Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jordan Tripping, Amman to Petra.

10th July:
This was to prove a long day - a journey that took us from Amman to Mt Nebo to Kerak and then on to Petra. This part of the trip forced me to dredge down to my childhood Bible lessons at Sunday School to recall the Old Testament histories of the Israelites and their wanderings in the wilderness as they moved out of Egypt in search of the “promised land.”

We drove to the Citadel being shown, on the way, that Amman was built on seven hills that surround the valley in which the Greeks and Romans had built their houses and theatres. The hill that dominates the central city is topped by the Citadel which looks down onto the Theatre in the valley below.

The Citadel hill appears to have been settled from neolithic times as the Archeological museum show-cased flint knives,pottery and other artifacts covering every period through to the Islamic Empires which culminated with the Ottoman in 1916.

The Citadel is dominated by the ruins of a temple to Hercules and the remains of other Roman temples. The Hercules Temple must have been huge if it was to accommodate the statue of the god as the fingers, the sole remains of the statue, are enormous.

The site is a record of the successive waves of occupation and history of Jordan as there are the ruins of a Byzantine Church and the restored Omanyyad Palace - the remains of the christian and early islamic occupations of the site.

We explored the site and the associated archeological museum before heading off to Mt.Nebo,Madaba, Kerak and Petra.

Mt. Nebo is presumed to be the site where Moses died and was buried so it has religious significance to most Judeo-Christian religions as well as Islam.

The site was one of the important ones on the 7th century pilgrimage route from Jerusalem , Jericho, Ayun Moses and Mt. Nebo and recently for Pope who celebrated mass there. However, when I walked through the gates the roosters, who were lording it over their flocks of hens, promptly crowed three times... something they probably didn’t do when the Pope entered the site.

The remains of the Byzantine monasteries that had been built there from 393AD have revealed mosaic floors and other fragments from what would have been a large religious site.

Before we headed off to Madaba we stopped in at the Arts-River Mosaic centre where Joy bought a mosaic of the Tree of Life as well as a few pieces of glassware and pottery as souvenirs of our visit.

Madaba has been settled for over 4500 years. It was the centre of the Moabite kingdom and is mentioned in the Old Testament as Medeba. When the area came under the rule of the Romans the site became an important christian site and the centre of a bishopric. It’s importance in the present comes from the mosaic map of the biblical lands inlaid in the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.

The map shows all the important towns and geographic features from the River Jordan through to the Nile delta in a mix of linear and figurative detail.

We were also shown an icon that was the object of local veneration as it had been the focus of a local miracle. Apparently, when the icon was being displayed to the congregation a shaft of light had struck the picture leaving a hand reaching up to touch the infant Christ. So now the icon was kept in the crypt and was the object of worship for the local Greek Orthodox congregation.

From Madaba we drove to Kerak Castle. The ruins of a Crusader Castle dominating the trade and pilgrimage routes along the Kings Highway.

The castle could cater for a garrison of 3000 men with 17000 other families living in the town below so it was a substantial power base for the Crusaders.

Kerak Castle, which appears on the Madaba map, dominates the hill above the town with its battlements running along the rim and providing a sheer drop to the rocks below. Apparently one of the Crusader rulers,Chatillion, of the place used the drop as a convenient way of disposing of his enemies. He put a wooden box over their heads to ensure they remained conscious while falling to their deaths on the rocks below.
His cruelty was rewarded when he lost in battle with Saladin in 1187 as Saladin personally beheaded him.

Joy and I could imagine Carl roaming the walls and rooms busily working out the defenses and purposes of the site as he relived the history of the place in his imagination.

The drive from Kerak to Petra was along haul through the unrelieved desert down into the sandstone valleys that surround the site and its town of Wadi Mousa.

Here, too,we found ourselves the sole guests at the Petra Diamond Hotel... a mixed blessing result of touring Jordan in the off season!! There is nothing more daunting than being the sole breakfasters in a restaurant. The hotel proved to be friendly and comfortable with a helpful staff who were prepared to make conversation with two solitary guests.

11July: Petra:
Wadi Mousa, the town that services Petra, is, reputedly, the place where Moses struck the rocks and brought water to the Israelites as the wandered in the wilderness. The town is built on the sandstone hillsides with narrow, winding streets that follow ridge lines into the valley which is the entrance to Petra itself.

From our hotel window we watched horses, hens and goats wandering over vacant lots and meandering along the streets while local residents pruned their grape vines or checked their fig trees as their children perched themselves along the walls to watch the animals scratching in the dust below.

The summer heat may have all too short a day but in Jordan it proved to be exhausting and served to put a crimp on our original plan to spend two days exploring the Petra site before heading to Wadi Rum and Little Petra on our way back to Amman.

On Saber’s advice we left the hotel at 8.30 for the entrance to the walk into Petra and, perhaps, dodge some of the heat of the day.

Tickets duly bought we set off along the 1500 metre path through the siq or fissure in the sandstone cliffs that winds its way into the ruins. Above us the rock reached up over 100 metres to shade out the sun while allowing a cooling breeze to flow around us.

As we neared the siq evidence of the Nabataean civilisation became obvious in carved sandstone blocks - the Djin Blocks that,apparently, represent the Dushara God of the Nabataeans and the Obelisk tomb which appears to marked the starting point for the mortuary rites that were the centre of their culture.

Shortly after we entered the siq itself along which processions of travelers have clattered and chatted their way for thousands of years. At several points along the path evidence of Roman occupation in the form of cobble-stoned paving appeared while the Nabataean water system carved into the cliff faces showed us an earlier time and culture.

Eventually the siq does its final twist to open out into an Indiana Jones moment - the revelation of the facade of The Treasury.

Legend had it that this royal tomb, carved for the Nabataean King Aretas III, was the hiding place of pharaonic treasure from Egypt which had meant that the local Bedouin had been highly protective of the site even though they had tried to shoot out the urns that decorated the facade in the vain hope that royal treasures would spill out.

We paused there to both summon up the energy to head off into the sun to explore the site and to marvel at the artistry of the tomb and the time taken to carve out this 40 x 28 metre facade and the vast empty room inside.

The path led us past the facades of buildings that might have been both homes and government offices towards the theatre and the tombs of Petra.

Here the Urn tomb and the vaulted chambers below dominated the cliff face. This building had been converted to a church in 447 AD until Petra faded from the trade routes to be forgotten until its rediscovery in 1812 by English explorers.

All around the site the local Bedouin had set up trading stalls and shades for hot and weary walkers for which we were much relieved as the valley was a heat trap as the morning drifted into afternoon. Joy found comfort and conversation in one stall while I climbed the carved out steps to the Urn Tomb and the associated Silk, Corinthian and Palace tombs.

While I marvelled at the intricacy of the carving and engineering of the tombs Joy got into conversation with the young woman, who had been born in one of the caves in Petra, running a stall from whom she learnt about the way the local Bedouin live in the caves and ruins herding their sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and camels around the area in search of fodder as well as providing opportunities for tourists to ride in early explorer style from place to place within Petra.

We wandered past the remains of the Nymphaeum or spring in honour of the water nymphs towards the temples of the gods Dushara and el-Uzza, the remains of the Winged Lions Temple and the museum where we sat and contemplated climbing to either the Monastery or the Place of High Sacrifice in the afternoon heat.

In the end we decided to begin the walk out of the site rather than risk heat exhaustion on the side of a sandstone cliff.

The walk out convinced us that returning the next day to climb to either site would be pushing our luck as there was little real shelter and our legs were beginning to stiffen up from the climbing and scrambling we’d done that day.

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