Umm Al-Jimal

Jordan is home to countless historically and culturally significant tourist towns. Just one of the many is Umm Al-Jimal, which translates to “mother of camels” in Arabic. This large village near the north eastern corner of Jordan is a fascinating blend of cultures old and new. If you plan a trip to North Jordan, Umm Al-Jimal should definitely be on your list!

Located within the Hauran or northern desert region of Jordan, Umm Al-Jimal is situated just 10km from the Syrian border. Despite the desert surrounding this village, the main industry in Umm Al-Jimal is agriculture and livestock raising. Today, the town has a relatively modern feel to it, but in the very center of the village lay the ancient ruins of cultures long gone from this earth. The many ruined buildings within Umm Al-Jimal date back to the Nabataean through Abbasid periods, and although major damage was done to the buildings over the years, many still stand largely unscathed.

Also known as Umm El-Jimal, Umm Al-Jimal is a very historically significant place. Its location is on the path of many ancient trade routes, which, historians say, made it a rather important village in ancient times. This proximity to ancient trade routes is also what led historians to believe that so many different cultures occupied this area over the years. Umm Al-Jimal has also been a place of great archaeological discoveries. Ever since 1905, when Princeton University led an expedition to Southern Syria and the surrounding areas, Umm Al-Jimal has been a common destination for archaeologists and tourists alike.

If you have any interest in history or archaeology whatsoever, you will surely enjoy Umm Al-Jimal. While visiting the area, be sure to check out the ruins of the ancient Roman fort, as well as the variety of ruined churches. Also of note are the tall barracks, the water cisterns, and the remains of several town gates and fences, all dating back thousands of years.

 

Umm Qays

Umm Qays, historically known as Gadara, sits perched upon a breathtaking hilltop overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Valley.  Once a major cultural center, Gadara, or Um Qays was once called the “new Athens’ by many. Umm Qays was home to many classical poets and philosophers, including Theodorus, who founded one of the major rhetorical schools in Rome.  Cultural pursuits flourished here, and their effects can still be seen in the architecture, and experienced in the history of the area.

“The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine” occurred here.  Jesus and his followers were traveling one day, when they came across two men who were wild in appearance and quite disheveled.  Jesus and his followers believed that the men were being possessed by evil spirits, and so Jesus performed an exorcism.  The evil spirits were transferred to a herd of swine, who then (according to Matthew the Evangelist) “went running wild into the sea where they perished.” Umm Qays being the site of this miracle is only one of the reasons you should visit when you travel in Jordan.

Another reason to visit Um Qays is the Al- Himma therapeutic hot springs, located approximately 10 KM north of Um Qays.  There are two bathing facilities, a privately run club, and a public bath.  The public bath has two different timetables—one for men, and one for women.  These hot springs were revered by the Romans for their healing powers, and are host today still for many who seek the healing properties of the mineral rich waters of the Al-Himma hot springs.

The climate is perfect for travel most any time of the year in Jordan, but the summer can be too hot for some, so plan accordingly, and make sure to plan a leisurely visit to Um Qays and nearby Al-Himma hot springs.  You won’t be sorry!

 

Pella

Jordan as a whole is a very popular and exciting area for archaeologists. Over the years, many highly significant archaeological discoveries have been made within the borders of Jordan. Jordan is also home to several archaeological museums, making it even more popular amongst history buffs and museum-goers. One particular city in Jordan stands out the most when it comes to archaeology, and that city is Pella.

Pella is a common favorite amongst archaeologists because it is simply brimming with amazing historical items and antiquities. Also known as Tabaqit Fahl, Pella is absolutely packed full of historical buildings, ruins, and other interesting finds. One of the more notable attractions in Pella is an Odeon that is thought to date back to the Graeco-Roman period. The Odeon is an ancient Roman theatre, capable of seating hundreds of people. It is thought that ancient sporting events took place here, as well as plays and other forms of theatre.

One of the unique things about Pella is that there it is home to evidence of many different cultures and empires. It is thought that Pella changed hands many times over the millennia, and the evidence proves the theory. Within the city limits of Pella are the fascinating remains of a Chalcolithic settlement that is thought to date back to the 4th millennium BC. There are many Byzantine churches, some of which are still in relatively good condition given their age. There is also an Early Islamic residential quarter, with buildings dating back beyond the accurate history books. Lastly, there is a small medieval mosque, which is fascinating, if not a bit eerie.

