We spent a lazy day browsing around Amman City centre and the Rainbow Street market. The centre of town is a mass of bustling shops and hoards of merchants flogging pretty well everything you can think of. Finished the day in the upscale neighbourhood of Rainbow Street sipping tea and smoking shisha.
May 20th we spent the day driving South with our guide Ramzi Petra. Our first stop was the Mujib Valley (Wadi Mujib) known from the Hebrew Bible as River Arnon. The river enters the Dead Sea at and elevation of 1,380 feet below sea level. We stopped for Bedouin tea at the summit. Please ignore the small spot on the camera sensor. We didn’t notice it until several days and many beautiful pictures later.
Next stop was Kerak, home to Kerak Castle (1142-89 AD). The castle is a typical example of Crusader architecture with Romanesque style stone vaults, numerous corridors and strong doorways. There were amazing, vast, dim-lit vaulted rooms and corridors underground. We were almost alone which made the experience all the more fascinating. On December 18, 2016 a series of shootings took place in Kerak that the so-called Islamic State ultimately claimed responsibility. 11 Jordanians and a Canadian were killed. During the gun battle the militants took shelter in the castle.
Our final stop for the day before heading to Petra for the night was Little Petra, an archaeological site located north of Petra. Like Petra, it is a Nabataean site, with buildings carved into the walls of sandstone canyons. It is much smaller than Petra and consists of three wider open areas connected by a 1,480 foot canyon. It is accessed separately from Petra and is included in Petra’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Archaeologists believe it was a suburb of Petra meant to house visiting traders on the Silk Road. After the decline of the Nabataeans, it fell vacant and was then used for centuries by Bedouin nomads.
Petra is the high lite for many tourists travelling to Jordan however every site we visited in Jordan to date has had its own uniqueness. Petra is a special place because of its enormous size and amazing sandstone architecture. We spent about 6 hours on site covering 17 km, (24,965 steps, 54 floors climbed) according to Joyce’s iPhone health data program. There were over 800 steps up through mountains and canyons to the Monastery at the top We both had a swollen right knee and sore ankles the next day even though we wore proper hiking shoes! Be warned, a one day visit is a serious workout!
It is not know precisely when Petra was built but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the first century BC and grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city in the 4th century AD. The earthquake combined with changes in trade routes, eventually led to the downfall of the city which was ultimately abandoned. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appeared to be largely deserted and was lost to all except local Bedouin from the area. Petra is also known as the rose-red city, a name it gets from the wonderful colour of the rock from which many of the cities structures were carved. Also interesting to note is the city was carved from the top down to prevent sand from falling into the eyes of those who did this magnificent work.
800 steps of climbing led us to this amazing structure.
The Treasury pictured below is actually the first major structure you encounter when entering through the canyons. Also know as Al Khazna, is almost 40 meters high and intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figurines and more. It is crowned by a funerary urn, which according to local legend conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. the treasury was probably constructed in the first century BC.
May 21-22, Petra to Wadi Rum to Aqaba
After our 6 hour exploration of Petra we collapsed into our car and headed off on a 1 1/2 hour drive to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon and is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in Southern Jordan, about 60 km to the East of Aqaba. Wadi Rum has been inhabited by human culture since prehistoric times with many cultures leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings. Wadi Rum may be best known for its connection with British officer T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918. The area is spectacular and we took a jeep deep into the heart of the area to watch the sun set from a perch high up on a rocky crag. we spent the evening at a Bedouin camp a feasted on roasted goat and assorted side dishes. A few hours after sunset all of the camp’s lights were turned off revealing an amazing star filled sky. The following morning at 5:00 am the two of us met up with a young Bedouin boy and his two camels. After an interesting camel mounting (:)) experience off we rode through the desert to find a perfect location to watch the sunrise.
May 22, Aqaba
After an amazing camel back sunrise we headed off on a one hour drive to Aqaba, the only coastal city in Jordan and the largest and most populous city on the Gulf of Aqaba. It sits on the Northeastern tip of the Red Sea between the continents of Asia and Africa. There is great diving in the area and several so-so beaches but surprisingly a very conservative Muslim area so not comfortable for Joyce to enjoy any beach time. The view from our hotel room looks out over a beautiful mosque and in the distance the city of Eilat in Israel. The day time temperature was in the mid to high 30’s and so not being able to really enjoy a cooling seaside dip we decided to make a detour to Sharm El-Sheikh, on the Southern Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Below are two pictures of the view from our hotel room.