra”, the place where the caravans “parked”. It doesn’t boast such spectacular facades, but it is much quieter and, for hiking enthusiasts, you can take an easy road (so I’ve been told) to Petra, with the help of a local guide.
The Nabataeans, the ones that built Petra, were skillful merchants. They brought spices from Oman, condiments from India, silk from China. Their most valuable good was incense. One gram of incense could be traded for two grams of gold.
It is actually said that Petra is most likely the place from where the Three Kings (Three Wise Man) got their gifts for baby Jesus: myrrh, incense and gold. This is also the final resting place of Aron, brother of Moses, atop the highest mountain (4780m).
Pilgrimages to biblical places are the main reason why tourists end up in Jordan. They can visit Machareus, where John the Baptizer was beheaded, mount Nebo, where Moses died, many old churches, including the ruins of what is presumed to be the oldest Christian church, in Aqaba, and most importantly, Bethany, where Jesus Christ was baptized.
The place can be visited, but it is a protected site, through which the Jordan river no longer flows. However, baptisms are held in a special area on the bank of the river.
Bethany is located half an hour away from the hotels and relaxation areas of the Dead Sea, Earth’s lowest point on land, at an altitude of 420 m below sea level. Also the place where I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets.
The Dead sea is actually a lake that sits between Israel and Jordan, fed by several rivers, one of which is the River Jordan. The sea got its name from the fact that the concentration of salt in the water is almost 10 times higher than that of the Ocean, which makes it inhospitable to plant or animal life.
Minerals and salts are however extracted and used in agriculture, industry, beauty products (the famous masks with mud from the Dead Sea) and medicine. But this excessive exploitation is making the Dead Sea die slowly as it gives us its most prized possessions. The sea loses one meter of its surface every year.
There are also many things to be said about the lives of the Jordanian people. From their culture of generosity to the fact that even though their meals are extremely rich, no food is wasted.
From the way they preserve art and the tradition of the mosaic, to the fact that they always have development projects: for tourism, infrastructure, water sources or agriculture.
Tourism makes of about 17% of the country’s GDP, Jordan is a big exporter of chemical fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and cement. Their national flower is the black iris.
Considering that my visit was already organized for me and a small group of bloggers and journalists, we had a car and Nasser the guide with us at all times. This is why I find it hard to give you any travel advice, because I was not one of the organizers.
However, I can tell you that it is recommended that you get a Jordan Pass which covers, among others, the cost of the Jordan Visa and also the addmision to Petra.
This will allready save you some money. Jordan is not a country you can go on a city break to. I recommend a stay of at least a week, as it is a place of surprises. It is the country of contrasts. In the space of a few hours you can go from an emerald sea to a Martian desert landscape.
From the top of the highest rocky mountains to the lowest point on earth, or from ancient city to a cosmopolitan restaurant in the capital. And speaking of food, though I am not a fan of oriental food, Jordan is in my top three list of countries where I had the best food.
The Wadi Rum desert, the Amman Citadel, the mystery city of Petra, the second century church at Aqaba, Bethany – the place where Jesus Christ was baptized, Jerash – the best preserved roman city or the Dead Sea – the lowest point on Earth, these are just seven of Jordan’s Wonders. If what Nasser says is true, you have 99.993 others left to discover.
Flights to Jordan
This article originally appeared on Dana Gont