Overall, Pella is a beautiful, fascinating place to visit. Clearly it’s a destination more suited for those interested in history and archeology than typical tourists, but this is somewhat of a good thing. Unlike many areas of Jordan, Pella is never overcrowded with tourists. Even during the peak travel season, it’s easy to see the sights in Pella up close, without having to push through throngs of annoying tourists.

Irbid Jordan

 

Irbid is the 3rd largest city in Jordan in terms of population. Located approximately 70km north of the capital city of Amman, Irbid is a bustling, busy metropolis. Irbid is a large transportation hub for the surrounding area, which means you will likely pass through the city even if it’s not on your itinerary.

Irbid, while not as historically significant as some other areas of Jordan, is still a fascinating and beautiful city. Whether you plan to spend weeks there or just explore for a day, you will surely be satisfied with this lively city. Irbid is home to many colleges and universities, most notably Yarmouk University and the Jordan University of Science and Technology. There are also a variety of interesting museums within the city limits, including the Jordan Natural History Museum and the Museum of Jordanian Heritage, both of which are conveniently located on the beautiful campus of Yarmouk University.

Irbid is widely considered to be the cultural capital of Jordan. It is inhabited by many of Jordan’s young people, which make it considerably more progressive than many surrounding cities. Irbid is filled with a rich blend of ancient and modern cultures, evidenced by the city’s focus on modern technology. Irbid is home to so many internet cafes that it actually holds the world record for most internet cafes per capita, a strange claim to fame indeed. There is a very active nightlife scene in Irbid, which is no surprise considering that the city is home to some 70,000 college students.

While certainly not the most interesting tourist attraction in Jordan, Irbid can serve as a sort of base of operations for a Jordanian vacation. Its central location makes it a good starting ground for those wishing to explore the Jordan Valley, and its size makes it easy to find transportation to pretty much anywhere in the country. Even if it’s not on your list of things to see, Irbid is well worth a visit!

 

Iraq Al-Amir

Iraq Al-Amir, meaning “Caves of the Prince” in Arabic, is just another amazing city that Jordan has to offer tourists. Situated approximately 15km southwest from the town of Wadi Al Ser, this small, rustic town has a population of roughly 6,000 people, primarily made up of Abbadi tribe members. Iraq Al-Amir is one of those towns that seems to be frozen in time, meaning they have yet to adapt to modern life and culture in a number of ways.

Situated in the hills, within the municipality of Amman, Iraq Al-Amir overlooks the beautiful countryside of the Jordan Valley from on high. There are many natural hot springs in the area, which are a common attraction amongst tourists and locals alike. The area surrounding the town is filled with olive trees and other fruit-bearing plants. Iraq Al-Amir’s main industry is agriculture (primarily olive growing), although tourism brings in a good amount of money for the town as well.

Surrounding Iraq Al-Amir are a variety of caves, both shallow and deep. There are also cave drawings, some of which date back to the copper age. Some very interesting archaeological and historical finds have been unearthed in and around Iraq Al-Amir. Explorers and archaeologists have found various weapons dating back to the Roman and Nabataean periods, as well as a variety of pottery, glass, and artifacts from various cultures and periods. Lots of gold and silver coins, primarily of Arabic origins, have also been discovered in Iraq Al-Amir, leading some historians to believe that the area was once used as a storehouse for the wealth of an Arabic prince. Most of the items that have been discovered in and around Iraq Al-Amir are now on display at the Exhibit of Arab Heritage and Recent Discoveries, which was first opened in 1992. This exhibit is large and quite fascinating, and a must-see for any history buff.

 

 

Hammamat Ma’In/Ma’In Hot Springs

When visiting the nearby Dead Sea, be sure to visit the Ma’In Hot Springs, as well!

Hammamat Ma’In or Ma’In Hot Springs are definitely not to be missed while traveling in Jordan.  The hot springs, which lay 264 metres (866 feet) below sea level, are well known throughout the world and believed by many to have healing powers.  The waters are mineral rich, and tourists from all over the world, as well as locals flock there every year to bathe themselves and to seek healing.

The high season in Jordan is from March to May, but February is often the perfect time to visit the hot springs, as the tourists are fewer in number. The mild winter climate makes it still possible to enjoy bathing in the waters, though it is winter.  The climate in Jordan is a Mediterranean style climate, meaning that the temperature fluctuations are not too drastic…the farther from the sea, the more drastic the fluctuations.  Jordan has a semi-dry summer season with temperatures averaging 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit.  During the winter, the temperature averages 13 degrees Celsius, or 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  As you can see, bathing in the hot springs that dot the land of this region is possible year round!

The Ma’In Hot Springs lie far beneath sea level, and sit on the edge of the Wadi Mujib, which is a gorge historically known as Arnon.  This gorge feeds the Dead Sea, at 1,350 feet below sea level!  The mineral rich waters are a by-product of the water falls that begin in the highlands of Jordan.  The water is heated to 63 degrees Celsius by lava fissures as the water makes its way from the highlands to eventually empty into the Zarqa River.

The Ma’In Hot Springs is a desert oasis, of interesting geography and health restoring waters.  Be sure to visit and prepare to be amazed!

Desert Castles of Jordan

The Desert Castles of Jordan, built between the 6th and 7th centuries (660-750) are quite interesting historically, and should not be missed during your visit to Jordan.  Built under the rule of the Caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty, their actual purpose is still being debated by scholars and historians.

The Castles are fine examples of early Islamic art and architecture.  They are filled with frescoes and reliefs, many depicting humans and animals in various activities, items not often found in later Islamic artworks.   The art recalls the finest of Graeco-Roman traditions, linking them to other cultures and peoples.

The true purpose of the Castles is still being debated by scholars and historians.  Some believe that they were agricultural compounds, as they were all extensively irrigated and farmed. Others argue that they served as caravanserai— roadside inns for travelers.  The caravanserai served important roles in furthering communication between people who lived at great distances, allowed travelers a place to rest from their journey’s hardships, and helped trade progress along the ancient trade routes, particularly along the Silk Road.  Still others argue that the castle compounds served as fortresses to help protect the land and safety of the regional rulers. And finally, some argue that the purpose of the Castle compounds was far simpler—that they were built as a way for distant rulers to forge ties with the local Bedouin.  Whatever their purpose, they are treasures not to be missed when visiting historical Jordan!

Among the notable surviving structures (many were destroyed and rebuilt by other dynasties) is Qasr Amra.  Qasr Amra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is situated approximately 85 KM from Amman.  The walls of Qasr Amra are covered in vivid murals, and two of the rooms are paved in very colorful mosaics…mosaics being found in many of Jordan’s historic sites.  Among the other notable Desert Castles are Qasr Al-Mushatta, Qasr A-Kharrana, Qasr A-Tuba, and Qasr Al-Hallabat, all of which have been restored and are in excellent condition for visiting.  Azraq, another fortress, has been in continuous use since the Late Roman era, and was the headquarters of the famed Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab revolt.

The Dessert Castles of Jordan will not disappoint!  Be sure to schedule a visit to one or more of these amazing places while visiting Jordan!

 

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

 

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is historically thought to be the site where John the Baptist lived, preached, and baptized many, including Jesus Christ.  Recent archaeological discoveries have confirmed the site as that of John the Baptist, and there are many archaeological treasures to be seen here.

John the Baptist, last prophet of the Old Testament manner prophets, and first prophet of the New Testament, began preaching in Jordan, but was fearful of reprisal for his sermons, so he made for Bethany Beyond the Jordan.  Here too, he preached and feared reprisal, but so strong was his faith that the “Redeemer” was coming that he convinced many to repent, cleanse their souls, and to be baptized in the waters of his cave.

Byzantine and Medieval texts identify the site as Tall Al-Kharrar and Elijah’s Hill.  Modern archaeology also confirms this site. Archaeological finds dating to the most recent unearthing and explorations (begun in earnest in 1996) have found coins, pottery, and pieces of buildings dating to a 5th century Byzantine monastery.  There are also archaeological finds dating back to what may be the earliest Christian prayer hall: a 3rd century building with beautiful, intricate mosaics.  The cave where John the Baptist lived has also been identified, and is in process of being explored and preserved for future generations.  The cave, in John’s day, was turned into a church, and the freshwater channel that ran from the cave then (and was used for the many baptisms) still runs today, and is open to the public for viewing

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is a spiritual home for many, as it is the place where Jesus himself was baptized many years ago.  Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, everyday people, and people of many different faiths come to visit this historically significant place each year. Be sure to include Bethany Beyond the Jordan on your itinerary!

 

Aqaba Jordan

Aqaba is one of the best tourist attractions that Jordan has to offer. In fact, in some ways it is a lively blend of just about everything that makes Jordan popular amongst travelers. Aqaba’s rich and fascinating history make it a top choice amongst history buffs. Excellent visitor services and facilities make trips to Aqaba easy and straightforward, while first-class hotels and resorts make trips comfortable and upscale. The welcoming, friendly locals are also a big plus, as is the warm climate. Aqaba is also an excellent base of operations for travelers looking to explore Jordan, especially considering Aqaba is just a short trip away from Wadi Rum, one of the most commonly visited tourist attractions in all of Jordan.

