Today, you can find Jordan on any map, nestled between Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. However, before 1921, Jordan was not a recognised country and it was not until 1946 that it became independent from British ‘guidance’ and was allowed to stand on its own two feet.
Despite Jordan having endured a turbulent 20th century, it would be foolish to the ignore the millennia of history that came before its inclusion on the global atlas. Some of the greatest empires to have graced the eras, from the Egyptians and Greeks, to the Persians and Romans, have all left their own inscription on the Arabic country. There are even locations and relics that date back to 1200 BC and feature in the Bible. For this reason, the ancient crossroads of the Middle East presents a colourful historical tapestry that visitors cannot help be spellbound by.
Starting in the north of Jordan, our voyage begins in Jerash. It is a bronze-age city famed for the Gerasa of Antiquity, a Greco-Roman walled settlement just outside of the modern city. It is one of the world’s best-preserved Roman provincial cities and was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC but rose to power a few hundred years later when it came under Roman rule. Even though the Arch of Hadrian, colonnaded streets, and hippodrome are impressive, archaeologists believe they have only uncovered a small portion of the ruins, and plan to continue excavations to reveal the magnitude of the site.
Travelling 30 miles south is the capital of Jordan, Amman. Despite being a highly-Westernised city, with a population of over four million, the relics of the past have been preserved and respected.
Amman is a city spread across a multitude of hills, with the peak of Jabal Al Qal’a the core of the ancient city and home to some incredible sites. Greco-Roman Citadel remains still stand proud, along with an eighth-century Umayyad castle, Byzantine church, and the Temple of Hercules.
Amman is also home to the new Jordan Museum, located in Ras Al-Ayn. It contains exhibits from all of the major historical eras, including the eerie human-like Ayn Ghazal statues from 7700 BC.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan
Heading south-west, located on the border between Jordan and Israel, is Al-Maghatas. Translated from Arabic the name means ‘baptism’ or ‘immersion’. This fragment of the Jordan River is widely considered to be the location where Jesus was baptised and is also known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Both Israelites and Jordanians argue that the baptism happened on their respective riversides but UNESCO named the eastern banks at Jordan a World Heritage Site, somewhat quashing neighbouring Israel.
The location, just north of the Dead Sea, has been a hotspot for historians over the years. Archaeologists have unearthed countless chapels, baptismal pools, and monk’s caves, which are all considered tangible evidence of early Christian’s honouring the location.
40 minutes east of Al-Maghatas, heading towards Madaba, is Mount Nebo. Located 2,680 feet high, the mountain is adorned with the sculpture of a staff. As mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, this is where God led Moses to view Israel, the Promised Land, before he died after wandering the desert for 40 years.
Because of its Biblical connections, and the rumoured burial site of Moses, Mount Nebo has long been a popular pilgrimage site for Christians and tourists alike. Blessing the top of the mount is the Memorial Church of Moses, which contains 4th-century Byzantine basilica remains and Greek mosaics which date back to 531 BC.
If travelling from the west, a pit stop in the ancient city of Madaba is recommended, before venturing on to Quseir Amra. Located on the floor of the Byzantine St George’s Church is a mosaic map dating from the 6th century and covering the entire floor.
Onwards to the unassuming Quesir Amra, a desert castle in the far east of the county. Although the structure may seem unworthy of an hour’s drive from Madaba, every surface inside the castle is bequeathed with painted frescoes, depicting everything from daily life to exotic stories in an art form unheard of at the time.
A protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quesir Amra is iconic as it survived Islamic injunction. Many of the images inside Quersir Amra contain naked women, music-playing animals, and zodiac symbols, all of which the sanction ordered to be destroyed due to religious reasons. However, Quesir Amra miraculously survived.
The Dead Sea
Heading back as far west as possible, to the expanse of water that forms from the Jordan River, is the mythical Dead Sea. Not only is it the world’s lowest land point, 1,407 feet below sea level, but the salt content is so unusually high that visitors can float on the surface with ease.
Unlike the Sea of Galilee in Israel, the Dead Sea does not feature as prominently in the Bible. However, it was a place of refuge for King David, and Herod the Great frequented the hypersaline lake regularly to benefit from its natural health benefits.
Although a three-hour drive from the Dead Sea, a visit to the lost world of Petra is undeniably the highlight of any visit to Jordan. Having been lost to the world for centuries until its unearthing in 1812, Petra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the number one tourist attraction of the country.
Dating back to around 300 BC, Petra was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. The indigenous people carved more than 3,000 dwellings, from homes to churches, into the rust-coloured sandstone. Archaeologists also revealed that the Nabatean people had constructed a way to carry spring water to nearly 20,000 inhabitants of Petra, an accomplishment of monumental proportions.
The Treasury is undoubtedly the best-recognised feature of Petra, but hiking and climbing can take visitors some other incredible structures.
Approximately 100 kilometres south of Petra is the last stop on our ancient voyage of Jordan. Many day trip from Aqaba and Petra to Wad Rum; the other-worldly desert lands that were used as the backdrop in the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia. The chiselled canyons and copper sands expand into the horizon and petroglyphs carved into the sandstone tell stories of the inhabitants of Wadi Rum from thousands of years ago.
Today, the Bedouin people call Wadi Rum home. Nomadic families love to teach visitors about their customs and traditions, as well as sharing their secrets of the unforgiving landscape.