JIMOH BABATUNDE was part of selected Nigerian journalists that embarked on a journey across the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan courtesy of the country’s tourism board and the Royal Jordanian Airways.
He captures in this write up what Jordan has to offer tourists seeking different experiences from history to adventure, from religion to restorative experience.
The Queen Alia International Airport in Amman welcomes you with a hassle free, tranquil ambiance and friendly smiles. At the arrival hall of the Amman Airport, a small beautiful billboard welcomes a visitor to the “Home of Hidden Treasures.”
In a country where rain is a luxury, the cold outside of the airport after early down pour before our arrival was least expected as we quickly got into the waiting hands of the tour operator taking us into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for a week-long trip.
As we arrived Regency Hotel in Amman, I could easily sense the essence of Jordanian hospitality that awaits us in the country.
After two hours rest in the hotel, the tour of Amman began with the tour guide, Muhammed Khadeer , explaining that the country's capital and largest city, Amman , is located in a hilly area in the north-western section of the Hashemite Kingdom.
“The city's original design spanned seven hills, but it now encompasses an area spread over nineteen hills (each known as a jabal or "mountain"). The main areas of Amman gain their names from the hills and mountains on whose slopes they lie.
“Its history, however, goes back many millennia. The settlement mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath Ammon was the capital of the Ammonites, which later fell to the Assyrians. It was dominated briefly by the Nabataeans before it became a great Roman trade center and was renamed Philadelphia.”
He added “After the Islamic conquests, Amman became part of the Muslim empire, until the Ottomans were forced out by the Allies, with the help of the Hashimites, who formed a monarchy that continues to rule until the present.
I later discovered that Amman has a unique traffic set-up whereby the main sections of the city centre are connected through a series of traffic circles or round-abouts.
The tour guide later disclosed that there are seven round abouts or circles in the city, pointing out that the first circle, which we were passing through, is the first in a series of large traffic circles that are stretched across an east-to-west direction primarily connected by Zahran St.
According to him, this first circle is located in the older part of the city on Jabal Amman while the second circle is also located in the older part of Amman. He said the third circle also known as King Talal Square is of particular interest to tourists since it is surrounded by a series of popular tourist hotels and some of Amman's famous restaurants.
THE HISTORICAL JOURNEY
The visit of Amman will not be complete without a visit to the Citadel, a national historic site that is perched on top of one of the city’s high hills.
This summit is reported to have been used as a settlement and a fortress for millennia, dating back 7000 years according to some estimates, to the time of the rise of civilization in Mesopotamia and the Nile valley.
The Citadel is an astounding open-air museum where tourists can walk through time and see the relics of numerous civilizations. It has also witnessed numerous sieges, wars and earthquakes.
While fortification walls enclose the site, occupation throughout time has spread beyond its enclosing walls.
The ancient Citadel, study the traces of Amman's many lives: the regal columns of a roman temple in silhouette against the sky, the elegant capital of a Byzantine church, endlessly inventive carvings in the Umayyad Palace, fascinating displays in the Archaeological Museum, and digs and ruins everywhere.
It is also home to the first National Archaeological Museum, which houses an extraordinary collection of artifacts, such as pottery vessels, status and coins, found in Amman and other archaeological sites in Jordan.
Castle of Ajloun
The castle, an Islamic fortress, built during the period of the Crusades, is an interesting maze of passages and levels, and offers a wonderful view of the surrounding area, northwestern Jordan, and off into Galilee.
The castle was built in 1184-1885 AD and was one of the few fortresses built to protect the country against Crusaders’ attacks from both the west and the north. It also controlled the area around it, including controlling the iron mines in the area.
The castle is one of the best preserved and most complete examples of medieval Arab-Islamic military architecture. Ajloun Castle dominated the three main routes leading to the Jordan valley and protected the trade and commercial routes between Jordan and Syria. It became an important link in the defensive chain against the Crusaders, who, unsuccessfully spent decades trying to capture the castle and the nearby village.
ANCIENT CITY OF JERASH
From Ajloun, we moved to Jerash another historical site of significance that will thrill any history buff endlessly as the ancient city is remarkable for its long chain of human occupation.
It is one site where the Roman Empire came alive being one of the members of the Decapolis, a dynamic commercial league of ten Greco-Roman Cities.
Jerash covers an extensive area that must have been the city centre during the Roman conquest. The main entrance of the historical site is the Hadrian Gate, an imposing sandstone structure made of three arches, built to commemorate the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit.
Another impressive building in the ancient site is the South Theatre, a surprisingly well-preserved amphitheatre that could sit up to 2000 people back in those days.
The acoustics of the theatre is astonishing. We were thrilled hearing the echo of our voices bouncing back from the theatre walls as we stood at the centre of the theatre trying to enact a play.
The publisher of ATQ magazine, Ikechi Uko a historian in his own right was entrapped by the Cardo Maximus, a walkway that cuts through the city centre, typically found in most Greco-Roman cities.
A tourist at the site told this reporter that “it is a great impression and emotional to see many things from the past to the present here. I have never seen historical sites with this preservation, not even in Rome. Having old and new together makes the whole experience beautiful.”
This is one tourism attraction in Jordan that seems to have dwarfed other attractions as it is ranked as one of the eight wonders of the world. It is also one of the United Nations’ World Monument sites.
As we arrived the reception gate, little did we know of the long trekking that had to be made. If we had known, many of us would have put on our walking shoes for a trek through the 'Rose-Red City' of Petra.
Petra is renowned for its charm and ancient cultural heritage. It marks the achievement of an impressive civilization, the Nabataean Arabs, who perfectly carved the city into its mountains. It was considered a central convergence of the old trading roads between the Arabian Peninsula, Levant, China and Europe.
Our tour guide, Kahdeer, disclosed that Petra covers an area of about 100 square kilometres where over 800 monuments can be found. “When shipping slowly displaced caravan routes, the city's importance gradually dwindled; it fell into disuse and was lost to the world until 1812, when it was re-discovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.”
There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings - unlike the houses, which were destroyed mostly by earthquakes, the tombs were carved to last throughout the afterlife and 500 have survived, empty but bewitching as you file past their dark openings. Here also is a massive Nabataean-built, Roman-style theatre, which could seat 3,000 people. There are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets.
We entered through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80m high cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colours and formations of the rocks are dazzling. As one reaches the end of the Siq one catches the first glimpse of Al-Khazneh (Treasury).
The Treasury is said to be the pride and joy of Petra and the most beautiful monument there. It was carved in the first century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataen king, and it is believed that it was later used as temple.
The elaborate carved façade represents the Nabataen engineering genius. The most thrilling was the rows tombs with intricate carvings.
The Sextius Florentinus tomb is the only tomb in Petra that the person it was built for is known. Sextius was said to be the Roman governor of the province of Arabia and as the inscription shows that he wanted to be buried in Petra and his elaborate tomb was carved around 126-130AD.
Our walking tour continues down the path to the impressive 8000-seat Roman Amphitheatre. Archaeologists first believed that the Romans constructed the site in the 2nd century; further excavations have now shown that the amphitheatre was actually carved out by the Nabataeans around the time of Jesus Christ.
Mr. Ikechi Uko, said, “Petra is an exercise, the best gym in the world” having walked the over three hours to and fro, but many took the short cut of having to ride on horses .
If you are visiting Petra wear sensible walking shoes and carry plenty of water and food. Although there are plenty of Bedouin-run shacks on the main tourist route selling soft drinks, water and snacks, once you are on the back roads supplies are difficult to come by.