Category Archives: Travel

Sites to see in Petra Jordan

Obelisk Tomb and Bab as-Siq Triclinium

A beautiful monument and a perfect example of the artistic intermarriage of styles between East and West. The obelisk is obviously an Egyptian influence; the niche between the obelisks is a Graeco-Roman influence. The triclinium is a chamber with three benches, the purpose of which, being Nabataean, was the celebration of the sacred feasts, which took place every year in honour of the dead.

As-Siq

The ancient main entrance to Petra. An impressive 1200 m long, deep and narrow gorge of stunning natural beauty. The Siq is hemmed in by cliffs soaring up to 80 meters. Suffice itto say that passing through it, one gets to see all the typical Petraean features, bizarre-looking geological formations, colorful rocks, agricultural terraces, waters channels cut into the cliffs, dams, and votive-niches carved into the rock.

Al-Khazneh ( the “Treasury”)

Just when you think you have seen enough dazzling sights in the Siq, emerging from it you suddenly come face to face with Al-Khazneh…the pride and joy of Petra and the most beautiful monument there.

The architectural style of it was quite unique in the ancient world. Main inspiration was Helleistic, Alexandrian Hellenistic, plus that unique encompassing Nabataean artistic touch. On-looking tourists usually feel dwarfed by the huge size of the façade (30 m wide and 43 m high). It is truly breathtaking, so much so that no amount of descriptive prose does it justice, it is better-experienced first-hand. It was carved in the 1 st century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataean king; some scholars believe it was later used as a temple. The elaborately carved façade represents the Nabataean engineering genius.

High place of Sacrifice

Accessible after a hard but enjoyable mountain climb during which the tourists climb up flights of steps cut into the rock. Once you have reached the top, you will be rewarded with the spectacular view of Petra down below. The High Place, which is well reserved, was the venue for important religious ceremonies honoring Nabataean gods. It was perhaps also used for funeral rites.

Street of Facades and the Theatre

Past Al-Khazneh and the adjacent Outer Siq, we come to the Street of Faces, rows of Nabataean tombs with intricate carvings.

The theatre looks Roman but was executed by the Nabataeans in the 1 st century AD, as the shadow of Roman influence hung over the Near East. It is carved into solid rock except towards the front on either side, where part of it was built freestanding. Initially it could seat 3000 people, but was later extended to finally hold about 7000.

Royal Tombs

The impressive Royal Tombs, before erosion took its toll on them, once rivaled Al-Khazneh in beauty and grandeur, carved to house the tombs of Nabataean dignitaries.

Urn Tomb

The largest of the Royal Tombs, its immense courtyard and main chamber, 17 X18.9 m in size, are imposing. Believed to have been carved around 70 AD, it was altered in the mid-fifth century as it was reconsecrated to serve as a Byzantine church. Above the doorway are three chambers. A stone presumed to be depiction of the man buried inside blocks the central chamber.

Palace Tomb

An exquisite carved monument has the appearance of a palace, hence the name. Badly eroded yet it still looks magnificent, composed of three levels, richly decorated with columns and pillars.

Sextius Florentinus Tomb

The Latin inscription over the doorway makes it the only tomb in Petra we know for sure who it was built for. Sextius was the Roman governor of the province of Arabia and, as the inscription tells us, wished to be buried in Petra. His elaborate tomb was carved around 126-130 AD

Colonnaded Street

A beautiful colonnaded street, which led through the city centre, flanked by temples, public buildings and shops. A nymphaeum once adorned the street, the marble pavement still visible today.

Petra

Perhaps the words of Dean Burgon’s famous poem : ‘Match me such a marvel save in Eatern clime/ A rose-red city half as old as time…” reflect some truth about Petra. Some archaeologists have ranked ancient Petra as the eight wonder of the ancient world- a truly justifiable claim. Petra is unique in every respect, having something to offer to the historian, anthropologist, archaeologist, geologist, architect and the naturalist, all of whom regularly come to Petra to conducts their studies and be in touch with the ancient past. You do not have to be a specialist in any field though to appreciate Petra because, once inside of it, you will be quickly awe-struck and you will want to know the how, why and where about it.

This remote dead city is one of the great archaeological treasures in the world, undoubtedly; it is the most important famous attraction of Jordan. Much of Petra’s appeal comes from its awesome, multicolored sandstone high mountains; it is a secluded site of steep rocky slopes, towering craggy mountain tops and high cliffs, into which most of the celebrated tombs, facades, theatres, and stairways are carved…Nature and architecture concur into conferring a mythical aura to the site.

Most people, when asked, will tell you that Petra is an ancient city carved into solid rock by the Nabataeans, whose capital it became. This is not good enough. To fully appreciate the site we must know something about its builders.

Qasr al-Bint

Probably the main temple of the Nabataean capital, it is the only freestanding building in Petra to have survived centuries of earthquakes and floods. Its solid-looking silhouette dominates a large paved holy precinct (Greek:temenos), which was open to common worshippers, while the temple itself and the altar in front of it were the realm of the priests.

Ad-Deir (the “Monastery”)

A flight of 800 stairs cut into the rock takes you up the mountain of Ad-Deir, marvelous mountain scenes along the way up. And when you reach the top you will encounter Petra’s second most famed attraction…Ad-Deir. Huge in size yet beautifully awesome. The overall design resembles that of the Khazneh, but the architectural embellishment is simplified. Either tomb, temple or both- the Deir used to be an important pilgrimage site the way up the mountain serving as processional route and the open area in front of the monument as gathering place. Later, in Byzantine time, it was probably used as a church.

Petra History

The Nabataeans, on of the most gifted people in history, were ancient Arab tribes who originally came from the Arabian Peninsula, more that 220 years ago, and settled in southern Jordan. Before arriving in southern Jordan, they had lived for a considerable time in north-western Arabia, a strategic area that lay on the ancient Arabian trade routes linking China and India to the Mediterranean coastal cities and their ports. While in north-western Arabia, the Nabataeans achieved a certain degree of sedentarization and came under the influence of major foreign cultures due to the fact that they were engaged in the caravaneering business. This activity was heightened by the time they extended their area of influence to southern Jordan and Hauran. They became the undisputed masters of the region’s trade routes, levying tolls, protecting caravans laden with Arabian frankincense and myrrh, Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides.

Profits from the caravanning business enabled them to establish and organize a powerful kingdom that stretched to Damascus and included parts of the Sinai and Negev deserts, effectively ruling the greater part of Arabia. This was no easy task when we consider that the whole region was under the domination of the rival Greek factions, the Hasmonaeans and later the Romans. They fought vicious wars or resorted to cunning diplomacy to preserve their independence and civilization, but the all too powerful Roman Empire was not willing to tolerate a strong native kingdom, and the inevitable had to happen, in 106 AD, as the Nabataean kingdom was annexed to the Roman Empire. But even though, Petra and the Nabataean civilization managed to flourish and prosper for many more years, until the sources of its riches decreased due to such factors as the shift in trade routes and lesser demand for frankincense as Christianity replaced pagan religions. Eventually, the glorious Nabataean achievements and Petra fell to ruins.

The Nabataeans were clever and practical people, they never believed in national exclusiveness, were open to outside cultural influences, absorbed them and added to them their own native touch so that the final outcome of this interaction was a wonderful cultural melting pot. A short walk down Petra attests to this. Look at any carved monument and you will discern classical (Graeco-Roman), Egyptian, Mesopotamian and local styles, all fused into one unified artwork. Petra reeks of foreign and local cultural influences. The city was throbbing with life, crisscrossed by paved roads, agricultural terraces, water harvesting systems, artwork and temples, not to mention theatres. After reaching its historical peak though, Petra was gradually abandoned and after the 14 th century it was completely lost to the West, until a Swiss traveler named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812.

Four hours drive from Amman and you are at the fate of Petra; to explore it would be an unforgettable experience. Petra is a huge archaeological site and most tourists simply do not have the time to cover it. Three days are needed for honest exploratory coverage.

What to wear in Jordan

Jordan is a primary a Muslim country, although the freedom of all religions is protected. Muslim women’s clothing often covers their arms, legs and hair. Western women are not subject to these customs, but very revealing clothing is never appropriate, and conservative dress is advisable for both men and women in the old part of Amman (Downtown), and outside the cities. Shorts are rarely worn by either sex, and would be out of place in downtown Amman area. Topless sunbathing is prohibited and one-piece swimsuits are preferred, although two-piece swimsuits are acceptable at hotels pools.

