As Seen in…
Places to visit in Jordan and on our tours in the Middle East
Why visit Jordan?
Today’s stable, economically successful and wonderfully welcoming kingdom has been a hard won success story: the region around Transjordan has witnessed the vicissitudes of war over the millennia, which have left the indelible print of history on this noble land.
Whilst today’s Jordan is relatively vast at 89,342 km², its 10.5 million people are broadly centred on the productive highlands of the western parts of the country, arable fields and woods of Aleppo pine, cypress and oak, which sink down to the Jordan Rift Valley and The Dead Sea – an incomparable 420m below sea-level. Its uncannily azure waters betray the intensity of the salination which can today support a human body on its surface. To the east of the ridges, the land becomes arid and dotted with oases, seen in the idyllic wilderness of Wadi Rum, ‘Valley of the Moon’, where modern Bedouins still practise nomadic lifestyles alongside disarming hospitality.
The changing faces of the landscape are nowhere more stark than here: dunes of burnished gold, framed through nature’s arch-like aperture and cockling towers like mummified fingers of stone that subside from dark ochre to rosy copper in the evening light. Into this land of harsh contrasts came early hominids who settled and left a rich plethora of prehistoric sites, including, curiously, the first recorded bread-making evidence. The Jordan provided a corridor for ancient Egyptian expansion and by the Iron Age three tribal kingdoms of Moab, Amon and Edom vied for power, recorded in conflict with early Israel and Judah as they settled. Visitors can retrace their arrival by ascending Mount Nebo and standing where Moses reputedly stood to survey the land of Canaan, a majestic view of striated and gullied highlands rolling away into the deep green haze of acacia and olive-clad hills.
Throughout the next centuries, the region traded lucratively with Assyria and Babylon, before being subsumed into the latter Empire and subsequently the Persian and Hellenic civilisations. The arrival of the Romans in 63 B.C. was swift and decisive: following Pompey’s victory, the thriving kingdom of Nabatea was permitted autonomy until 106 A.D. when Trajan decided to annexe it, yet this period was the golden age of the Nabatean capital, Petra. The people’s stonemasons were true geniuses, and Petra’s great city was literally hewn out of the pink sandstone of the layered canyons.
The incredible mausoleum of King Aretus IV, a superlative monolithic carving, which is as utterly compelling as its much vaunted description promises, is merely the tip of the iceberg here: temples, the splendid treasury, theatres, churches and a highly sophisticated water system define this as a culture at the zenith of its powers.
Trajan also rebuilt the King’s highway, the oldest continual use road in the world, whose dramatic route stretches sinuously along yawning contours to span the rugged topography. The ruined Roman city of Jerath also demonstrates the Empire’s power from this period, preserving decadence in the temple of Apollo, Hadrian’s arch, the forum, amphitheatre and elegant colonnaded procession from the modern city. Christianity’s arrival and the fracturing of the Roman Empire led to a proliferation of Byzantine churches, nowhere better illustrated than in the mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor of St.George’s in Madaba, its survival belying the religious tug of war that characterised the next centuries.
Karak castle emanates from the brief Crusader monarchy, a colossal, imposing testament to the flowering of military European construction in the 12th century. The caliphates of the 7th-12th centuries and then Saladin’s victories in the 1180s ushered in a lasting Islamic legacy, with warring factions such as the Ottomans and the Pashas supplanting one another until the British sponsored Arab revolt of 1916 which ousted the old Turkish overlords and laid the foundations for the current state. Independent Jordan effectively began in 1946 and the country has weathered the vicissitudes of the 20th and 21st centuries, making Arab-centric reforms, a coherent democracy, a vibrant capital and a stable economy in the process.
Visiting is a straightforward and hugely rewarding experience; exploring Jordan is to relive the labours of many ages and peoples in a mesmerising flurry of unforgettable experiences.