A small group of 7 of us –a Swedish and a Canadian couple and a Frenchman participated in a carefully planned and orchestrated Cook’s tour through Jordan. The superb Roman ruins at Jerash, not far north of Amman was our first stop. It is probably the largest and best preserved site we have seen, with enormous Hadrian’s arch at the city gate, an unusual oval central piazza, a well-preserved amphitheatre, temple and paved colonnaded streets. The Jordanian bagpiper was a surprise playing in the amphitheatre – a legacy of the British occupation.
Amman the capital, is a bustling mix of old and new and poor and very affluent. Of course it also has its own impressive Roman ruins – a sharp contrast with the new glitzy city of shining white marble and limestone buildings and the ‘downtown’ area, which was lively, congested and rather grubby. We stood out amongst the locals in their long black decorated robes and dark features. Mike, our guide was fantastic, a low key (ex-accountant). He was knowledgeable, educating us not only about the ancient sites, but of life in Jordan, and the art of making good Arabic coffee.
Madaba, famous for its mosaics. Both the ancient mosaic map in St Georges church, and the modern mosaics being made in Queen Noor centre by people with disabilities were very impressive.
Our night in a desert camp in Wadi Rum was well worth the long drive south. A 4 wheel drive into the relatively cool desert evening to watch the sunset and spectacular evening desert light was pretty special. The colours and the landscape are spectacular (and the young drivers very handsome!).
Petra was not to be missed. The first glimpse of the Treasury through the narrow gorge at the end of the long Siq was wonderful. It really is an incredible site, so expansive, and to think it was basically a burial ground! The structure is 50m high and took 25yrs to carve out of solid rock.
A few of us braved the 1,000 steps to the Monastery in the heat of the afternoon. It definitely was worth the climb. The beer back at the cave bar of our hotel was most welcome at the end of the day, about 8 hours of walking and climbing in the June heat is pretty exhausting. Another day in Petra would have been great as it is such an extensive site.
A visit to the Dead Sea and Masada was the last on our itinerary of must – do’s before we left Israel. The Dead Sea is 420m BELOW sea level – and is the lowest point on earth. Although this extremely hot arid region fringing the sea consists mainly of salt pans, there are several oases fed by natural fresh water springs growing groves of date palms – such as Ein Gedi Kibbutz where we stayed overnight.
The ‘spa’ where we accessed the beach was built on the shore of the Dead Sea 20 years ago. It is now 1.2km away from the waters edge. From the photos one can see the “high tide” mark over 1km above the current waterline – emphasising that this (490m deep) lake is dropping by 5m per year and if unchecked will be dry in 25yrs!
Masada a 500m high desert plateau surrounded by sheer cliffs was the site of the last stand of 1,000 Jews exiled here after the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70AD. As temperatures were close to 40, we caught the cable car to the top so that we could enjoy the excellent audio tour of this interesting site. The story of the Roman siege, building the colossal sand ramp to attack the walls and the mass suicide within at the eleventh hour were well depicted in the Hollywood version (Peter O’Toole) in the 80’s.