After breakfast, we will embark on a full day of exploration of ancient Amman. Amman is a city that unites old and new and has served as both the modern and ancient capital of Jordan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a 1994 excavation uncovering homes and towers believed to have been built during the Stone Age, circa 7000 BCE. The earliest written records refer to the city as Rabbath Ammon, the capital of the Ammonites in the 12th Century BC. Later the city was named Philadelphia under the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, 283-246BC. As one of the cities of the Decapolis under king Herod in 30BC major building works were conducted. The 6000 seat Roman Theatre on the citadel is a testimony to the period, although extensively restored it is a classical example from this period. Also on Citadel Hill, just north-west of the Temple of Hercules, is the Jordan Archaeological Museum. This small museum houses an excellent collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric times to the 15th century. (The Dead Sea Scrolls are currently being located in a new museum and unfortunately will not be available to view until the October departure.) We will then proceed to the west of the city to the fertile valley of Wadi As-Seer. In the Spring time you will have the opportunity to see black iris, the national flower of Jordan. We will travel approximately 10km down the valley to Iraq al-Amir. Here we will visit the caves said to date back to the 2nd century of the Tobias dynasty and have Aramaic inscriptions. We will then return to our hotel in Amman for the evening.
This morning we will have an early start to make the journey north to Irbid. Irbid is a vibrant university town and home to arguably one of the best museums in Jordan, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The most remarkable artifacts are the Ain Ghazal statues, which date to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period and are dated between 7500-5500 BC. The museum is host to many remarkable displays and the descriptions are in English. We will then head further north to Umm Qais which boasts fantastic views of The Sea of Galilee, on occasions the view can be obscured by desert haze. Umm Qais was once a centre of culture and arts. As one of the cities of the Decapolis, it was a centre for arts and culture and with its amazing setting it is an enchanting place. On our return to Amman we will stop at the ancient city of Pella, an important city in the Roman period, but also of great significance now as it has revealed evidence of 6000 years of settlement. After an interesting but long day we will return to Amman.
After breakfast, we will head to the ancient city of Jerash, about 45 minutes north of Amman. This was an incredibly important city, known as Gerasa, in Roman times. It was one of the ten wealthy, self-governing cities of the Decapolis, and was famous throughout the Roman world for the luxury of its lifestyle. Buried for centuries under blown sand, Jerash is the only city of the Decapolis to have survived to any extent, with an outstanding forum, colonnaded main streets, two theatres and a most impressive temple of Zeus. It is a fascinating place which evokes a sense of the life that had come before. You can imagine the bustling atmosphere on the colonnaded street lined with traders or the theatre filled with expectant spectators. After exploring Jerash we will head onto Ajlun to visit the Qala?at ar-Rabad. This castle is the only Arabic castle in Jordan. It is perched on Mt ?Auf and has fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. It is a fine example of military architecture and was originally constructed in 1184 AD but was destroyed and rebuilt following numerous wars and earthquakes over the centuries. We will then return to Amman for the night.
Today we will have the opportunity to explore the Desert Loop to the east of Amman, consisting of numerous palaces and minor forts dating back to the Umayyad period, 661AD to 750AD. Our first stop is Qasr al- Hallabat. Originally Roman, this castle was rebuilt during the Umayyad period when it was elaborately decorated in mosaics, carved stucco, and fresco paintings, thus transforming the castle into a palatial residence. There are about 150 inscriptions within the castle, mostly in Greek. The vast majority of these inscribed stones, which were reused as building material, belong to an edict issued by the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius (491-518 AD). A few kilometres down the road is Hammam as-Sarakh, a bathhouse and hunting lodge. The buildings have been almost completely restored, and you can see the channels that were used for hot water and steam. 100km east of Amman, the oasis town of Azraq has a large castle built from black basalt. This was Lawrence of Arabia's headquarters during the Arab Revolt. Heading back towards Amman, the Qasr El Kharraneh and Qusayr 'Amra are the best preserved of the desert castles. Qusair Amra is noted for its extensive fresco paintings which cover virtually all the interior surfaces. The paintings include themes such as hunting, dancing, and musicians, bathing scenes, cupids, and personifications of history, philosophy and poetry. After a full day of exploration around these sites we will return to Amman.
The journey south from Amman along the 5,000-year-old Kings' Highway is one of the most memorable journeys in the Holy Land, passing through a number of ancient sites. The first town we visit is Madaba, 'The City of Mosaics '. The city, best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, is home to the famous 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. With two million pieces of coloured stone, the map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta. Nearby is the biblical Mount Nebo where Moses was shown 'The Promised Land' before dying and also has beautiful mosaics. After a good look round we head south to the Dead Sea in time for a 'float' in the thick saline waters.
Leaving the Dead Sea behind us we drive through the deep gorge of Wadi al Mujib. This massive canyon is breathtaking and is now a huge nature reserve, covering 212sq km. We arrive at Al Karak and Al Shawbak, two castles that played an important role in the Crusades. Built in mediaeval times Al Karak is the larger of the two castles, its well-preserved fortifications towering over the town offering breathtaking views. The lordship of Al Karak and Montreal was one of the chief baronies of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem at the time. Al Shawbak, though not as well preserved is equally as impressive. Late afternoon we drive onto Petra, our base for the next 2 days.
Day 8 - 9
Two full days to explore Petra. The 'Rose-red city, half as old as time' - Petra was hidden for centuries until the Swiss explorer Burckhardt made his great discovery in 1812. Petra was founded by the Nabateans, an Arab tribe that arrived here in the sixth century BC. Building at Petra began in the third century BC and continued through the Roman period, financed by taxes levied on the desert caravans. Two features of Petra are unique: firstly, it is a city made defensible by being built down a series of chasms, rather than on a hilltop; and secondly, it is built directly into the rock - beautiful red and yellow sandstone carved into the most impressive facades which glow in the brilliant sunlight. After walking down the siq, the narrow chasm which is the only entrance to the city, we come out directly in front of El Khazneh, the Treasury. (Please note that due to current Jordanian group regulations the journey to the siq has to be taken on horseback - this costs US$10 and is included in the price). It is possible to walk this section for those who would prefer but the cost of the ride is part of the entrance fee and therefore cannot be refunded. Continuing to the centre of the city, we pass the houses and tombs of the rich citizens, and the amphitheatre. A long walk beyond the centre is El Deir, the monastery, with its superb facade topped by a huge urn (the walk up is by a series of steps). Some of the exploration can be done on horseback. On one of the days we take a walk to the high places where few others visit. This can be quite arduous and is not recommended for those who are unsure of their fitness. However, for those who do make it to the top, you will be rewarded with wonderful views.
We now join the modern desert highway and make our way to Wadi Rum, a stretch of beautiful sand and rock desert. This is where Lawrence of Arabia and Prince Faisal assembled the Arab tribes for the attack on Aqaba in the First World War, and also where sections of the film of 'Lawrence' were shot. We take a four-wheeled drive vehicle far into the area for an exciting desert adventure before driving south through dramatic scenery to Aqaba, Jordan's port and holiday resort. There are several good restaurants in Aqaba for our evening meal together.
The morning is free to explore and relax in Aqaba, famous for some of the most beautiful coral reefs to be found anywhere in the world. Your leader will be able to advise you on which are the best private beaches to visit as the public beaches generally do not have as many facilities. In the afternoon, we travel back to Amman on a more direct highway.