Kyoto – Temples, Beautiful Gardens, Zen

I had a busy first full day in Kyoto (my second day in the city), visiting the Heian Shrine, Konkaikōmyōji (also known as Kurodani Temple), Ginkaku-ji, Philosophers Walk and Hōnen-in Continue Reading →

Get wet at Wadi Mujib, floating on the Dead Sea

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Being happy with Tawfeeq’s ½ day trip the previous day we agreed to do another the following, this time a hike at Wadi Mujib and visiting the Dead Sea.  I hope this post is a short one, something I seem to struggle with keeping things succinct…let’s see how it goes.

Tawfeeq took a different route than the day before, although we were very near to the places from yesterday the place looked very different as we rode next to the Dead Sea.  In the entire time whilst at the Dead Sea it always looked calm; a shadowy dark blue with a silky sheen surface and slow rocking ripples like velvet.  The sea fades towards to edges to a misty turquoise as the salt crystals reflect the light through the water, the sea framed along the coastline with a ring of white crystals along the banks.

Dead Sea

View across the Dead to to Israel

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

On the way to Wadi Mujib we stopped over at a few locations to take in the scenery, many overlooking the Dead Sea.  I was surprised how narrow the Sea is, Israel is a stone’s throw away; the Dead Sea is dwindling every year as the water recedes and its tributary rivers too.  One thing that I will remember is the flies, they seem to be everywhere, not right by the water, instead they seem to linger 50-100m from the Sea.  Every time we stopped to take in the views we were inundated by flies!  On one occasion they gathered in their hundreds right by the car wheel, no clue why, when we road off we had to open the car windows just to blow them out!

Dead Sea

Dead Sea, with Lot’s wife at the top right-hand-side

Lot’s Wife – This whole area, not just Jordan, is full of Abrahamic religious sites as you would expect; Jordan and all the surrounding countries are very much the focal point of these religious.  One such location is Lot’s Wife or Prophet Lut, about 15 minutes from Wadi Mujib, the stories differ slightly between the three-major religious, the Christian/Hebrew text say that Lot’s wife was turned into a salt crystal after ignoring an instruction to not look back whilst Sodom was being destroyed.  The views from this location are fantastic, with Lot’s wife behind you get the perfect place to see the Dead Sea and the dense salt crystal along the shore.

Dead Sea

Lot’s wife

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

I climbed down the hillside to get to the water’s edge, not advisable and Tawfeeq recommended I shouldn’t…afterwards I understand why.  The hillside from the highway to the Sea is mainly rocks, nothing or very little firm too so I did a lot of sliding, even going very slowly it was a tricky descent – doing down was more difficult than going up but if I did it again I would choose an easier location.  Once at the water, the views are rewarding, the salt crystals covering every millimetre creating boulders of crystals as far as the eye can see.  No flies here, nothing lives here, the smell of salt fills the area, you feel the thick salinity in the air and the water laps the shore like runny treacle.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Wadi Mujib

Only a short ride further down the highway, (one that starts past Amman and runs almost the length of Jordan down to Aqaba) is Wadi Mujib.  I’d not heard of Wadi Mujib before, the first time I saw a picture of it was at the motel in Amman, a young French couple said it was nice, the pictures looked good too.  I had no idea what to expect, from the pictures it looked like a Siq with a river running through it, that is what it is.  Only difference is that you can hike through the river and up the Siq for a few kilometres, maybe 2-3km.

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

For the life of me I cannot remember how much entry into Wadi Mujib costs, personally it was worth it, whatever the cost! Spending days upon days in the relentless sun, walking and hiking in a dusty barren environment what could be more welcoming than hiking and swimming in a pristinely clear and refreshingly cool river!  Part of the entrance fee includes a life jacket, this is compulsory and advisable too.

Some tips for Wadi Mujib:

  1. Take a towel
  2. If you can, take a spare set of dry clothes or do the hike in your swimming costume/bathing suite
  3. Wear proper shoes, not flip flops, and prepare to get them fully immersed in the water – this is unavoidable as you walk in the river most of the time and traverse up some waterfalls too.
  4. Sometimes the water gets shoulder deep (there are ropes) and considering I’m six foot 2, there is easy swimming for most
  5. If your camera/phone isn’t waterproof or you don’t have a decent waterproof cover don’t take it
  6. Before you go check with your guide or call Wadi Mujib to see if it is open.  If there is heavy rain, this gentile stream becomes a raging torrent! I’ll post a video so show, however in the most it is a tranquil retreat.

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

I won’t bore you with the geological reasons on how this gorge was formed it does however lead into the Dead Sea at circa. 420m below sea level, but yes, like I said this whole region has Abrahamic sites and Wadi Mujib is no exception – in all probability this is the River Arnon mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Primarily this is a “walk” through the river, with some tricky (but easy) sections along the way.  In most instance you are shin/knee deep, but like I said not all the way.  Where there are elevation changes, and there are a few, maybe 6 or 7, there are permanent fixed ropes and even a ladder at one of them.  To me this is a place where you take your time, as much or as little as you have, preferably go when it is not busy too, or else you could get stuck in a traffic jam as I did at one point with a group of 15 mature tourists – I just helped them pass and held back for a bit so that I had solitude.   A round trip at Wadi Mujib only takes 1 to 2 hours at most, it is fun, relaxing, soothing and gives you time to reflect and take in the stunning surroundings whilst staying cool.

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib gives you a feeling of little contrast between the water and the cavern that stretches 70 odd metres high at points.  The rippling water against the curving rock compliments each other, separate elements, but have been lock together for thousands of years, they are one, their shape, flow, texture and reliance have been in unison long before any inhabitant arrived here to create what we see today.  This gorge has been forged at fractions of a millimetre over the years, looking up the rock surface is like looking back in time, a clock spanning over thousands even tens of thousands of years.

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Dead Sea

Somewhere along the line in Jordan, maybe when I traversed (slight exaggeration!) down the hill to the sea, my camera got some dust (or something) inside the lens causing a smudge halfway between the centre and bottom righthand corner!  GRRRRRR!!!  So, after unsuccessfully trying to clean it, not possible with no tools I had to revert to my phone and keep using it for the next few weeks (more about that later, and I need to change my blog to reflect my new camera).

Anyway, staying at the Dead Sea is expensive compared to the rest of Jordan, it only has resorts therefore you pay accordingly.  My plan was to use it for some quiet time and plan the next leg of my journey, my thoughts were Israel or Turkey.  My resort, Jordan Valley Marriott Resort was just like all the others, although it was nice to have an air conditioner, swimming pool and private beach (think all if not most do), you are quite limited as to where to eat and tend to only stay at the hotel – ps. The breakfast was delicious, and the spread has got to be the most expansive one I’ve ever seen.

