My ultra-gregarious innkeeper Raymond Alassad at the Amman Pasha Hotel made arraignments for my friend Paula and I to have a car and driver to take us to Petra . There are two routes down to Petra…the direct route on the super highway which only takes 2 ½ hours or the scenic route down the Kings Highway which takes about 5 ½ hours because of the winding roads through the mountains and stops along the way.
We picked the scenic route and our first stop was Mt. Nebo where Moses received his marching orders for the Promised Land. As I stood there overlooking the surrounding landscape I waited with my ears pealed for any whispers from the Deity. There were none and I was just as glad because in scanning the hills surrounding Mt. Nebo I would not have liked to wander around for two weeks let alone forty years. A desolate, rugged, rock strewn, mountainous countryside as inhospitable as one could imagine, spread out as far as the eye could see.
We did not linger at the top due to gale force winds which chilled us to the bone but moved on down the road to Madaba. Now a busy market town it is best known for its collection Byzantine era mosaics. Many buildings have been excavated and there are examples at various sites around the city. The best preserved and most interesting are the mosaics on the floor of St George church…a Greek Orthodox Church built in 1884 over the remains of a Byzantine church. The mosaic dating from around 560 AD shows a detailed map of the Holy Land with 157 captions to denote churches and holy places.
The town of 70,000 is easy to explore on foot and the Madaba Archaeological Park offers a good overview of the Roman Architecture dating from the 2nd to the 6th century AD and mosaics from the Byzantine era.
Also along the way are Crusader Castles dating from the 12th century. We visited the most famous of them “Karak”. Built by Baldwin l of Jerusalem in AD 1142 it stood at a strategic spot on the trade routes to Mecca and Egypt and was able to severely disrupt the supply lines of the Islamic armies. It was taken by the Muslim armies of Saladin in 1183 after an epic siege. Subsequently it was taken over and used by Beybars the Mamluk Sultan until AD 1293 when a earthquake cause three of the stone towers to collapse. A great stone hulk, it sits on a hill that offers a beautiful vista of the surrounding countryside and is worth a short visit.
Between Karak and Petra the terrain changes dramatically. We wound our way through Wadi Mujib…The Grand Canyon of Jordan..and this is stunning! A Wadi is a valley or river bed that is normally dry except in heavy rains! Heavily eroded hillsides and canyons covering a distance of 70km between the Dessert Highway and the Dead Sea are both spectacular and historic. The barren land was once green and fertile and the capital of an empire carved out by King Mesha in the 9th century BC.
It takes 18km of switchbacks to reach the dam and small lake at the bottom of the canyon and up to the picturesque olive grove filled plateau on the other side. It is hard for me to imagine the immense climatology changes that have occurred over the past 2,000 years that have changed this area from a Garden of Eden to a harsh forbidding landscape but I fear we are in the midst of similar changes in our present day world. The ride into Petra was scenic and interesting but the real draw is Petra…the ancient city of the Nabataeans and one of the 7 Wonders of the World….which I can’t wait to explore.