Even in summer, evenings can be cool, so sweater or shawl is advisable. Winters can be extremely cold, especially in Amman and the east; you will need a raincoat.

Walking shoes are advisable since Petra and most of the archeological sites are unpaved and sandy.

Jordan Tourism Board

The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) was officially established in 1997 as a partnership between the private and public sector with the aim of creating and implementing marketing strategies to market Jordan’s tourism potential worldwide. The strategies were laid out to portray Jordan’s tourism potential and underline its importance as an ideal destination and business and conference hub.

As part of its marketing plan, JTB designs and executes a comprehensive plan to advertise Jordan through representation, trade fairs, workshops, exhibitions, educational trips, as well as public relations and distribution of advertising material.

To achieve our objectives, the Jordan Tourism Board North America undertakes the following:

Invigorate and promote tourism, spread tourism awareness, and cooperate with the Ministry tourism and the sectors involved in the tourism profession.

Prepare tourist brochures, films, booklets and posters; produce, publish, distribute and sell all sorts of tourism promotion materials and publish magazine and professional tourist periodicals.

Prepare tourist marketing and statistical studies and research, either through direct financing or through aid from international and non-governmental organizations that are active in this field.

Propose projects and action relevant to improving and developing tourist sites in the Kingdom.

Participate in training and rehabilitating the workforce in the tourism sector.

Contribute to events and activities related to tourism, including tourist weeks and festivals, and participate in national, regional and international occasions and conferences.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

The site of John the Baptist’s settlement at Bethany beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptised, has long been known from the Bible (John 1:28 and 10:40) and from the Byzantine and medieval texts. Here came the words, ” This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The site has now been identified on the east bank of the Jordan River, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and is being systematically surveyed, excavated, restored, and prepared to receive pilgrims and visitors since early 2000. The site is located half an hour by car from the Jordanian capital of Amman.

John 1:28 speaks of `… Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptising,` while John 10:40 mentioned an incident when Jesus escaped from hostile crowds in Jerusalem and `went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptised …..’ The site of this Bethany beyond (east of) the Jordan River is not to be confused with Bethany near Jerusalem, which was the hometown of Lazarus.

The Bethany area sites formed part of the early Christian pilgrimage route between Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and Mount Nebo. The area is also associated with the biblical account of how the Prophet Elijah (Mar Elias in Arabic) ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire, having parted the waters of the Jordan River and walked across it with his anointed successor, the Prophet Elisha (2, Kings 2:5-14). Joshua is also said to have crossed the Jordan River at this point.

The Jordanian Department of Antiquities has now identified nearly 20 related sites within an area stretching some 3 km east of the Jordan River. The site of Bethany beyond the Jordan has also been known by other names over the past 2000 years, including Beth-Abara of Bethabara, Beit el-Obour (`house of the crossing` in Arabic), Beit `Anya, Bethania , Bethennabris,`Ainon where now Saphsaphas`( on the sixth century Byzantine Madaba mosaic map of Holy Land), Saphsas or Sapsas, and perhaps also Beth-Barah (Judges 7:24-25).

The main settlement of Bethany beyond Jordan, some 1.5 km east of the Jordan River, comprises structures on and around a small nature hill, adjacent to the spring and small oasis at the head of the Wadi Kharrar (a perennial riverbed). The hill has long been known as Elijah’s Hill, or Jebel Mar Elias or Tell Mar Elias in Arabic. The site comprises a settlement that was inhabited from the time of Christ and John the Baptist, throughout most of the Byzantine period, into the early Islamic era, and again in Ottoman centuries.

Excavations of the earliest settlement from the days of Christ and John the Baptist have revealed at least three plastered baptism pools, a system of water pipes and channels to carry water to and from the site, and associated domestic and other structures. Ancient writers and pilgrims called the fresh spring at the site of Elijah’s Hill both John the Baptist’s Spring and Elijah’s Spring.

The later fifth to sixth century settlement from the Byzantine era was a substantial walled monastery, comprising plastered pools, water cisterns, and at least three churches and other buildings with plain white and coloured mosaic floors, some with crosses in the mosaics. One church mosaic inscription mentions Rotorius as the `head of the monastery`.