Dead Sea

View from the hotel

In retrospect I used my time at the Dead Sea productively and got a lot of writing done, at an expense and wouldn’t do the same thing again if I had the chance.  An alternative would be to spend 2 days at most at one of the resorts then leave, accommodation starts at around 90 Dinar per day including breakfast, so more than double the price from the most expensive place I stayed in.  Why do people go to the Dead Sea you ask?  Forget the resort, of which most workers seem to be Philippine, people go there to indulge in covering themselves with Dead Sea mud and float along the water without any strain to keep afloat.

Dead Sea

Private beach at the hotel

Does Dead Sea mud work, scientifically I have no idea, it does without doubt make your skin feel bloody awesome after you wash it off, as smooth as silk.  It made me laugh seeing all shapes and sizes covering themselves in this gunmetal grey mud, of course I did it too!  Keep it on for a while till it dries then wash it off in the sea – I think all the resorts offer mud spas with all the bells and whistles!   The photos aren’t great, with the sun glaring from behind and using my phone, not to add my hands were covered in mud, I did the best I could, I’m sure you get the idea.

Floating on the Dead Sea…is a strangely surreal experience.  Most people have heard that you can float on the Dead Sea, the salinity is near or just over 33%, but most people won’t understand unless they have done it, not only the Dead Sea other places too.  To put it into words, the water is so dense that you need to put effort in to stand up!  It is not possible to sink unless you tied weights to yourself, a lot of weight…walk into the water, lie back and voila!  No matter what you try you just don’t sink; you can put your hands behind your head and bring your knees to your chest, all that happens is you bob around but don’t go any deeper as is there is a strong but extremely thin film holding you up.  There are two downsides to the Dead Sea, 1. Don’t get it into your eye, it’s so salty it burns like hell. 2. Don’t get it into your mouth, it tastes vile, the taste lingers on for a looooong time!

Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is the lowest land on earth at 420m below sea level and at its deepest near 320m.  Nothing lives in the Dead Sea, no fish, plants etc. the banks of the short are either rock, stones or salt crystals.  The water is so salty that it feels oily, the swells of the water move slowly as if needing extra effort.  It reminded me of stirring melted ice cream, still soft to the touch with a slight sludge but somehow only slightly less fluid as water.  It was a strange and interesting experience, love to do it again but only for a day and no more.

Dead Sea

Slapping on the mud!

With time running out, needing to get back to the South Africa before heading to Namibia to my friend’s wedding early December (whilst there I would head back to Cape Town to spend Christmas with my mother), a decision needed to be made where to next.  Israel was top of the list, reluctantly I had to go for plan B, Istanbul – from there is would also be easier to fly directly to Cape Town.  I only had 6 days to play and Israel is too big to be seen in 6 days, added to that I was extremely surprised at just how expensive Israel is!  Next stop, Istanbul!!!

Dead Sea

Misty sunset at the Dead Sea

I’ve said it a few times, Jordan is a remarkable place, very safe, great people and affordable too – they are in desperate need of better marketing.  The country has so much to offer no matter what your fancy history, religion, scenery, spas, diving, sea etc. etc. I had wanted to go to Egypt all my life, it was great going, if somehow, I missed it and went to Jordan instead I wouldn’t be disappointed. To Jordan, thank you and I hope you get more visitors to explore your fantastic country.

If you missed my previous post her is the link to Madaba and Mount Nebo

Just a few more of Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib

 

 

Mosaic Town Madaba, Mount Nebo Visit

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Instead of staying in Amman I should have stayed in Madaba instead and used it as a base (which I did to see the surrounding area Mount Nebo, Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea) to travel from; Madaba is cheaper than Amman and you get much better value for money too.  I’d say Madaba would be a good base to see the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, Amman, where Jesus was baptised and even further North, although I didn’t go past Amman there are quite a few sites to see.  The historical side of Madaba is quite small and is known for its collection of mosaics at various sites, all within walking distance from each other.

Staying in hotel Salome, many of the hotels have biblical names, it was only about 10 minutes’ walk to the centre of town – very good value for money too, (£27 per night including breakfast) considering what you get; nearer a normal hotel compared to what I had been staying in.  My whole journey through Jordan was badly organised, I hadn’t planned on staying in Jordan long at all i.e. get to Jordan, go to Petra then leave, but I learnt there is so much to see; not just going to see things for the sake of it, no, Jordan has a lot to offer and who ever does their PR a.k.a Tourist Board are not doing a great job at all!  This unplanned/disorganised nature of my visit meant I wasted a lot of time and made my travel disjointed, this often means paying more than necessary.

So, why Madaba, there are three reasons, 1. Better location than being in Amman, it’s cheaper and I prefer smaller towns to major cities, 2. I like mosaics and that is what Madaba is known for, 3. The location is better to access other sites like Mount Nebo, Wadi Mujib, Dead Sea etc.  Mosaics and Madaba go hand in hand, being famous for beautiful examples of the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, of these the Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land is the oldest map of the region.

Jumping back, one of the things that surprised me during my time in Madaba (Jordan as a whole, but especially in Madaba) was how many Christians are in the area, in Madaba I’d say more Christians than Muslims) and that alcohol stores are everywhere.  Just like so many places in Jordan, Madaba is an old city and mentioned by its ancient name of Moabite which is mentioned in the Bible, Old Testament I think.  Occupation dates from the Bronze Age with many rulers from different empires.  Archaeological work began in the late 19th Century which carries on today; in a very small area they hit a gold mine!

Madaba Map / Map of Madaba / Madaba Mosaic Map

Dating from the 6th century AD, it forms part of the Byzantine church of Saint George’s floor.   The map covers what is known today as the Middle East and depicts the Holy Land especially Jerusalem.  I can imagine when it was first discovered it must have been breath-taking to find such a detailed mosaic, only later to realise how accurately detailed it is, in essence, it is a map!

Madaba

Greek Orthodox Church Madaba – church of Saint George

Back in the 5th Century this region was primarily a Christian area, with a Bishop and all, hence the church.  The accuracy of the mosaic map makes is possible to date it between 542-570 AD; the Nea Church in Jerusalem was dedicated on 29th November 542 which is depicted in the map, no buildings erected in Jerusalem after 570v .

Madaba

Part of the Madaba Map

Like the rest of the region Madaba has go through a lot, many ups and downs, many rulers and many dominant religious – it was conquered by the Persians in 614 and in the 8th Century it was ruled by the Muslim Umayyad only for it to be almost fully destroyed in 746 by an earthquake.  The mosaic was rediscovered in 1884 during the construction of the new Greek Orthodox church on the site of the ancient one, although damaged it was restored and is as we see it today.  The new church, although over a hundred years old  is quaint, is not the reason people come her, no, it’s odd that people come here to look at the floor and often forget to look up.

Madaba

Labelled drawing of the Madaba Map

Original dimensions were 21m/7m, now 16m/5m, even now the detail is extraordinary, it lists towns names, streets, mountains, valleys, seas from Lebanon in the North to the Nile Delta in the South, from the Mediterranean in the West to the Eastern Desert in the East.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my Mother is a Potter, so I’ve learnt a thing or two about pottery, the Madaba Map contained near 2 million tesserae, that is an astonishing number of little tiles!  Just counting to 2 million is a feat, placing them with such accuracy to create a masterpiece would take the patience of a saint!  I bet there were many bleeding fingers when they made it!

Madaba Archaeological Park

Is around the corner, maybe 150m from the Madaba Map, not very well signposted, I walk straight past it but most definitely well worth the visit.  From an unassuming entrance it obscures a treasure trove of finds all within a confined space of less than 1/3 of a football field.  Within the park is Hippolytus Mansion, Church of the Virgin Mary, Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir) and Burnt Palace.

Madaba

Roman road through Madaba Archaeological Park

Hippolytus Mansion / Hall – Part of the Church of the Virgin Mary was built on top of the mansion, which in turn was built on top of a old Roman Temple.  The Hippolytus Mansion was discovered by digging through the Church’s mosaic floor to reveal an even more stunning mosaic floor.  Each room leading off the Hall has its own mosaic scene, they are in immaculate condition and possibly the most elaborate I have seen.  Within the main hall the scene is inspired by the Greek tragedy Hippolytus, it is 7.3m by 9.5m.  What impresses me about mosaics is the sure effort and craftsmanship let alone the time it would take to create them, even down to the facial expressions of those depicted.  No, these mosaics are not just your standard “copy & paste”, these are the bespoke version of ancient sportscars, like the Dark Ages’ tapestries, they are works of art.

Madaba

Hippolytus Mansion / Hall mosaic (Church of the Virgin Mary)

Church of the Virgin Mary – In part built on top of Roman Temple and the Hippolytus Mansion it was constructed in the 6th Century and added to by the Umayyad’s in the 8th Century; these additions are the geometric type mosaics.  I didn’t have a guide through the park and to be honest unless the mosaics were obviously inclined to Christian or Umayyad I really had no clue what belonged to what!  There is a caveat to that statement…a lot of the area has boards with pictures explaining what everything is…but I confess I started reading (there is a lot!) and thought oh no I’ll be a smarty pants and figure it out as I go along!  Needless to say, I figured some (very little) of it out, of that little knowledge I have totally forgotten!  I moan when there isn’t explanations and when there are thorough one’s I don’t read them all.

Madaba

Umayyad mosaic Hippolytus Mansion and Church of the Virgin Mary

Madaba

Hippolytus Mansion and Church of the Virgin Mary mosaic

Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir) – I was far from being mosaic’ed out, the examples in the Archaeological Park are absolutely amazing the Church of the Holy Martyrs was no different.  Although I’d say these are in the worst of conditions in the Park.  What it may lack, and now I’m being pedantic, in complexity it makes up in sure size!  The whole church floor is one fantastic mosaic, that’s not to say it isn’t intricate, just compared to the other’s in the park it is not as complex.

Madaba

Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir)

Madaba

Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir)

Burnt Palace – Dating somewhere between the end of the 6th to beginning of the 7th century this could only have belong to a very wealth person/family.  Every room with its own bespoke mosaic, this place had rooms, baths, hall and paved courtyard, the quality of the mosaics are as good as any.  Even though the building burnt down in the late Byzantine area the floors are very well preserved, in fact they are excellent!  The palace is still being excavated and as they do the place seems to increase in size and opulence.

Madaba

A small fraction of the Burnt Palace

Madaba

Burnt Palace

Madaba

Burnt Palace

Church of Prophet Elijah & Crypt – This will have to wait till I can visit Jordan again, the crypt was partially opened but the rest of the church was under restoration so out of bounds.

Apostles Church – It is currently under restoration, so I could only get limited access and that was after speaking to the security guard.  By far the biggest mosaic I have ever seen, and that’s just the centre piece of the floor, this piece de resistance is called “Personification of the Sea” and WOW it is beautiful and vast!  There was no signage at the site because it was a construction site, so I don’t know much about it other that it being built in the 6th century and is Byzantine.  The entire floor is decorated, the centre and isles, each with its own design, some less complex than others.  Is the Map of Madaba had circa 2 million tesserae, then this must be multiples of that!

Madaba

Apostles Church

Madaba

Apostles Church

Madaba

Apostles Church

Madaba

Apostles Church

I did a little day excursion arranged with my hotel, they got hold of a local tour guide called Tawfeeq Salahat +962 7 7925 2500, very knowledgeable of the area being a local and extremely friendly.  Every time I said, “thank you” he would reply something along the lines of “don’t say thank you, I’m here to make sure you are happy”, he genuinely meant it, so that’s why I have included his contacts details for anyone who needs or wants a tour guide.  Tawfeeq doesn’t only do Madaba and the surrounding areas, he gave me loads of possible tours throughout Jordan and if I had known a ¼ of what he told me my time in Jordan could have been a lot more plentiful and quicker too!  The plan was to do a bit of sightseeing of the surrounding area just to take in the vibe, along the way we stopped at a few places on route to Mount Nebo.  Iraqi music playing on the stereo I learnt that Iraq is known for its music, whether that’s Tawfeeq’s opinion I don’t know and although I had no clue of what they were saying it reminded me of driving to Wadi Rum, this time Tawfeeq was singing along.

The road on the other side of the mountains next to the Dead Sea are undulating and whining as you cut through valleys and ride up and down mountains, a different way to see the area, enjoyable too.  We stopped at a few vantage points then carried on and a huge shop with locally produced authentic furniture, wears, trinkets etc. etc. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed the journey.  The main stop of the day was Mount Nebo.

Mount Nebo

Perched 817m above sea level is Mount Nebo, a historical place for Jewish, Christians and Muslims although as you would expect their detail about the place varies.  The Jews and Christians believe this is where Moses was guided to where he could view the Holy Land and where he was buried – if not on, near the mountain.  The Muslims believe similar; that Moses was there too and buried there or nearby – there is a burial site attributed by the Muslims nearby.

Mount Nebo

Panoramic view from top of Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo

Viewpoint from the top of Mount Nebo

From Mount Nebo on a clear day, mine wasn’t too clear you can see far into the distance from this vantage point, North is the River Jordan Valley, North-West is Jericho and West is Jerusalem.  Mount Nebo is a panoramic view of the area, overlooking the Dead Sea creating a misty haze like a light veil hanging over the entire area.  Just as I’ve many times before, this is a harsh and unsympathetic environment, with lots of water in the Dead Sea but useless for drinking and crops, not anything that ends up in the Dead Sea is pickled and killed.  The undulating hills and mountains that surround the area are beautiful from a distance with arid shrub sparsely decorating the valleys below.  The only green vegetation seems to higher up on the mountains, like Mount Nebo, where only the toughest foliage can work with nature to thrive.

