Jordan: The Final Chapter {Jerash, Karak, Madaba, Mt. Nebo}

Jordan: The Final Chapter {Jerash, Karak, Madaba, Mt. Nebo}

The dazzling colours of mosaic glint in our eyes

as we traverse through the tapestry of

history, decorative art, and spirituality that bind our soul

to the culture, loops, paradoxes,

magic, and mysticism of the land

JORDAN

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There is a lot for the creative mind to explore and discover in Jordan. The cityscapes, desertscapes, historical landmarks, and imposing monuments make it that part of the Universe where you want to escape to and return home feeling blissful. A travel to Jordan, in my opinion, will bring in awareness to the depths of history and culture of that land, and will awaken you to your spiritual grace, intellectual elegance, and unparalleled contentment in a very unique way.

Amman, the capital of Jordan, was our base when we started on our travel in and around Jordan. It was our base while we beguilingly explored Jerash, the Crusader castle of Karak, St. George’s Church in Madaba to admire the mosaic Holy Land map, Mount Nebo to visit the Franciscan monastery and soak up views of the Jordan Valley, and Petra the ancient Nabataean capital city and integrate it into our consciousness.

 

The Ancient City of Jerash and the Roman Ruins

Jerash and its ruins throw light on the existence of a magnificent Roman civilization that existed here for centuries. It is believed that the city began to flourish during the time of Alexander the Great and began declining during the 3rd century. The Muslim invasion and a series of earthquakes made it an abandoned city which was later rediscovered by Ulrich Jasper Seezten, a German traveller.

Jerash has a lot to offer in terms of history to travellers and this Roman site is one of the finest attractions of Jordan along with PetraWadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. The structures in this ancient city give glimpses of the life that existed here during the Roman civilization.

Whether it is the Hadrian’s Arch, Forum {Oval Plaza}, The Cardo Maximus, Nymphaeum, Temple of Artemis, and the Theater ~ they have all been restored beautifully to breathe life into one of the best vestiges of the Roman civilization that has arrived to our days, after its passing through the Middle West.

The Hadrian’s Arch also known as the Triumphal Arch is at the entrance to Jerash and derives its name from Emperor Hadrian who visited Jerash in 129AD. However, the most emblematic place here, at the ancient city of Jerash, is the Oval Forum which many believe to be an extension of the Temple of Zeus. The 56 columns around, which resemble organ pipes, stand out for their original elliptical disposition and are breathtakingly stunning!

 

The Cardo Maximus is the most important colonnaded street in Jerash and walking along the 800m stretch to reach the Forum is worth the effort because you get to see many buildings on both sides which are either being restored or in ruins and which give insight into the civilization that existed here.

Another attraction here is a water fountain dedicated to water nymphs; the Nymphaenum is a striking ornamental fountain on the western part of the Cardo Maximus. Water fountains were common features of the Roman cities and this fountain constructed in 191 AD has been well preserved and had water coming down from the seven carved lion heads. It must have indeed been an astounding sight!

The Temple of Artemis is another must-see in Jerash and is again a well preserved structure. Built on one of the vantage points of the city, the temple was dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess who was the patron goddess of the city.

Last but not the least is the Theatre with a seating capacity of 3000 people. You will be impressed to see the way it has been preserved, and two thousand years later it is still used for stage and musical productions.

 

The Archaeological Site of Jerash has an entrance fee of 10 JD {about INR 1000}. It includes the entrance fee to the museum too.

You can either take a bus at the station {Tabarbour, in the north of the capital} for 1 JD {about INR 100} or hire a cab which is not that expensive. With a couple of hours of waiting it might amount to 40 JD {about INR 4000} and you may find it more convenient than travelling by bus.

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The Ruins of Karak {or Kerak} Castle and the Crusaders

Built during the twelfth century, Karak Castle standing majestically 900 meters above sea level is an intriguing place that will make you wonder about the architectural competence and lifestyle of the Crusaders {Germany, Belgium, France and some other parts of Europe}. Located at the southern tip of Karak town, the castle gives dramatic views of the Dead Sea and the Jordanian valleys from its upper courtyard and should not be missed during your trip to Jordan.

