Four Days in Jordan
Jordan is a country roughly the geographic size of Indiana that was established in 1946 as an independent sovereign state (previously under a British mandate) with a constitutional monarchy. The Parliament proclaimed King Abdullah the first king in 1946 but when he was assassinated in 1951, his son, Talal assumed the crown but abdicated in 1952 leaving his son, Hussein to ascend the throne and rule the country until his death in 1999.
In 1999, Hussein’s oldest son, Abdullah (whose mother is British) ascended the throne and has ruled Jordan since. Educated at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and then Sandhurst in England followed by Oxford and Georgetown University in Washington, DC, King Abdullah II has allied the country with the west and maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and the West Bank and Israel, Jordan is a country worth visiting and a place where western tourists are welcome. Cognizant of previous attacks on hotels, westerners, and Jordanians, we were alert, respectful, conservatively dressed, and careful not to draw attention to ourselves (although we clearly looked western). While walking through a local market in Amman, we were made to feel very welcome with local vendors offering a taste of their products – falafel and pastries – with only a nod of appreciation expected as they would not accept payment when we offered.
Amman is the capital of Jordan and located in the northwest part of the country. A great place to start a trip, plan to spend a day exploring the city built on seven hills. We secured a tour guide (who was also a driver) through the concierge at the hotel (and there is a wide range of western hotels that can set up guides and drivers) because our time in Amman was limited to the day.
We also saw The Citadel, al-Qasr (Palace), and the Temple of Hercules – all located at a national historic site in the center of the city that contains archaeological ruins and the Jordan Archaeological Museum which is where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed along with many other artifacts. The museum is open every day from 8:00 – 6:00 except Friday when opening hours are from 9:00 – 4:00. For limited information (as the museum does not have its own website), go to www.visitjordan.com.
The Abu Darwish Mosque, built in 1961 on top of one of the seven hills of Amman is a beautiful black and white strip stone mosque worth visiting. Visitors are welcome and asked to remove their shoes upon entering and if female, asked to place a black robe over clothing. The mosque is approximately 27,000 square feet and can hold more than 2,000 people. This was the first and only mosque I have ever been in and touring it was a worthwhile experience.
Jerash is a city located approximately 30 miles north of Amman. On the outskirts, set apart from the modern city of Jerash are the ruins of the ancient city of Gerasa which is referred to as Jerash by westerners. These “Roman” ruins have been remarkably well-preserved and visitors can spend hours exploring temples, theaters, city walls, gates, a forum, hippodrome, and a long column lined street called the “cardo maximus” which could have passed for a Ben Hur movie set…but it was the real thing.
This site is the second most popular attraction in Jordan and is remarkable in how carefully preserved the buildings are. While we sat on the stone steps in the amphitheater pictured at right, we were entertained by a theater show which made us realize not much has changed: people were entertained in the same spot and in the same way a thousand years ago.
After exploring Jerash, go to “The Lebanese House Restaurant” located on the Main Road (no number…just Main Road) next to the ruins. The Lebanese House Restaurant has been around since 1977 and is a large traditional restaurant that has both indoor and outdoor seating with bougainvillea covering the entrance and walls. We opted for a table on the outdoor porch area as we visited on a beautiful sunny day when the temperatures were in the high 70’s.
A wide variety of food is offered on the menu with cold and hot dishes. Our meal started off with a series of cold plates served family style: humus, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant dip, olives, and tomato salad served with warm pita bread. Fried meat pastries and a mixed grill of meat and vegetables comprised the next course followed by a platter of Lebanese house desserts which were primarily puff pastry and honey based sweets. The food was so fresh and so delicious – without a doubt, the best meal we had in Jordan.
The hours are not posted so call beforehand. See the website for the menu, which is also in English.
Petra is the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan and is also one of the new seven wonders of the world. If you’ve ever seen the First Indiana Jones movie, part of Petra – The Treasury – is visible in the film footage. Petra is a city that was literally carved out of rock approximately 3,000 years ago. Hidden from the world and potential conquerors by tall rock formations, Petra has been remarkably well-preserved and is quite large, requiring a full day to explore, although there are tourists that spend multiple days visiting this site.
To enter the ruins, visitors have to walk (or be carried on a donkey or horse-drawn carriage) a kilometer long narrow meandering gorge passage called a “siq” that has soaring 250 foot high walls on either side.
This is just the beginning as the city sprawls out and includes tombs, a theater, the Avenue of Facades, the High Place of Sacrifice, the Colonnaded Street, and the Monastery which can only be accessed after walking up some 800 steps although a donkey can also carry visitors up these narrow steps. My daughter convinced us to walk up the steps and gave us minute by minute countdowns of how many steps we had to go…”only 654 more steps to go.”
There are two restaurants in the ruins: The Basin Restaurant (03 215 6266 from within Jordan) operated by the Crown Plaza that serves grilled and barbecued food and the Nabataean Tent Restaurant (no phone number) that serves a buffet oriental lunch. Plan to have lunch at one of these sites but try to make reservations either by phone or during a visit. Don’t forget to fill a backpack with water bottles and snacks as the days can be long and hot.