As Middle Eastern cities go, Amman is a relative youth, and though it lacks the storied history and thrilling architectural tapestry of other regional capitals, there’s plenty here to encourage you to linger awhile before making for Petra, the Dead Sea or Wadi Rum. In fact, Amman is one of the easiest cities in which to enjoy the Middle East experience.
Aqaba, Wadi Rum & The Desert Highway
Southern Jordan is the home of the Bedouin, whose legendary courage and bravado were made famous by TE Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. They inhabit the unforgiving Southern Desert, a quintessential landscape of sand dunes, oases and weathered escarpments, beautiful at sunset and awe-inspiringly extreme in midsummer.
Jerash, Irbid & the Jordan Valley
The far north of Jordan is frequently eschewed by visitors, in favour of Petra’s grandeur and the splashy attractions of the Dead and Red Seas. However, this is a region rich in ancient ruins and biblical associations, all set in rolling countryside that’s ablaze with wildflowers in springtime.
Aqaba & Around
Perched on the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba, ringed by high desert mountains and enjoying a pleasant climate for most of the year, Aqaba has what it takes to make a major resort – a fact not lost on developers: the glamorous US$2.5 billion Saraya Project, which includes lagoons, a marina, a golf course and a British university, is well on the way to completion.
The village that has sprung up around Petra is called Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). It’s an easy-going assemblage of hotels, restaurants and shops stretching about 5km from ‘Ain Musa (Moses’ Spring) to the main entrance of Petra at the bottom of the wadi. Wadi Musa’s fortunes depend almost entirely on tourism.
The ancient Crusader stronghold of Karak (or Kerak) lies within the walls of the old city and is one of the highlights of Jordan. The fortified castle that dominates the town was a place of legend in the battles between the Crusaders (Franks) and the Islamic armies of Saladin (Salah ad-Din).
The amiable market town of Madaba is best known for a collection of Byzantine-era mosaics. The most famous of these is the mosaic map on the floor of St George’s Church, but there are many others carpeting different parts of the town, many of which are even more complete and vibrant in colour.
Arriving in the modern town of Jerash today, with its provincial streets and small market gardens, there’s little to suggest its illustrious past. But the moment you cross from the new town into the ancient city boundaries, marked by the imposing Hadrian’s Arch, it becomes immediately apparent that this was once no ordinary backwater but a city of great wealth and importance.
Wadi Rum & Around
Western visitors have been fascinated by the magnificent landscape of Wadi Rum ever since TE Lawrence wrote so evocatively about its sculpted rocks, dunes and Bedouin encampments in Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the early 20th century: The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow.