Monday, October 26, 2015

Jordan/Israel: Day Three in Amman, Mount Nebo, and Madaba

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the
pleasantest sensations in the world."

Thanks to a bit of jet lag (not much really, which was nice), I was up early to repack my bag, moving things that I wouldn't need during the day from my carry-on backpack to my suitcase. Breakfast was a full buffet in the hotel restaurant, consisting of both Middle Eastern cuisine and dishes that might appeal to a more Western palate.

After packing our luggage on the bus, our first stop was the Amman Citadel, which is an important site because its historic ruins from the occupations of many civilizations including Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad. Also on the grounds is the Jordan Archaeological Museum.

Although Amman became the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the early1920s, its history dates back as early as 7250 BC making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

By the 13th century, it was known as "Rabbath Ammon" when the Ammonites named it their capital. Rabbath means "King's Quarters" or "Capital."

In the Hellenistic period, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Macedonian leader of the Ptolemeic Kingdom based in Egypt, occupied and renamed the city "Philadelphia" (after himself), which as you likely know, means "brotherly love" in Greek. He reigned from 283 to 246 BC and sometime later, the influences of new civilizations that conquered the city gradually began calling it Amman.

Walking the path at the Amman Citadel in Amman Jordan

The Temple of Hercules is probably the most significant Roman structure at the Citadel. Not much is left of it except a few columns and two pieces, a hand and an elbow, of what was a statue of Hercules.

Temple of Hercules, Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Temple of Hercules, Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Emery with the city of Amman as the backdrop

Emery and Mark chatting at the Citadel in Amman, Jordan

From the sign near the hand and elbow remnants:
These hand and elbow fragments belonged to a colossal statue from the Roman period and were found near the Temple of Hercules. The statue is estimated to have stood over 13 meters, making it one of the largest statues from Greco-Roman times. Due to the massiveness of the statue, the temple was attributed to Hercules who was renowned for his physical strength.

Nancy, Lynn, and Mark at the Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan
As with many places in Jordan, the stark contrast of the old and the new in the same frame was apparent and somewhat mind-boggling to think of the thousands of years of history piled on top of each other.

Contrast of the old and the new in Amman, Jordan

Not only did we have sweeping views of the hillsides of Amman from the Citadel, also visible was the ancient Roman Theater built between 138-161 AD. Built right in to the hillside, it accommodated about 6,000 and is actually still used for cultural events today.


Another structure of significance is the Byzantine period Church from the 6th century. As you can see, Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves were taken from the Temple of Hercules for use in the basilica.

Remains of Byzantine Church at Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Portion of a wall by the Byzantine Church at Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

I don't recall the significance of this cemetery, but you can see from the sign that the relatives of those buried here are unknown and most were buried before 1951.

Next building of major significance at the Citadel was the Umayyad Palace.

The courtyard and stairs across from the Palace

Closeup of the structure at the top of the stairs across from the Palace

My attempt at a selfie with the Umayyad Palace at the Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Our group led by Zaid, our Jordanian guide, outside the Umayyad Palace at the Amman Citadel

Inside the Umayyad Palace at the Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

In the pictures below you can see attempts at restoration of the stone carvings which allow you to see what it was like before years of erosion took place.

Umayyad Palace at the Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

We made our way over to the Jordan Archaeological Museum where we found the oldest statue ever to be built. "Ain Ghazal," made from plaster and discovered in 1985, dates back to early Neolithic period (8000-6000 BC). The statue represents two humans whose eyes are drawn in black paste made from natural bitumen (tar) and asphalt.

Emery and the oldest statue ever discovered
Jordan Archaeological Museum at the Amman Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Glazed plates and bowls from the 12th to 16th centuries

Glazed bowls and vases from the 12th to 16th centuries

Pathway leading out of the Amman Citadel

As you can likely can see, it was a very overcast day just threatening to rain. On our way out of the Citadel, it indeed started sprinkling. We had been lucky to walk all around the Citadel grounds in dry weather. At our next stop, the Roman Theater, we weren't so lucky.

While driving down the hill from the Citadel across to the other side of the valley, I noticed the extreme difference between the older and newer parts of the city. It's obvious in some areas how building and zoning codes were not in place or not enforced in the "older" parts of the city. Buildings are awfully close together and the layout appears to be completely unplanned.

By the time we arrived at the Roman Theater, it was pouring. We stopped at the Theater, but only about half of us bravely got out to walk over to the theater. About ten or fifteen steps away from the bus, I questioned my "bravery" and realized it was more like stupidity. Half the rain that hit the ground bounced back up at least two or three feet... meaning my pants were soaked. It's been a long time since I thought I needed rain pants in addition to my rain jacket. I contemplated turning back, but decided I would only be here once, so I went for it, tucking my camera in my coat pocket.

Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan
These pictures don't do the downpour justice. It's certainly hard to get a real idea of how much water it was, so you'll just have to believe me. I tried running across the plaza to the amphitheater, but I found that caused too much splashing which made my pants even more wet.

Someone else in my group took this photo. You can see me in the lower right corner.
Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan
with photos of King Hussein (previous), King Abdullah II (current), and Crown Prince Hussein

Upon entering the main stage of the amphitheater, I saw the waterfalls of rain cascading down the theater steps. Although the architects had created a great drainage system in the theater, they simply could not keep up with the downpour that was occurring. Shortly after taking the picture above (the only one I took while in the amphitheater), I immediately turned around and went back to the bus. There was simply too much rain and I was over it.

Though this picture is blurry, it might give you a sense of the downpour.
Take a look at the run away dumpster!

Back on the bus, it became clear that it would be awhile before my jeans dried out. Luckily for all of us, we had a large bus and only 20 in our group, so we each got our own row and were able to spread out.

As we left Amman, on our way to our next stop, Mount Nebo, the rain eased up. We passed by the American Embassy, then the Saudi Embassy, and finally the Syrian Embassy. We had taken the same road the night before on our way from the airport to our hotel, so we had seen the Saudi Arabian and Syrian Embassies. However, today, in the light of day there were now hoards of people standing in massive lines at the Syrian Embassy. Suddenly, the plight of these refugees became very real.

Jordan has taken in over 600,000 Syrian refugees. For a country whose population was estimated at 6.46 million in 2013, that number is astounding. Zaid, our Jordanian guide, was explaining to us the toll that this sudden influx of refugees has taken on the Jordanian infrastructure. Think about housing, food, water sources, schools. It's mind-boggling and the sight that day at the Syrian Embassy was a humbling reality check for me.

Settlement along the way from Amman to Mount Nebo

Along the way to Mount Nebo, we got a good look at typical Jordanian homes and villages. I noticed that four out of every five buildings appeared unfinished, but not currently under construction, some with rebar sticking straight up out of the top of the limestone buildings, and some with what looked like unfinished second stories.

Typical Jordanian homes with rebar at the ready for the second story.

Zaid explained that the reason was two-fold for the rebar. First, this was to leave room "for the next generation" to build on top. It's common for sons to marry and move back into the home of their parents, but on a different level, almost creating a family compound, of sorts. Secondly, buildings that are still under construction do not have to pay property taxes. Of course! I have seen this phenomenon in Colorado City, AZ and Hilldale, UT which are predominantly polygamous town along the Utah/Arizona border.

The last obstacle between us and the entrance to the Mount Nebo lookout as a giant herd of sheep.

The view at the entrance to the Mount Nebo lookout

After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses was given this view of the promised land. Quite an impressive view.

View of the promised land from Mount Nebo. The cities and distances are show in the next picture.

This sign shows the various different distances and locations of the cities from Mt. Nebo.
"Mount Nebo Distances" by David Bjorgen - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Mosaic floor at Mount Nebo

Mosaic with Greek inscription for the Kayanos Church at Mount Nebo

Mosaic from the Kayanos Church at Mount Nebo

Mosaic from the Kayanos Church at Mount Nebo

I am standing in front of the Brazen Serpent Sculpture by Giovanni Fantoni.
It is symbolic of the brazen serpent created by Moses in the wilderness
and the cross upon which Christ was crucified.
The Memorial Church of Moses which is the modern shelter built over the ancient excavated Byzantine Church was closed for renovations, so we weren't able to go inside and see the mosaic floors. But we passed a few mosaics on display from the Kayanos Church, as well as the olive tree planted for peace by Pope John Paul II in 2000 while on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land just outside the Byzantine church.