Mount Nebo

Brazen Serpent Monument) atop Mount Nebo was created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni

Mount Nebo

Rolling stone used as a fortified door of the Byzantine monastery in the old village of Faisaliyah once known as Kufer Abu Bad – Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo

Restored Byzantine mosaic found on Mount Nebo

Byzantine Church and Monastery – On the peak of Mount Nebo at the very summit stands the remains of a 4th Century Byzantine Church and Monastery, having recently been restored the church almost feels news, the mosaics are in pristine condition as if laid yesterday.  As comparable to even the best that Madaba has to offer these mosaics are beautiful works of art and adorn the entire floor.  The monastery itself fits around the church, these building are unfortunately not in the best of conditions with only foundations and stumpy walls outlining what would have been a large complex.  With the monasteries I have seen, the living and working quarters are normally plain, with the grandeur left to be demonstrated in the church/chapel, here is no different.

Mount nebo

Byzantine Church/Monastery – Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo

Part of the floor inside Byzantine Church/Monastery

With restoration completed on the Church in 2016 I have no idea what state this place was in before, so I can only go on what I saw on the day.  The first church was build in the 4th Century, not sure when, which was added to and then rebuilt in the late 6th Century – whether the entire place was rebuilt including the monastery I have not idea or even to what extend the church was rebuilt.  Nevertheless, this may not have been the biggest churches but from the standard of the mosaics and the size on the interior pillars it must have been a special place, decorated accordingly.

Mount Nebo

Part of the floor inside Byzantine Church/Monastery

Mount Nebo

Part of the floor inside Byzantine Church/Monastery

If I think back now to my time in Spain and the mosaics I saw then, I was awe struck, now it seems I have become a snob when it comes to mosaics.  Gone are the days where I would be amazed by even the tiniest of decorations, now I only get taken aback when they are massive, complex, fully of detail and near perfect condition!  If you don’t get time to go to Madaba, then these mosaics are fine examples of creativity and mastery all in one, they are spectacular!

The next day would be my last in Madaba, Tawfeeq would take me on another little trip around the area and to Wadi Mujib.

If you missed my blog on Amman, where I was before Madaba here is the link – Amman, Jordan’s capital, Roman’s Philadelphia

Amman, Jordan’s capital, Roman’s Philadelphia

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Heading to Amman from Petra on the public bus takes about 3-3.5 hours including a 15-minute pitstop/toilet stop, I recall it costed about 7-9 Dinar.  Not the most eventful or scenic roads, with undulating or just long straight roads, the majority of the time through a barren landscape.  Casting my mind back like I had done so many times before in Egypt and Jordan, this part of the world is a harsh in all respects.  If you think of the Biblical or Koran stories right through to the Crusaders, the romanticism of this area requires a lot of imagination.  The few oasis’s a luxury, and few and far between, in most part there is sand and stone the arid scrub regions putting a whole new meaning to liveable valleys.  It is not surprise that where there is fertile ground conflict has occurred, throw religion into that and you have a perfect storm.

I stayed in Amman for two days, that’s one day too many!  In fact, you can see the major historical tourist attractions in less than a day, I didn’t know that.  Clustered together, all within easy walking distance from each other is the Amman Citadel (including the archaeological museum), Roman Theatre, Ummayad Palace, Temple of Hercules, Nymphaeum, Odeon theatre, Byzantine Church etc.  most are within the Amman Citadel area.

My accommodation was okay, the Jordan River Hotel sounds luxurious, it’s not.  A great location by proximity to everything but its actual location isn’t; I was reluctant to go into the building at first but it was a recommendation from Issaam so I went with it.  Cheap, yes, but sometimes a lower price is for a reason.  A very basic hotel, it has wifi and breakfast, but it is right next to a main artery leading in and out of the city, so the noise of cars and trucks doesn’t’ abate even through the early hours of the morning…I’m a heavy sleeper so once I fell asleep it was fine.

Amman

Amman

One benefit of hotels such as these is it forces you to get out.  The owners of the hotel are locals so with a crudely drawn map (which turned out to be 100% accurate) they told me where everything ease, how to get there, where to eat and how much it would cost…on all accounts they were spot on!  So far, my time in Jordan had been spent in small towns and Aqaba, which is a tiny city, so being in the capitol I was on guard like I would be in any big city, I regret I still had thoughts of Cairo.  As with the smaller places in Jordan, Amman is safe and filled with friendly people.  A simple “la shukran” (no thank you) to the sales staff standing outside every store turned into a friendly conversation, normally with “do you speak Arabic?” my reply “no”, then sometimes a few questions or where are you from etc. most conversations ending with either “welcome to Jordan” or “enjoy Jordan”.  At no time without exception did I feel uneasy and this trend carried right through my entire time in Jordan.

Jordanian’s are proud people, they also like that fact and appreciate people visiting their country, with everyone seeming to be an ambassador with a genuine gratitude that you have come to visit.  There is a lot to see in Jordan as I had come to experience, my plan for a quick visit to see Petra then leave Jordan was thrown out the window a long time ago!  My perceptions of Jordan being a wealthy county was far off the mark too, they are not poor, but I guess the neighbourhood has stifled or at the very least hindered their potential.

Amman Citadel / Jabal al-Qal’a – Sitting on top of a mountain (jabal) in downtown Amman the area has been occupied since Neolithic time as archaeological evidence has shown.  The area has been ruled across the centuries by some of the most notable empires such as the Nabataean’s, Romans, Byzantine and Umayyads.  Although for large parts from the mid-8th century till 1878 the area fell into steep decline and near fully abandoned except for seasonal farmers and Bedouin, the Citadel of Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places known today.

Roman

View from Amman Citadel; Odeon Theatre on the left, Roman Theatre on the right

Amman

What remains of the Byzantine Church

Amman Citadel covers a huge area and is a mix-match of buildings and structures dating back to 1650 BC, and from being occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine and Umayyads they all made there mark here with additions.  Even though excavations started in the 1970’s and carry on till today, most of the site has not been fully explored or even touched.

Temple of Hercules – Not in the best of conditions it seems the temple was never completed being built around 160 AD; possibly combined with being damaged by an earthquake.  The main part of the temple is 12m high, 30m long and 24m wide, added to it was an outer sanctum 121m long and 72m wide.  The proportions dwarf anything in the Citadel and local area except for the Amphitheatre which was built around the same time with both being visible from each other.  Inside the temple are remnants of the marble interior, it would have been a great place to get respite from the dry hot climate and the white stone use to make it would have stood like a beacon on top of the mountain.  Only little marble remains, thoughts are it was robbed and used to build the Byzantine church around the corner.  Near the back sanctum now lies the only two pieces of marble of the Hercules statue, three fingers and an elbow – the statue would have been just over 12m high.