The Byzantine writers Jerome and Eusebius mentioned `Bethabara beyond the Jordan` in the fourth century as a pilgrimage destination where people went to be baptised. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, is to have crossed the Jordan River and visited Elijah’s Hill and the cave where John the Baptist lived, and built a church there to commemorate him. Stone and mud structures on the summit of Elijah’s Hill and on the adjacent hills to the south and east date from the mid-to-late Ottoman period (16th-18th centuries), when Greek Orthodox monks established a monastery at the site comprising different structures for worship, their residence and accommodation for visiting pilgrims.

Ajloun Nature Reserve

Ajloun Nature Reserve is located in the Ajloun highlands (North of Amman), around the extension of a long valley known as Wadi Ain Zubia. It consists of Mediterranean-like hill country, dominated by open woodlands of Oak and Pistachio trees. the Reserve was first established in 1988 when a captive-breeding program for the Roe Deer was initiated.

The reserve (13 square kms) is located in an area named Eshtafeena. The reserve management has set up two hiking trails and provided a special area for camping.

Ajloun’s woodlands consist mostly of Oak trees, interspersed with Pistachio, Pine, Carob, and Wild Strawberry trees. These trees have been important to local people for their wood, scenic beauty, and quite often for medicine and food.

The Roe Deer is adapted to forest habitat, and feeds on a variety of trees, shrubs and grasses. The rich Mediterranean-like forests that covered the Ajloun area provided an ideal habitat for millennia. However, deforestation and desertification over the past 200 years led to the decline in numbers of the Roe Deer. Three Roe Deers were introduced to the captive breeding enclosure in Ajloun in 1988, from a similar habitat in Turkey. Today, there are thirteen Roe Deer at Ajloun.

The Persian Fallow Deer is another species that was once common in Jordan. This animal probably became extinct by the turn of the century. A re-introduction program for this deer at Zubia will begin as soon as the Roe Deer program has been firmly established. This species of deer derives its name from the old English word “falu”, meaning “brownish-yellow”, which describes the color of its coat.

People with a Rich History
The Ajloun area has a long history of human settlement, due to its Mediterranean climate, dense forests and fertile soil. This rich history is reflected in the many archaeological ruins scattered in the woodlands and surrounding villages. In the village of Tubna, the visitor will find a Zeidanian mosque and a meeting hall dating back to 1750 AD. The visitor will also find a structure known as “Al’ali Shreidah”, home of the governor of the region before the establishment of modern Jordan. The governor’s home was much admired by the contemporaries due to the fact that it was the first two-level building in the region. The Ajloun Castle (Qal’at Ar-Rabad) built by Saladin’s nephew [1184 AD] is another important archeological landmark. The castle was built to control the iron mines of Ajloun, and to counter the progress of the Crusaders by dominating the three main routes leading to the Jordan valley and protecting the communication routes betweeen Jordan and Syria.

Settlement in Zubia Village/Ajloun Area dates back to the Byzantine period. There is an area in the village known as “the monastery”, which contains the remains of an old Byzantine church. There are also houses and stables dating back several hundred years. A spring located in a valley between Zubia and Tubna served as a major source of water for the surrounding settlements. Today, there are more than ten villages surrounding the Ajloun Reserve. Some villagers are involved in farming crops such as grapes, figs and olives while others work in the public sector. Ajloun area is famous for its olive trees and its assorted products.

Visas & Departure Tax

North American visitors (U.S., Canada, & Mexico) with valid passports may obtain a visa at the Jordan Embassy in Washington DC, or at any of the Consular Offices in the United States. Visas can also be obtained at Queen Alia International Airport or at border crossings except at the King Hussein (Allenby) bridge and the ferryboat from Egypt; payment must be in local currency (you can change money at the bank next to the visa office in the Arrivals Hall). Visas are valid for two weeks, but can be extended at any police station. Travelers must make sure their passports are valid for at least 6 more months from the day of departure.

Few formalities need to be observed when departing Jordan. A departure tax of 10 JD is payable at the airport or 5 JD at other border crossings.

United States of America
Embassy of Jordan
3504 International Dr., NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Phone: (202) 966-2861
Fax: (202) 686-4491