The beautiful Al-Karak is located centrally and this crusader fortress, said to be one of the largest ever built, is historically known because of its positioning on the old caravan route between Damascus and Egypt. While the crusaders were only in Kerak for 46 years, their imprint on this town is still palpable.

There is a lot to explore hence make sure you wear comfortable shoes. The castle has several layers and the underground tunnels, long vaulted halls, hidden staircases, caves, dungeons, and punishment platform are mysterious and certainly have a story to tell {you might need torchlight to see many areas which are still cloaked in darkness}.

 

Whether you are taking a day trip from Amman {Wahadat Station downtown} or stopping on the way from Amman to Petra, this highlight in Jordan will leave you awestruck! Admission to the castle is free if you have a Jordan Pass, or else will cost you 2 JD {around INR 200}.

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Mādabā ~ City of Mosaics

Around 30 kilometres to the south of Amman is the small town of Madaba, also known as the City of Mosaics. You might be curious to know why it is called so. The town is renowned for its colourful collection of Byzantine mosaics, and it is believed that buried underneath every single house in that town is a Byzantine mosaic ~ with the most popular one being the map in the Basilica of Saint George, a 19th century early Byzantine Greek Orthodox church which is also called the Church of the Map.

This splendid 6th century map occupying the floor of this venerable church depicts the entire region from Jordan ~ Palestine in the north to Egypt in the South. Said to have been built between 542 and 570 AD, the map was rediscovered by the Christian settlers in 1880s, and is believed to be the oldest map of Palestine that is in existence now.

It was incredible to see the detailing, intricacies, and nuances that have gone into the creation of this unique mosaic map. And one can only imagine the stories that were told and the amount of time that must have gone into its making! The mosaics are still now, one thousand five hundred years later, one of the economic powers of Madaba.

 

Madaba is closer from Amman than Jerash and you can either take a minibus from the east station of Amman which comes up to 500 Fils {about INR 3400} or a shared taxi which works out to be cheaper. Visit the Church of the Map from 7 am to 6 pm Monday to Thursday and from 10 am to 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. There is an entry fee of 1 JD {about INR 100}.

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En route to Mount Nebo, we made a stop at the Mosaic shops where we got glimpses of how these mosaics are made. It is quite fascinating to watch the women engrossed in making these vibrant pieces. The creativity and detailing that goes into this decorative art left me mesmerized. We were told that the mosaics are made upside down and then flipped over once completed and what comes as finished pieces will be the smooth side. A small piece {around A5 size} takes eight weeks to make!

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Mount Nebo and its Religious References

Standing 817 meters above the sea level overlooking Wadi Musa {Valley of Moses}, Mount Nebo holds a special place in biblical history, as it is from atop this mountain that Moses saw the Promised Land. Moses is believed to have been buried in Wadi Musa though no one knows the exact location of the burial site.

The serpentine cross sculpture here which acts as a metaphor for life is also symbolic of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. The sweeping views of the land from the summit are overwhelming for everyone ~ tourists, historians, photographers, and religious groups alike. It was quite a spiritual moment for us ~ standing on top of the hill and looking at the Dead Sea, The Jordan River, and the hills of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

There was something meditative and peaceful about the place. Although I am not deeply religious, I have to say that standing there I felt a sense of divinity that made me contemplate my acceptance of the Universe. I thought about the calmness of the shifting role of spirituality and religion and how it opens a whole new door when it comes to apprehending the power that lingers in places such as this.

Vikram and I were prepared for the spiritual vibe of the place; our private guide Aakrama had already explained to us about the everlasting biblical representation of the place before taking us there.

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Mount Nebo can be reached in a private taxi from Madaba {costs 5 JD, and 8 JD return, with one hour waiting time ~ about INR 840}. The site is located 10 minutes west of Madaba by car and 26km from Amman. There are plenty of shared taxis available for 1 JD {about INR 100}. You might also find drivers offering trips to Mount Nebo along with a trip to the Baptism Site at Bethany for around 20 JD {about INR 2100}.

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Currency

As I have already mentioned, you will need Jordanian Dinars to visit all these places. The Global Exchange has its branch at the Jordan airport or you can get your money exchanged from your country before travelling. Make sure you have enough Jordanian Dinars to pay for anything you may need while travelling in and around Jordan.

 

“The use of travelling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson

 

* Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the Jordan Tourism Board. Due judgement and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review.

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* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *

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