Roman

Temple of Hercules

Amman

Temple of Hercules with 3 fingers and the elbow from Hercule’s statue

Archaeological Museum – Next to the Temple of Hercules is the very small on-site museum, dynamite comes in small packages and this is a perfect example.  Many people seem to miss this unobtrusive little building, it is packed with amazing finds not just for the Citadel it includes those of other nearby sites too.  From the most intricate blown glass to ceramic coffins, from examples of cranial surgery being done thousands of years ago to death masks dating from the Neolithic period.  If you are in the Citadel you are crazy to at least not pop your head in for 15 minutes…it’s deserving of a lot more!

Archaeological Museum Amman

Archaeological Museum Citadel – Cranial surgery marks

Amman

Archaeological Museum Citadel – Death Mask

Ummayad Palace Complex – Built somewhere between 661-750 AD, it takes up a large part if not the majority of the mountain top.  There are rooms, bath-houses and of course the palace, but it takes a lot of imagination or a full guide of the site to understand what is what.  What’s left standing is a notable complex, built to very high standards, large paving stoned walkways throughout the entire area still in situ and after near 1500yrs still serving their purpose for us tourists.  The main palace building is a shadow of its former magnificence, taking centre stage within the complex – only a smidgen of the carved interior still bares what is would have looked like.

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Ummayad Palace

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Ummayad Palace Complex

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Ummayad Palace Complex – Colonnaded paved road

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Massive cistern inside the Ummayad Palace Complex

Roman Theatre – From the Citadel looking down to the bottom of the mountain the size of the amphitheatre is evident, up close it is even bigger.  A theatre to hold 6000 spectators buttressed against the opposing mountain, built around 138-161 at which time Amman was called Philadelphia, it was orientated to the North to prevent the audience being blind by the sun.  The gradient of the steps is steep creating a clear view of the stage no matter how high up you sit, this, combined with the mountain behind makes for brilliant acoustics.  The back part of the stage is missing, this would have had a huge backdrop and behind and underneath a plethora of ropes and pulleys to control the curtains, backing-scenes, stage entry lifts and everything that a modern theatre would have…without electricity!

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Roman Theatre

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Roman Theatre on the third tier

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Stage platform front – Roman Theatre

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Colonnaded road outside the Roman Theatre

Odeon Theatre – It seated about 500 people and built around the same time as the large Roman Theatre.  This type of theatre was used more for music, poetry, singing etc. the word “odeon” is derived from the Ancient Greek word “Óideion” meaning “singing place.  A much smaller theatre but certainly more intimate and undoubtedly less rowdy – not confirmed but it’s thought to have had a wooden roof at the time.

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Roman Odeon Theatre

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Roman Odeon Theatre

As for the Nymphaeum, it was closed off for restoration, definitely the biggest one I’ve seen.  It’s never nice not being able to visit or see a place, but when it’s for restoration work I really don’t mind – I’d rather see them restoring something than letting it go to ruin and rot.

Amman

Roman Nymphaeum

Not much else happened in Amman for me, I did try the national dish of Jordan, Mansaf; lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yoghurt called Jameed and served with rice.  It was okay, I was freaking starving, so I think anything would have gone down.  That’s a little harsh, the lamb was cooked so tenderly it flaked off the bone, the yoghurt sauce tasted fine too, but when it mixed with the rice it turned it into a porridge – I’d eat it again.  Overall the food in Amman was nice, and the prices very good too; I wasn’t in the touristy area so that may have helped.  What I must say is the sweet pastry shops…oh my!  If I never ate a chocolate again and could only eat their sweet pastries instead I wouldn’t hesitate to swap!  Light pastry, with nuts and lightly sweetened syrup, I had four every night and started my craze to look for them where ever I went afterwards!

A random addition, most of the building in Amman (except for the CBD) are all painted in the same tone; a natural cream stone colour.  I have no idea why but it is as it the whole city was painted from the same paint tin, very random I know but it’s like a massive canvas of bone white/beige.

My next stop was Madaba, from there I would get to the Dead Sea from where I’d make plans on my next country.  Before I got to Amman I was in Petra, if you haven’t already seen my blogs about Petra, it was a long one here  they are Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Petra, marvellous ancient city Part3

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Second day in Petra and I was raring to go, I’d start off with the Al-Khubtha Trail which leads past the Royal Tombs.  These Royal Tombs are unmistakable and unmissable, arcing across the face of the mountain they can be seen from everywhere in the valley.  Sitting higher than most tombs on a natural platform at the base of the mountain, they glare over Petra from their position and sure size.

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View from the valley of the Royal Tombs

Urn Tomb

I’m repeating myself on this topic…the owner of this tomb is debatable even though it was probably built around 70AD, only to be changed in 446AD to be used as a Byzantine church.  I couldn’t figure out what the bottom section with the archways is even after doing some research, but clearly doesn’t seem to be part of the original tomb; design, construction, disjointed position to the tomb etc. currently under restoration. Standing in front of the tomb after climbing some stairs, you get a real sense of the magnitude needed to make this tomb; cutting through the rock metres deep to get this façade result, amazing.  Inside a huge rectangular tomb with perfect square corners and ceiling, niches cut into the back and side.  The sandstone layers decorating the inside with flashes of layered colour, the ceiling a mix of black, pink-brown and white.

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Urn Tomb from the valley

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Urn Tomb

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Inside Urn Tomb

Silk Tomb

My disappointment with this tomb is only because for some or other reason none of my pictures came out well…and I mistook the tomb next to it as the Silk Tomb!   Called the Silk Tomb because of its colourful exterior, an array of natural colours swirled across its façade with deep rich pink across the entrance tapering into light grey and orange at the top.

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Silk Tomb in the middle

Corinthian Tomb

The most eroded of the tombs, it gets its name from the floral motifs on top of the capitals.  Though very deteriorated it doesn’t take much effort to notice just how ornate the exterior is, or would have been, (no longer allowed to go inside) and very much in the same design as The Treasury, especially the top.  Now you are not allowed to get near the entrance, so I couldn’t see the four water basis, I think they are at the entrance which where used in a cleansing ritual.  I don’t know anything about this ritual, but many religions have a type of cleansing ritual.

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Corinthian Tomb

Palace Tomb

The biggest of the Royal Tombs at 49m wide and 46m high.  The name comes from its appearance looking just as majestic as a palace, some say it is reminiscent of the Golden House of Nero palace, who knows.  No matter what the resemblance it is worthy of the name palace.  Like all these Royal Tombs, there is no actual evidence that they are linked to any royalty at all, it is purely speculation and taken that these are some of the biggest tombs, historically this would mean royalty or at the very least the very utmost echelons of society.

