My hurried exit from Lebanon stands in stark contrast to the almost western modernity of Jordan. This small country is almost completely landlocked and a haven of political stability in a veritable sea of chaos. I have rented a car here and while the traffic is a bit disorganised it is nothing compared to the rest of this region and Lebanon is a prime example. As I drive north of Jordan the situation is underlined by road signs. Two in succession point to exits and say “Iraq border” and Saudi border”” respectively. Further north a sign says “Syria border”. No doubt tomorrow when I am driving south there will be signs “Israel border”.
I have an all too short 4 days here and my prime objective is of course one of the 7 wonders of the world, Petra. I have dreamed about seeing Petra since I first started travelling some 40 years ago. More recently the rest of the world “discovered” Petra after Indiana Jones holy grail movie and now it receives thousands of tourists every day.
First, though I drive 1 hour north of the capitol of Amman to Jerash. Jerash is one of the best preserved complete Roman cities in the world. It is a huge site that was, under the emperor Hadrian, for a short time the capitol of the Roman empire. Apart from the amazing state of preservation what strikes me most about this site is that as you walk along the long main colonnaded street, the cardo, you actually feel as though you are walking through a town. There are gateways, cobble stoned roads with grooves made by chariot wheels still evident, the hippodrome for chariot races, 2 theatres for arts, central water fountains to supply the town’s needs.
Jordan is, of course, not without its share of biblical sites bordering down south with Israel and Palestine. As this has been effectively a war zone for most of the 20th century there has been little done in the way of exploration here. In 1996 along the Jordan River archaeologists identified the site where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. The discovery has since been ratified by historians and church authorities and the area which is militarily sensitive as the Jordan River is the border between Jordan and Palestine has been opened up to tourism. Arriving at the site I am unimpressed by the Jordan which looks more like a swampy, muddy puddle but deeply moved by the history of the actual baptism site. This has become a “pilgrimage” site for Christian tourists who come in groups, dress in white robes and immerse themselves in the unappealing muddy water singing hymns.
From there it is a long but beautiful drive along the Dead Sea which, at 430 metres below sea level is the lowest point on earth. It is warmer and more stifling down here but the sea is beautiful and there is not another car on the road. It is a popular pastime to do into the water and float in this super salty water where buoyancy is maximised but I have no time for that. I complete the day with a steep walk up a hill to see the cave where the old testament’s Lot sheltered after fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah. The history here is truly mind blowing!