Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, currently one of the safest countries in the
Middle East, is a small country of roughly 90,000sqkm packed full of biblical
sites, Roman towns and Bedouin camps. Yet at the mention of Jordan, most people
think only of Petra, especially in
2012 when the red-rose city stepped into the limelight for the 200th
anniversary of its rediscovery by Swiss
explorer Ludwig Burckhard.
as this Unesco World Heritage Site is, Petra often overshadows the other historically
rich parts of Jordan that are exceptional in their own right. From the site
where Moses died to a city with ambitions to become the next Dubai, these
culturally significant places can be easily reached on a 370km drive that
extends almost the full length of the country, from the city of Jerash in
Jordan’s north, to the city of Aqaba on the north end of the Red Sea.
people fly into Jordan’s capital and leave without allowing time to explore the
sand-coloured city built on seven hills. But there is plenty to see, starting
with the arts centre Darat al Funun in Amman’s wealthy
downtown district of Jabal Al Lweibdeh. The three 1920s mansions contain the
work of more than 70 contemporary Arab artists, such as Syrian photographer
Hrair Sarkissian. Jabal Al Lweibdeh is also home to the city’s other top
galleries, including the impressive National Gallery, and beneath the
spires of the nearby Husseini Mosque, daily
street markets sell everything from household goods to gold jewellery.
as Philadelphia in Graeco-Roman times, Amman dates back to the Stone Age, and
the city’s most impressive ancient site is the Citadel, a
fortified hill with early Bronze Age tombs dating from 3300 to 1200 BC. Among
the Citadel’s impressive Roman structures is the Temple of
Hercules, built under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 to180
AD); the 6,000-seat Roman Theatre; and
the recently restored 500-seat Odeon,
a small amphitheatre that is still
used for concerts.
you have had your fill of Amman, hire a car and make for the open road, heading
50km north to Jerash, arguably the most impressive of the country’s many
untrumpeted sites. Counted among the world’s best preserved Roman ruins, the
city’s historical gems, such as Hadrian’s Gate and
the Temple of
Artemis, were hidden below ground until excavations began
year in July and August, the ancient city comes to life with the Jerash Festival of Culture
and Arts, three-weeks of dance, music and theatre. But the
most iconic Jerash activity is the chariot race; daily, 45-minute shows in the restored Hippodrome bring the ancient sport
back to life.
southwest, drive 120km towards the northern end of the Dead Sea, stopping briefly
at Mount Nebo. One of Jordan’s most revered holy sites, this is where Moses is
said to have died and been
high on a ridge, the view from the 800m-high mountaintop stretches down to the
Dead Sea, across to the West Bank city of Jericho and on a clear day, even to
Jerusalem, showing just how close cities and countries are in this part of the
Middle East. On the highest point, Syagha, sit the remains of a Byzantine
church and monastery, which were constructed by early Christians in the 4th
Century and rediscovered in the 1930s, stand on the mountain’s highest point. A
one Jordanian dinar ticket buys you access to the Mount Nebo
Interpretation Centre and the Basilica of Moses, which
contain a few very detailed Byzantine mosaic floors.
10km southeast is the Roman Byzantine town of Madaba.
Known as the City of Mosaics, Madaba is part of the 5,000-year-old King’s Highway and
dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. Its most famous site is the Greek Orthodox
Church of St George, on
the floor of which lies a 6th-century Byzantine mosaic map that
details Jerusalem, the Mediterranean coast and the Nile. Only part of the map
remains, but the original measured 16m by 6m, took six years to complete and
was made from two million pieces of stone.
can also admire the making of modern-day mosaics at Nebo's
Pearl on the road between Mount Nebo and Madaba. Sip
strong, sweet coffee as you watch the women labouring over the art form in a
studio, then shop for souvenirs in the extensive gift shop.
We could hardly suggest you drive past Petra without stopping, and Wadi Mousa, the modern town
adjoining the three millennia-old city, is just 200km south of Madaba. Built more
than 2,000 years ago as a tax collection point by the Nabataeans, a nomadic
Arab tribe, Petra’s giant rock-cut monuments are known across the globe. Allow at
least a day – or a couple if you can – since the city covers almost 100sqkm
and there are many lesser known sights,
such as Little Petra and the High Place of Sacrifice, to be discovered. Try to
arrive at dawn when the sun seeps over the canyon, illuminating the rock face
in soft light.
to the Red Sea by the Gulf of Aqaba, just less than 100km south of Petra, Aqaba is Jordan’s
only port city. It is a great diving spot, thanks to the red coral that gives
the Red Sea its name, but as a duty-free destination where people come to shop,
the city has ambitions to be more like Dubai. Visit Souk Ayyadi, one of the
city’s three large malls, to find Jordanian crafts such as ceramics and
14km drive south of the metropolis is Tala
an exclusive resort where the Sharah Mountains become more visible and the
waters clearer. You can also travel between Tala Bay and Aqaba by boat, which offers
good views of the city and allows for snorkelling with turtles, angelfish,
tigerfish, seahorses and dolphins. For sandwiches and snacks when you arrive, try
café situated among the shops and super yachts on the harbour. From Tala Bay
you can also cross the water for a day trip to Sharm el-Sheikh for more diving,
and perhaps to sample the nightlife in Egypt’s renowned resort.
is a small country and is very easily traversed by car. All the major car hire
companies have rentals, including Hertz
which has branches in Amman and Aqaba. Most flights go to Amman or Aqaba.
you have the budget then the Swiss chain Mövenpick has
several luxury hotels in Jordan, including one along the shore of the Dead Sea
that mimics a traditional desert town with adobe-style buildings leading down
to the water. There are also plenty of mid-range and backpacker options dotted
around the country. In Madaba, both Mosaic City Hotel and Mariam Hotel are
comfortable and mid-range, while Black Iris is a
simpler, family-run hotel where you can try some great Jordanian home cooking.
In Jerash, the Olive
Branch Hotel has a swimming pool and tents if you
prefer to camp, and Hadrian’s
Gate Hotel provides affordable accommodation and a
top location opposite the real Hadrian’s Gate.