The ancient Greco-Roman acropolises of Jerash mark the remains of one of the many civilisations that have left their footprint over the centuries on the soils of Jordan, writes Francesca Lutin.
Crossroads of history, burial place of Moses, and home to the lowest point on land; the Kingdom of Jordan has long been a cornerstone of the Holy Land, with religious tourism rivalling that of travellers flocking to witness the remains of its Greco-Roman and Nabatean ruins. A hub for pilgrims following the footsteps of Christianity and Islam, the tapestry of modern Jordan is one that reflects its centuries-long influence as a nerve centre of expansion for some of the world’s greatest (and lost) civilisations.
Alexander the Great brought Hellenistic culture to Jordan and the rest of the Arab world during his conquest of the Persian Empire in 332 B.C. – while before that, the elusive Nabateans carved their Rose City out of the living rock at Petra, which today remains one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Later, the land would fall under the control of the Byzantine Empire before ushering in the Islamic Era in 636 A.D.
Today, Jordan remains a land in which its cultural mosaic can be heard in the tongues and accents that assault your ears on the busy streets of the capital, Amman. The city’s population of roughly 2.8 million has, over the past decade, been boosted by a steady influx of refugees from Syria and the Palestinian Territories.
Its renown as a cultural capital is complemented by the reputation for Jordanian hospitality that precedes it. A gateway to the Arab world and an epicentre of civilisations both ancient and modern, it’s a land with a story, written over millennia, that is still being told.
My favourite place- Wadi Rum. Roughly translating to ‘Valley of the Moon’ in Aramaic, this stark, desert landscape of undulating sand dunes spotted with rock formations and craggy outcroppings has long been the realm of many a Bedouin tribe. It’s also one of Jordan’s most desolate (and beautiful) places. Forgo the traditional dune-bashing in favour of a guided camel caravan excursion to a desert camp and sip karak under the stars.
Highlights- We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the country’s most recognisable icon – Petra. Give yourself at least two days to fully explore the Rose City, constructed by the Nabateans in 312 B.C. There’s so much more to Petra than that iconic first glimpse of the Treasury made famous in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade film. Today, it’s a fully-functioning Bedouin township, with families still calling its vast network of cave systems home. Give your knees a workout and don’t be afraid to climb the 850 steps to the Monastery – Petra’s largest and most commanding monument.
Lowlights- For all its ancient grandeur, there’s no escaping the fact that Petra is a tourist trap. The millions of visitors that flock through its canyons each year are the primary source of income for most Bedouin vendors that call it home. Expect incredibly persistent vendors, small children hawking postcards for one dinar, overpriced donkey and camel rides, and ‘ancient’ trinkets that you might want to get appraised before committing to buy. .
Souvenirs- Mosaic tile handicrafts from Aqaba, Ajloun olive oil, traditional ‘keffiyeh’ scarves, Jordanian kunafa sweets, Dead Sea mud.
Getting there- Oman Air flies daily to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman starting from RO163 round-trip, economy-class. Once on-ground, organise a driver or guide through a tour agency to help you get from Point A to Point B. A journey from the capital down to the Dead Sea region in the south is around three hours.
Where to stay- The Mövenpick Resort Petra is, literally, at the footstep of entry into the Rose City. A more ideal location you won’t find, but it books up fast. For a city stay in the capital you can’t go wrong with the Amman Marriott – it’s a city hotel that ticks all the boxes. And, finally, splash out for a pampering few days at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea amid ultimate luxury.
1. Enjoy the panorama view of the Promised Land at Mount Nebo
2. Float weightless in the Dead Sea
3. Go for a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over Wadi Rum
4. View the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jordan Museum
5. Grab some street-side falafel in Amman