Jordan – Amman, Jerash and Dead SeaBack to Story

Amman, Jerash and the Dead Sea.

Petra has long been a drawcard into this small Middle Eastern country for not just me but probably most of the travellers who visit this small but friendly country.  Many people asked me if it was safe to travel there when I announced it as a destination. From the experience that I had it is indeed safe to travel and it is a very easy country to travel in.

It seems that most of the people visiting are on a tour of some kind. Most seem to be on buses, which has never been a preferred travel option for me. The one observation I do have is that the major downside of a bus tour is that you often find yourself at major destinations in the middle of the day. This has obvious implications in hot countries as we visited in October and it is still too hot to be walking any distance in the heat of the midday sun. The other thing is that almost without exception the best time of the day to appreciate the ruins and hills is in the morning or evening because the light is much better.

Amman

So back to arriving in Jordan. Just about everyone who arrives by air, will come in through the Amman airport. My research had already indicated that this city doesn’t have the antiquity and atmosphere of cities such as Damascus. I can certainly agree with that comment. The big hotels seem to be located around a ring road and in fact overlook that road.

The security in all the major hotels is high on a normal day. My destination was The Four Seasons. On this day there is a VIP in the hotel and security guards with automatic weapons greet us at the gate. The car is scanned and the entrance looks more like an airport than a hotel. The men standing on the balcony bar with machine guns were a little off putting so I was pleased when the VIP left to torture another hotel.  The hotel was perfect for spending some time recovering, as there was a lovely outdoor and indoor pool and full spa treatments. It was a nice way to spend a day relaxing.

Downstairs they had a brunch on offer, which was one of the most comprehensive buffet meals that I have ever seen.  There was food from all around the world and a good selection of traditional Jordanian food. The room is full of an interesting mix of the odd tourist but mostly local ladies and families from the wealthy families enjoying their family lunch.

The main thing to do in Amman seems to be to take a city tour. This usually includes the Citadel, Grand Theatre and some take you to the newer area.  You need to hire a driver to take you around because it is not all compact and easy to walk around. I was there on a Friday which is a weekend day which took some getting used to from a Christian based working week. This means most shops are closed for the day and the streets are deserted.

The Citadel gives an excellent viewpoint over the city. Amman was built around seven hills much like Rome.  Of course in modern times the city has sprawled beyond the seven hills but you can see the layout easily from the Citadel.  Apparently the area was fortified during the Bronze Age in 1800 BC, which is incredible to try and imagine a site that goes that far back.

Today you can see the Roman ruins which dominate the hill. The most impressive is the palace  al-Qasr. The most obvious to me was the Temple of Heracles which is now just pillars but they are still impressive.  If you have the time and inclination the Jordan Archaeological Museum is also well worth a visit. It is small so you won’t be lost in relics for the day.

I also enjoyed the small Byzantine basilica. The reason is that for me it gave more of a feeling for what the old city might have looked, as it is more intact. Work is still being done to excavate this area and there is still much left to uncover not only in Amman but all the historical sites.

Not far away is the Roman Theatre, which you can easily see from the Citadel.  This was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 AD) and like most amphitheatres of its error is cut into the side of the hill. It can accommodate 6000 spectators and is still used occasionally.  There is a small theatre or Odeon on the side of the main theatre, which only seats 500 people and was used for special performances for the King.  There were underground tunnels built from the nearby palace so that the King could enter and leave in privacy and securely. There are two museums to go and have a look at and they are both small but very interesting – The Jordan Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Traditions.  These are all included in the ticket so make sure you explore the whole complex.

The most noticeable thing about Amman is the colour. The houses and building are all a monotone.  This includes all the old part and new.  The old part of the town is tightly packed with access between many of the houses on foot. The building material is local stone and bricks and an off white to the eye. It makes for interesting views across the city though. I am told the materials are tightly controlled by local government regulations.

Amman is definitely Jordan’s major city and at a population of approximately 3 million means that over half of the population live in this city.  You can see it is a lot more modern than the other cities we visited and is also the centre for further education if you are lucky enough to go to University.  It is in Amman where more women can be seen driving and also working in some of the offices.  As a tourist though you notice that there are less woman visible in the streets and in the daily life you encounter.

Jerash

Only an hours drive north is the ruins of Jerash which are definitely one of the star attractions of the north in Jordan and well worth the visit. The ancient city of Jerash was once one of the ten great Roman cities.  The modern city of Jerash borders the ruins which wasn’t what I had expected.  There are still excavations going on today but you get a real sense of the size and scope of this truly amazing city. You can image the caravans sweeping down the streets and almost picture the markets lining the streets.

The hippodrome was an important part of the city where they had horse races and today they recreate the atmosphere by racing chariots.  One of the amazing things to do is go to the amphitheatre behind the hippodrome and stand in the middle.  The sound quality is incredible and you cannot help but marvel over the engineering knowledge of the times. It is well worth getting a guide to bring the ancient city to life and understand how important this city was on the caravan route.

The Dead Sea

A short drive away the Dead Sea is also well worth the visit.  The trip through the countryside will reveal some of the farmers who are out grazing their sheep and goats. The landscape is much harsher and mountainous and the views if the day is clear are incredible.  On a clear day you can see over to Israel and Syria.

Swimming in the Dead Sea was also an experience. I had read about floating on the sea. However you don’t feel like you are floating so much as lying on the sea. It takes considerable effort to tread water as you are so buoyant that you are constantly flipped over. It is a weird experience but very tingling as the salt enters ever cut you knew you had and some you didn’t.  People cover themselves in the mud in search of a free beauty treatment.

Travel photographs of the city of Amman including the citadel and roman theatre. Travel images including the ruins of Jerash and the Dead Sea.

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