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Palace Tomb

Amphitheatre

Walking past the Royal Tombs (facing them going left), you keep walking as if going behind the mountain, the path seems to go nowhere but then wides and you are face with an old gate leading to, yes you got it stairs!  Leading to the top of the mountain there are stunning views over the valley, here you get an amazing view of the amphitheatre!  Constructed by the Romans, it is cut directly into the rock face and sheering into some older tombs.  Like many of the amphitheatres I’ve seen the Romans use the natural angles of the mountain.  If you look carefully you can see what used to be the seating and the smaller steps would be used as entry and exit from the seated area.  The inside is off limits, but like other amphitheatres there are tunnels under the seating to enable people to move about just like any modern stadium.

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Stairs leading to th eAl-Khubtha trail

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Amphitheatre viewed from the Al-Khubtha trail

On top of the mountain there are a few structures and what remains of a temple now almost totally unrecognisable.  As I mentioned in Part 2, there are cisterns dotted around all the mountain tops, here is no different with one having an altar too.

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Cistern and alter at top of Al-Khubtha trail

The views from up here are great and there is certainly archaeology here to explore too, however most people come here to get a different view of The Treasury.  The path leading to this viewpoint isn’t well marked but you don’t need to be a tracker to figure it out.  From the top of the mountain you walk another 1km at most, maybe only 800m – it takes a little longer than normal because of the condition of the path, it’s not great but very doable.  I’ll let the view of The Treasury speak for itself.  It was still early morning, so I headed back down the stairs and headed to the Byzantine Church, on the right-side of the Colonnaded Street.

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The Treasury from viewpoint on Al-Khubtha trail

Byzantine Church

The Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire ruled over an extended period of time circa. 285 – 1461 and it was during the earlier parts of this period that the church was built.  There is evidence that the church was build on top of a pre-existing structure, likely a Nabataean religious site.  Construction began in circa. 450 and added to between 500-550, some have rumoured that it was a working cathedral in the 5th-6th century, but very little evidence can prove this.   No matter till when it was used, what remains shows a wealth community and no doubt church too.  This couldn’t have been just any old outpost either, the church has magnificent mosaics with one depicting the different seasons.  The whole floor used to be adorned with mosaics but now only the what would be the side passages remains, on one side a solid white and light grey marble altar stands too.  The church is in its current state for a few reasons, earthquakes, the abandonment of Petra, no doubt looting and just time.

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Byzantine Church inside

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Byzantine Church mosaic

Byzantine

Byzantine Church mosaic

This side of the Colonnaded Street seems empty from a distance but there is an abundance of archaeology here if you take the time to look.  Remnants of buildings lie everywhere, and the authorities along with overseas Universities are busy unearthing what lies beneath and restoring what they find.  Just a few to mention The Winged-Lion Temple, Blue Church/Chapel (closed whilst I was there), Ridge Church, the Nymphaeum and so many other structures I have no idea what they are, some are massive.  Also, the view of Great Temple and Garden and Pool Complex on the opposite side of the Colonnaded Street is also great!

Great Temple

Crossing over the paved road of the Colonnaded Street the Great Temple covers an area near 7500 square metres, it is massive, right next to it is the Garden and Pool Complex.  The latter Pool Complex was a communal area like a Roman Bath for the general public complete with hot and cold rooms and hot and cold pools.  Some of the hypocaust tiles can still be seen, but what is very impressive is the furnace room as it is still largely intact; this is where the fire would be made to heat the complex with the help of the hypocaust floor and a labyrinth of chimneys and piles channelling the heat where they needed.

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Great Temple from the North side of the Colonnaded Street

The Great Temple is vast and excavation work is still being done on it every year.  It covers a vast area and would have dominated the area yet very accessible considering its location to the Colonnaded Street where the market and trade of everyday life happened.  Within the upper part of the temple is a small amphitheatre, which has been restored.  I read somewhere that this could have been used for small concerts, but I disagree, they already had an amphitheatre just up the road.  No, I think if you consider where the temple is and that it is right next door to the public baths this is more likely to be where they held meetings, like a council meeting – for counsellors and where some public could attend.  Either way, this is a grand temple where no expense was spared, time, effort and organisation on a large scale was put into place to make this not just a functioning temple but eloquently and intricately decorated throughout.

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Furnace room in the Garden and Pool Complex

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Small amphitheatre inside the Great Temple

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Great Temple corutyard

Time was still on my hands, it had just gone lunchtime, so I headed off to the restaurant area to eat my packed lunch.  Issaam told me that there was an additional path just before you enter the Siq, you go through a tunnel dug in antiquity to channel the water – an engineering feat by itself!  This trail leads through the dried river and ends up at the back of the Al-Khubtha trail.  Cutting long story short, after pleading to the police and speaking to his superior on the phone the answer was still no, if not taken by a guide they no longer allow people to go alone.  A small consolation was that after more chatting to the policeman he allowed me to try an unmarked route, going behind the Djin Blocks.

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Tunnel cut through mountain for water management

It was an interesting route even though there isn’t much, the landscape a different colour to the rest of Petra, a lime-grey rock and barren.  Even out here where the stone is harder than that of the sandstone in Petra there is lots of evidence of water management and construction.  Some of the construction camouflaged buy the colour but perpendicular and right angles break the natural contours of the rock to show where man has been.  I walked a few kilometres, maybe 3, there wasn’t much to keep me busy on my “new” route so I thought I’d take a look at the blue route a.k.a Al-Madras trail – at only 1.5km long it would fill the time and I’d have an early finish too.

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My own trail, a Djin Block in the distance

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High Place of Sacrifice in the distance

The Al-Madras trail is extremely underrated, especially if you carry on linking up with the High Place of Sacrifice Trail, it’s a brilliant route – may not be for everyone as there is some real steep sections, up and down.  The first part of the route is interesting, not wow but a different terrain, the middle part is hiking through flat rocky desert like valleys but the last third is challenging and rewarding.  In short, it takes you to the viewing point behind The Treasury, just like the Al-Khubtha trail but on the opposite mountain, fantastic view!

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The Treasury, view from the High Place of Sacrifice trail

If you don’t want to continue on this trail, which leads to the High Place of Sacrifice, you can head straight down, it’s steep and many people prefer just to carry on and use the stairs.  This way does have stairs, but they are vertical and more like rock climbing to an extent.

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The “path” back down to The Treasury from the High Place of Sacrifice Trail

Although I stayed in Petra for another day I didn’t do much, the pin like pain on the side of my right knee was killing me the day before, I had to compensate the way I was walking for most of the day.  I used my third day in Petra to head down and take a few more pictures of the Siq and The Treasury early in the morning, the rest of the wasn’t rock ‘n roll, no I caught up on writing.