Aqaba’s biggest asset, however, is the nearby Red Sea. The local climate and water patterns form a near-perfect environment for a huge variety of sea life, including amazingly beautiful coral reefs. The Red Sea is said to offer one of the best snorkeling/diving experiences in the world. Scuba diving and snorkeling are a big attraction at Aqaba, so it’s no surprise that the city has a variety of diving centers. Most of these centers have indoor training facilities, skilled instructors, and fleets of vessels to take tourists out to some of the most beautiful diving spots. There are even scheduled night dives available, which can give you a completely different look at the ocean and its marine life. Alternatively, you can simply rent equipment and head out on your own.

If diving isn’t your thing, there is another way to see the sights of the beautiful Red Sea. A variety of companies in Aqaba provide tours in glass-bottom boats, or even glass-bottom submarines. These provide a safer, dryer way to see the wonderful marine life of this amazing sea. There are also a variety of seaside resorts, where you can choose to kick back on the warm sandy beaches and just relax. For more adventurous folks, a variety of water sports are offered in and around Aqaba, such as waterskiing and jet skiing.

For you history buffs out there, Aqaba is sure to delight. Located in the axes of several ancient trade routes, Aqaba served a very important role in many ancient cultures and their trade. Because of this, many significant and interesting historical buildings and locations are within the city limits of Aqaba. The most notable historical location in this area is an ancient church, widely considered to be the oldest purpose-built church in the world.

Overall, Aqaba is a fantastic place to visit. The nearby Aqaba International Airport make it easy to get to from virtually anywhere in the world, and its proximity to Wadi Rum, Saudi Arabia and Egypt make it a common starting point for many travelers. Aqaba is a location that is sure to delight, and it should not be missed on any trip to Jordan!

 

 

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is a perfect place to get away from it all, to leave behind the hustle and bustle of modern life, and to simply enjoy what nature has to offer. Wadi Rum is relatively remote, as far as tourist attractions go, and it is almost completely void of modern human development. Visiting this area can be a refreshing reminder of the awesome power of nature, and can really stir up some deep thoughts about our role here on this planet. Apart from that, it is a beautiful, majestic place that is a must-see if you plan on visiting Jordan!

The landscape of Wadi Rum, which has been formed naturally over millennia by the forces of wind and rain, is made up of monstrous monolithic rock formations, which are reminiscent of skyscrapers. T.E. Lawrence described these rockscapes as “vast, echoing, and God-like”, and I would have to agree. When you’re on the ground, these rock formations look impossibly large. They reach heights of up to 1750m, so they are quite huge even by modern standards.

If you plan on visiting Wadi Rum, your first stop should be the Vistors’ Center. Here you can get information about the area, hire tour guides, rent 4×4’s, and more. The rock formations at Wadi Rum form a daunting maze, so it is not advised that you venture too far into them without a guide. If you’d like to take it slow and enjoy the hike, you can hire a tour guide to accompany you on foot, and you can even rent a camel to help carry your gear. Either way, be sure to visit some of the most amazing attractions, including the Burdah Rock Bridge and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The Burdah Rock Bridge stands at a whopping 35m high, and is widely considered to be one of the highest natural arches in the world. For overnight stays, you can either pack your own camping gear, or rent a Bedouin tent to sleep under the stars in a rustic, traditional Arab camp.

Another common activity in this area is rock climbing. The massive formations of Wadi Rum form a daunting task for rock climbers and mountaineers. If you’re up for a challenge, there are many rock faces that are considered expert climbing grounds. If you prefer to be a bit more cautious, there are plenty of smaller, easier climbs to undertake!

If you plan on visiting Wadi Rum, be sure to pack both cool summer clothes and warm winter clothes. The desert climate of this area can be quite hot during the day, and extremely cold at night. January is generally the coldest month, with temperatures ranging from 4°C to 15°C. July is the hottest month, with temperatures ranging from 19°C to 36°C. Temperatures at night can be surprisingly frigid, so it’s a good idea to come well prepared. Also, while packing, keep in mind that the culture of the local Bedouin’s is far different from western cultures. In Wadi Rum, revealing clothing will be considered disrespectful, even in extremely hot weather. The Bedouin’s are a kind, welcoming people – so long as you respect their wishes and acknowledge their vastly different culture.