Pope John Paul II's olive tree for peace at Mount Nebo, Jordan

After boarding the bus to Madaba, we made a short "commercial stop" as Jim, our tour leader, called it, at the Desert Treasures Bazaar.

Desert Treasures Bazar
Ignore the dirty bus window through which I took this picture.

It's a small establishment where they make mosaics by hand. We got a demonstration of the painstaking work. These artisans were clearly highly-skilled and had created some beautiful mosaics--tables, chairs, lamps, vases, crosses, and wall hangings. Of course, everything was for sale and they were prepared for our visit. Unfortunately, none of us were interested in buying any of their work despite their ardent efforts to sell and market to us.

Mosaic creation in process

The mosaic creation process is actually quite interesting to watch. Using stone-cutting scissors they cut stone (which has already been cut into long rectangular "sticks") into small pieces to lay on the pattern they have drawn. The pattern is placed on the table backward, so that when the mosaic is turned over its right side is flat and smooth. They used a little glue and water mixed together to keep each piece of stone in place. When they are ready to frame the mosaic, they set it in place in a wooden frame that is flush with the edges of the mosaic, keeping the stones in place and then they soak the white cloth with the pattern in hot water to remove the glue. After removing the white cloth the mosaic pattern is securely in place in the frame with the right side facing out.

A large mosaic piece depicting The Tree of Life

Pulling away from the Desert Treasures Bazaar

Finally on the road to Madaba, it didn't take us long to get there. Once we arrived, we had to hike through the town to get to St. George's Church, since they no longer allow buses in the center of the city. We passed scores of shops with souvenirs, as well as everyday clothing and house needs.

Crowded Madaba streets

Jordanian "Barbie" dolls

Madaba is  best known for its well preserved Byzantine-era (6th centry) mosaic map on the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. It's a map of the Middle East, most notably of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Unlike most maps, this mosaic map is not oriented with north at the top; rather it faces east toward the alter, coinciding with actual compass directions. The church itself wasn't anything special inside, but the mosaic map was really quite amazing. Having watched the men at Desert Treasures Bazaar show us how long it took to do a small mosaic (probably a week), I can't even imagine how many hours of work were put into this Madaba mosaic map. Just incredible!


While we were visiting the church, Zaid, our Jordanian guide, picked up lunch (yes, everything up until now was in the morning): a shawarma for each of us from a restaurant called Darna. Having Zaid go made the price $2.50 per shawarma (similar to a Greek gyro) instead of "tourist price" which would have been at least double.

Darna Restaurant in Madaba

Lunch: Delicious lamb shawarma from Darna in Madaba

Leaving Madaba, we saw many empty lots full of trash. Sadly, littering doesn't seem to bother most in Jordan the way it does most Americans. Trash was everywhere along the road, sidewalk, and around buildings.

The three-hour drive from Madaba south to Petra took us through land that is generally dry and desert-like, but very quickly we began seeing pools upon pools of water from the rainstorm that came through earlier in the morning. Clearly there had been flash floods and there were still areas that looked like rushing muddy rivers, where normally there is no water at all. It was beautiful.

The sun was just beginning to set as we drove down the hill, through the village, down into Petra. We arrived just in time to check into our rooms at the Petra Guest House for the next two nights and then head to the dining room where a lavish buffet was awaiting us for dinner. We were certainly fed well on this trip. Lots of Middle Eastern salads, lamb and chicken dishes, dishes with carrots chickpeas, steamed vegetables, rice, roasted potatoes, cheeses, hummus and pita, and every meal included tomatoes and cucumbers. Yum!

After dinner we had a brief group meeting to discuss how the next two days would go and what our options were. Then many of us walked into town to buy bottled water, since Jim and Zaid had instructed us not to drink the tap water in Jordan. Apparently, the water is generally good, but contains bacteria or minerals that our American stomachs are not accustomed to. Bottled water was the safe route to a healthy trip.

Monday, October 26, day three:
Steps: 10,160
Miles: 4.64
Stairs: 14 floors