“We Jordanians just wish we could pick up our country and move it 500 miles in any direction” explained the tour guide as he tried to explain the Jordanian view on the long simmering troubles of his region. With Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria as neighbors, who could blame them? The result is that the stable and peaceful nation of Jordan suffers the consequences of its bickering neighbors. However for those who are willing to look beyond the dangerous image of the Middle East, the rewards are one of the most beautiful and historic countries of the region.
Jordan has been a crossroads and melting pot for different cultures since biblical times. In the wake of this is left fantastic ruins from Roman and Greek times along with, in the south, the remains of the home grown, Nabataean empire. Today Jordan is a mixture of Hashemite, Palestinian and Bedouin peoples. It’s this ability to accommodate different cultures that has given Jordan is warm welcoming attitude.
One of the best preserved sights of Greco-Roman times is the city of Jerash, believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. The Romans took over in 63 BC and inhabited the city until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD.1
The modern city lies 30 KM north of Amman, the capital. The ruins of the ancient city lie just to the west of the modern city and span a length of over 2 km. It features a unique oval shaped forum, one of the best preserved in the world. Both Roman pagan temples and Byzantine Christian churches attest to the long rein of the city.
At the opposite end of Jordan, deep in the south of the country, nature takes its turn amazing the visitor. No where is this more true than the red desert of Wadi Rum (also known as the Valley of the Moon in Arabic). This desert where Lawrence of Arabia once roamed is now a wildlife refuge inhabited by a few stray Bedouins.
Despite being mostly deserted today, Wadi Rum has long been a crossroads for different cultures. The most famous of these, the Nabataeans were desert traders who exploited their position along the major trade routes from the Arabian Desert into the Levant to establish an empire.
To the northwest of Wadi Rum, are the remains of what was once the capital city of the Nabataeans and today is Jordan’s most visited site, the amazing ruins of Petra. Petra was hewn out of rock along a narrow canyon entrance.
The wealth of Petra lay in dominating the caravan lines that passed through the area. This was something the Nabataean capital was able to do from 312 BC until the Romans conquered the area in 106 AD and moved the caravan meeting points north. The city was finally abandoned 663 AD after an earthquake though it is believed to have been mostly uninhabited by this time.2 In modern times, Petra has gained a reputation as a rediscovered “lost city” but in fact it was never really lost but simply forgotten as a tourist site until some much needed publicity in the 1989 film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The Dead Sea
Another fascinating natural feature Jordan shares with Israel is the Dead Sea. This salt lake sits on the lowest spot on the surface of the earth at 1,400 feet below sea level.3 Its high salinity means life is not possible in the lake, hence its name.
The high salinity also gives it another strange property, a very high degree of buoyancy. If you ever wondered how a cork feels bobbing in a bottle, this is the place to find out. The bather can literally float along the waters in almost any position. However be careful not to get the waters in your eyes as it will sting for quite a while. Although painful if gotten in the eyes, the water and the mud from the bottom of the sea is said to be great for your skin and is sold at high prices throughout the world as a skin treatment.
The Bottom Line
Set in a tumultuous neighborhood, Jordan is a safe and inexpensive place to visit. It’s contains many jaw dropping natural features and well preserved ruins that attest to the great antiquity of this area. Unlike some areas of the Middle East, Americans are warmly welcomed here, although discretion and politeness, would advise against demonstrating blatant pro-Israeli views. That does not mean you should be afraid to discuss the situation, the Jordanians are very open about their complex relationship with their neighbors.
Do yourself a favor, ignore the headlines and the family and friends who tell you its too dangerous to travel to this part of the world. Jordan is dedicated to a peaceful co-existent with its neighbors and has a decidedly pro-western outlook. The sights here are fantastic and should not be missed. Jordan should be on any travelers must see list.