I really cannot express how much I enjoyed Petra, everything about the place was amazing.  Petra shocked me with how much it has to offer and on show, yes, it is a World Heritage site but I bet the majority of people don’t know just how expansive the area is.  Jordan was getting better and better, a real quite gem that is hidden away is a raucous neighbourhood.  Petra to me is a 3 star Michelin Restaurant, it is well worth going totally out of your way to go and see this marvellous wonder city of ancient times.

 

Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2 of my time in Petra.  Below are just a few additional pictures from the day

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A random flower in a sea of rock and sand

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My trail, a random hole/house cut into the rock

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Another water management system

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My own trail, in the distance at the base of the mountain the rock has been extensively worked

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Entry to Al-Khubtha trail with niche cut into rock for gate

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Structure below the Urn Tomb

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Colonnaded Street, Great Temple, Temple of Dushares / Qasr el-Bint

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Byzantine Church marble altar

Petra, magnificent lost civilisation, Part2

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The easiest way to explain how I visited Petra is by the main tourist map of the area; there are seven main walking routes each colour coded, some of the routes double up.  The majority of people do the Main Trail (round trip is 8km) and add on the trail that leads to the Monastery (round trip 2.5km).  The Main Trail is very easy and many people only do this especially if they are only there for a day, there is plenty see for a day.  The alternative is to include the route to the Monastery. Why do many people not include the Monastery, well, that’s because of the near 1000 steps leading to it!

The other trails (all are round trips) Al-Khubtha 3.5km, Al-Madras 1.5km, High Place of Sacrifice 1.9km, Jabal Haroun 7.5km more for hiking and less for sightseeing as is the Sabra 10km; some people do the beginning of the last two, I did a mix match joining a few but did most.  Now, back to where I left off on Part 1!  Treasury ticket off my bucket list I doubt Petra could offer much more, it didn’t’, it offered heaps more!  Frankly, the Treasury as spectacular as it is pales in comparison to some of the other structures in Petra, the Treasury just sets the scene for the rest your visit.

Street of Facades

Facing the Treasury, you walk right through a little Siq, 40-50m long, almost everywhere you look the mountain has been worked; there are stairs cut into the rock, some are high up the rock face and no longer reachable because they have been worn by time.  This short Siq widens as you walk through, down the left-hand side is the Street of Facades; a succession of large tombs cut into the rock.  Not as elaborate as the Treasury, that’s not to say they are I wasn’t astonished, they are impressive.  Throughout Petra all the tombs are cut from top to bottom, the tombs along the Street of Facades are big and must have been a mammoth task to make them – considering how worn they are and the floor is in most places metres higher than what they were, these could only be tombs of the upper echelons of society.

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Street of Facades

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Street of Facades

Since my travels started I have been awed at what man achieved when money and determination are put to full force, Petra is a prime example of this, with the Treasury and Street of Facades just the preview of what I would see at Petra.  One of the many things I like about Petra, trust me there are plenty, is the setting, a perfect stage created over millennia by nature and hundreds of years by man.  Like a story staring off slowly with the entry road giving you hints and titbits of what may lie ahead, the Siq follows with it’s cool mysterious mystic mood, then, with a bang you get the Treasury which could be the crescendo, but oh no, that is left to the valley that opens up to the whole orchestra climaxing to a sensory overload!  That may sound like an exaggeration, it’s not.

Sticking to what I did when, I followed the main path, my destination was the Monastery which is only a few kilometres but how the hell am I going to explain what I say, I don’t know.  The path through the main valley is shouldered on both sides with red-brown rocky mountains; I would have describe it as a boulder type rock if it weren’t for the thousands of tombs and once was housing &/or shops &/or the centre of commerce for Petra.  The rockfaces are not pockmarked, the entire landscape has been changed, think of how many houses would be needed to accommodate circa. 20k people (Petra at it’s peak), now replace all those houses with burrows cut into the mountain.  The burrows/holes vary in size, some are similar to a double garage, others interlinked rooms etc. etc. just like a normal housing complex of today…. Except cut into the mountain.

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Past the Street of Facades into the Valley

Entering into the valley I couldn’t help but think of the cartoon The Flintstones.  Between the mountains used to be a river, it still flows today during the rainy season if they have heavy rains.  This area would have been the heart and soul of Petra’s civilisation, like the central business district.  On the left is an amphitheatre cut into the mountain, it was constructed/made at a later date and cuts into some older tombs – I’ve purposefully not put the best of pictures of it in this post because the next day I climbed to the top of the opposite mountain where there is a fantastic view of it.  Carrying on down looking left and right he mountain looks like a giant anthill with holes everywhere and on the right, I got a glimpse of the Royal Tombs perches higher up taking almost the whole length of the mountain face, amazing!  I will be exploring them more the next day.

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Some tombs just past the Street of Facades

You cannot miss when you hit the Colonnaded Street, from walking through thick sand that kicks up against your calves sliding back down into your shoes to a light coloured stoned road.  The Road as it is looks Roman, and to a degree it is; it was part of the Nabataean road rebuilt and extended by the Romans near 100BC, it would have been 6m wide.  During the Nabataean times this was where all the shops were, I would imagine it would have been like the markets of today packed with people buying who knows what from little stores lining each side of the road.

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Colonnaded Street with Temple of Dushares / Qasr el-Bint straight ahead

As time passed from the Locals to the Romans the latter did what they did wherever they conquered; assimilate and add their own touches too.  On the left of the Colonnaded Street situated higher than the road on a little plateau are a few temples the biggest by far is the Great Temple Complex – I’ll add more to this on my next blog as I explored the temple in more depth another day.  At the end of the Colonnaded Street is the Temple of Dushares / Qasr el-Bint, a large Roman Temple which would have been 23m high when finished, it was dedicated to the god Dhu-Shara/Dushara   Restoration work started in the 50’s and been a stop start process still being worked on today.  Coincidentally they were working on it whilst was there, most of the area even close to it was off-bounds so I couldn’t get a great view nor any nice pics – not even neat the 26 marble stairs leading to the entrance…would be nice to see how worn those stairs are!

The Monastery / Ad Deir – the destination for the extended Main Trail; if you keep following the main road you cannot miss it.  Some people say there are 850 steps, some say near 1000, I think the latter may include all the steps right to the Monastery.  There are donkey rides up and down to the Monastery which many people use, maybe the ride up wouldn’t be that bad, but the ride down must be uncomfortable not to mention hair-raising at times.  The climb is not difficult, yes there are lots of stairs but there are many places to rest and buy a get a drink including a little restaurant right at the top opposite the monastery. I haven’t been able to get much information about The Monastery which is the translation of it’s Arabic name Ad Deir; built by the Nabataeans in the 1st Century AD, it is near 50m wide and 45m high, an extremely impressive structure without even mentioning how much of the mountain they cut away to made it!

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The Monastery

Issaam had said that I should go past The Monastery about another 500m max, glad I did, there are a few viewpoints just past The Monastery that give you awesome views of the valley beyond Petra; panoramic views ranging for gorges to desert – well worth the extra walk, I went to three different views, each with their own unique and beautiful views.

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View from looking point near The Monastery

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View of valley The Monastery

There are other structures in this area, plenty of holes cut into the mountain but I couldn’t find out what the structure is where now only stands the footprint/foundations of a building/s.  Like most of Petra, it’s strange that such a massive area which played a pivotal role for trade has so little written about it or known about it.  There is information about the Roman times but scant detailed information about the Nabataeans who created this environment.

Monastery

The Monastery

I headed back down the stepped footpath and when I got to the bottom it was only lunchtime, thanks Issaam for the lunch.  Still having plenty of time at hand I decided to go walkabout.  Sitting at the restaurant area there are some stair leading to what once was a museum against the opposite mountain, this path leads to behind and on top of the mountain.  It’s a nice walk with great views of the area below, but if you carry on like I did you can explore the area quite extensively.

My route was a mix-match taking me up and around, I thought I may have been lost but I just carried on following footpaths.  The path I took isn’t on the map, but it is definitely used as I ended up linking up with the High Place of Sacrifice Trail, before I did I climbed another little mountain leading to an old fort build by the Crusaders.  The Crusader fort isn’t in great shape, the stairs, yes more stairs, leading to it are in good condition though but the nearer the top the wore they get…that’s not including crossing a wonky bridge built of old planks – don’t think I was meant to go past them.  At the top of the mountain you get fantastic views not only of Petra but past areas less visited by tourist, the Petra the Nabataeans inhabited is vast!  Far in the distance I could see many tombs, high on the mountain face, how they got there I have no idea.  Getting there is one thing, but building the tombs there is just unbelievable!  They were too far away to get nice pictures, I may take another look to see if I can use any of them.

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Remains of Crusader Fort

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View from the Crusader Fort

Not knowing were I was going I ended up about 200m behind the Great Temple, there was a path going right so I decided to follow it and somewhere along the path I ended up on the High Place of Sacrifice Trail…I didn’t know that at the time only realising it later.

Other than the Main Trail, the other trails are a combination of sightseeing and hiking, many if not most of the mountains can be summited relatively easily; this is done by stairs cut into the mountain, I think most of them are original the new additions are distinctly different.  There are pro’s and con’s to these purpose-built stairs, pro’s are making places accessible, con’s are there are so many bloody stairs!

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Tombs along the High Place of Sacrifice Trail

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Beautifully naturally coloured tomb

Along the route there are tombs throughout of every shape and size, from next to the path and in the distant horizon.   Not far from where the stairs lead to the top of the mountain there are a cluster tombs slightly different to the others:

Crusader Tomb – I have no idea how accurate this is, but I’ll go with the explanation I was told.  This is likely a reused tomb where some Crusaders were buried, this would have been more than a thousand years after it was built.  The whole tomb has rectangular hold cut directly into the ground and would have been covered, some of the initial stone slates are still in situ, but I don’t know how accurate any of this is.

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Reused Crusader Tomb

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Inside Crusader Tomb

Garden Triclinium – Thought to be a Garden Temple some time ago this was changed to a Garden Triclinium in more resent times, however it seems that is was just in fact a Triclinium with no garden.  I suppose the garden hypothesis came about because at the entrance there is a large water pool which is filled from water channelled from the top of the mountain.

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Garden Triclinium

Painted Triclinium – No it’s not painted, aptly called “painted” because the different layers of coloured sandstone from black, mustard yellow, ivory, pink and ranges of red and rusty brown naturally decorate the inside of this banquet hall.  Lots of tombs,  “houses” and rocks everywhere within the area display this type of natural decoration like an earthly rainbow embedded within the stone.

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Painted Triclinium

Roman Soldiers Tomb – This got its name from the three Roman status adorning the outside of this tomb.  Inside it is quite big, bigger than many of the standard size tombs and I wondered just how it would have looked when those who were buried inside were laid to rest.  If it was only for three soldiers it is very big, maybe they were high-ranking soldiers or a family of soldiers like father and sons, we will never know.

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Roman Soldiers Tomb

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Inside Roman Soldiers Tomb

Was the climb up the stairs enjoyable, no, not difficult but I had a pain like a pin sticking into the side of my knee, great views though.  The mountain top is one of the highest points in the area, maybe the highest which why I guess the Nabataeans chose it as a sacred area – I would later find out and see that on top of many mountains there is an altar; this one is one of the biggest, could be the biggest.

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Opposite High Place of Sacrifice – Obelisk

Was storage and management is everywhere in Petra, you don’t have to look hard to see gutters and water channels throughout the area along with square and rectangular cisterns cut into the rock at the top of every mountain.  I tried to follow the gutters, but a combination of earthquakes and natural erosion makes this impossible.  It would be incredible to map out the water systems across the area as it was back in the day, we may be impressed now but I bet we totally underestimate the extent it was and how sophisticated too.  Like with the pyramids being understated because of today’s instant gratification lifestyle, the Nabataeans understood the land, seasons and water as well as if not better than any professionals of today.

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High Place of Sacrifice – Altar bottom right. Cisterns everywhere

The altar is the highest part, a channel cut from the altar platform runs into the cistern, so I guess whatever they sacrifice would in turn run through the whole area therefore blessing the entire area.  A combination of complexity, magnitude and quantity of archaeology coupled with erosion makes the High Place of Sacrifice difficult to decipher.  It is such a shame, an astonishingly complex, large (between 20-30 000 population) and advanced civilisation that we know so little about with so much evidence right in front of us, so bloody frustrating and yet so tantalising you cannot help your imagination running away.

My day was almost done, back down the other side of the mountain, (cutting the High Place of Sacrifice Trail in half, you go down loads more stairs to end up back in the main valley by the Street of Facades.  By the time I got back to Petra’s entrance I was tired, the lift back to my lodgings with Issaam was like winning a prize and while driving past other people walking back up the hill I just had to sympathise with them…with a little smirk on my face.

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View coming down from High Place of Sacrifice – looking into the valley

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View coming down from High Place of Sacrifice – Right side of Street of Facades

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View coming down from High Place of Sacrifice. Unayshu Tomb in the middle, current not accessible

Part 2 done and there is more to come, Part 3 I hope to have less writing and more pictures, lets’ see how it goes.  If you missed it, here is the link to Part 1 or you can go to the final instalment Part 3

Here are some additional pictures from the day

Monastery

The Monastery

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Beautiful pink rainbow stone of Petra

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Trail up mountain opposite the restaurant area

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View of gorge and Petra in the background

Monastery

Looking back starting up the stairs to the Monastery