CENTRAL REGION & MOVING SOUTH
Madaba is one of the most memorable town in the Holy Land. Dubbed "the city of mosaics", Madaba offers many sites to explore. Amongst them the chief attraction – in the contemporary Greek Orthodox church of St. George - is a wonderfully vivid, 6th century byzantine mosaic map showing Jerusalem and other holy sites. With two million pieces of coloured stone, and a full 25X5 meters in its original state – most of which can still be seen today – the map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns, as far away as the Nile Delta. This masterpiece is unrivalled in Jordan, but there are literally dozens of other mosaics from the 5th through to the 7th centuries scattered throughout Madaba's churches and homes.
In line with Jordan's commitment to restoring and preserving its mosaic masterpieces, Madaba's extensive archaeological park and museum complex encompass the remains of several Byzantine churches, including the outstanding mosaics of the Church of the Virgin and the Hyppolytus Hall, part of a 6th century mansion.
Close to the archaeological park is the Mosaic School of Madaba, which operates under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism. The only project of its kind in the Middle East, the school trains artisans in the art of making, repairing and restoring mosaics.
What to see:
Madaba Archaeological Museum.
Madaba Archaeological Park.
Take the airport highway south of Amman after about 20kms, turn westward following the signs. Madaba is 45 minutes away from Amman.
It was from Mount Nebo that Moses looked out and saw the Promised Land across the River Jordan. He was later buried close by, making this the most revered Holy site in Jordan.From this mountain, one can see, as Moses did, the vast panorama that encompasses the Jordan River valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho, and Jerusalem, often referred to as the Holy Land. It remains a place of pilgrimage for many Christians and Mount Nebo's first church was built in the late 4th century to mark the site of Moses' death.
What to see:
Six tombs, from different periods, have been found hollowed out of the rock beneath the mosaic-covered floor of the church. In the present presbytery are remnants of mosaics, the earliest of which is a panel with a braided cross.
The serpentine cross, which stands just outside the sanctuary, is symbolic of the brass serpent taken by Moses into the desert and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. The Moses memorial church at Mount Nebo displays a large number of beautiful mosaics.
Take the airport highway directly to Madaba. Road signs will lead you westward from Madaba to Mount Nebo which is 10 minutes away.
Within an hour's drive of Madaba along the picturesque King's Highway, is Mukawir, the hilltop stronghold of Herod the Great. Upon Herod's death, his son Herod Antipas inherited the fortress and it is from here that he ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded after Salome's fateful dance of the seven veils.
Mukawir is an hour away and about 45kms, away from Madaba on the Kings' Highway.
The old and new testaments mention it, the Romans fortified it, and the local Christians were still embellishing it with Byzantine style mosaics well over one hundred years after the beginning of Muslim rule: Kastron Mefaa, modern Umm Ar-Rasas, has a long history.
What To See:
The rectangular walled city is mostly in ruins but still boasts several buildings, four churches and some beautiful stone arches. The main attraction is outside the city walls within the church of St. Stephen, which contains a very large, perfectly preserved mosaic floor laid down in 718 AD. It portrays fifteen major cities of the Holy Land from both east and west of the River Jordan. This magnificent mosaic is second only to Madaba's world famous mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Less than 2km north of the fortified town, the highest standing ancient tower of Jordan puzzles the specialists: a 15 meter high, square tower with no door or inner staircase, is now inhabited by birds.
South of Madaba, in the town of Dhiban, a road leading east takes you to the site. Alternatively, you can leave Amman on the Desert Highway passing Qastal and Jiza and turn west shortly after Dab's.
Since Roman times, people have come to the thermal mineral springs of Hammamat Ma'in or Zarqa Ma'in for thermal treatments – or simply to enjoy a hot soak. There is truly no better way to end a day immersed in history than in a wonderful, naturally warm bath.
Situated in this exquisite spot is an excellent spa and resort offering a wide variety of professional services including mud wraps, hydrojet baths and showers, underwater massages and much more.
Hammamat Ma'in is located approximately 60 kilometers southwest of Madaba.
Without a doubt one of the world's most amazing places, the Jordan Rift Valley is the northern extension of the great East African rift valley. It provides a dramatic and beautiful landscape. The lowest point on the face of the earth, this vast stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the river Jordan.
The Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost other-worldly beauty. The area is believed to have been home to five biblical cities: Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zeboiim and Zoar.
The Jordanian east coast of the Dead Sea has evolved into an area of great interest, both as a place of religious pilgrimage and also as a health and wellbeing centre. A series of good roads, excellent hotels with spa and fitness facilities, as well as archaeological and spiritual discoveries make this region as attractive to today's international visitors as it was to kings, emperors, traders, prophets and pilgrims in antiquity.
What To See:
Visit the tombs of the Prophet Mohammad's (Peace Be Upon Him) venerable companions and military leaders who fell in battle or became victims of the great plague (Amwas Plague) in the 18th year after the Hijra.
- Abu Ubeida Amer Bin Al-Jarrah:
A relative of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and one of the first converts to Islam. His tomb, in the Central Jordan Valley, is a major Islamic centre with a mosque, library and cultural centre.
One of the six men charged with the task of compiling the Holy Quran during the life of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). A modern building with five domes houses his tomb.
One of the early Muslims who fled to Abyssinia. He participated in the Battle of Yarmouk and the conquest of Jerusalem.
A maternal cousin of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the eleventh man to convert to Islam. He migrated to Abyssinia and fought in the battle of Uhud.
He was a poet and fierce warrior, who fought in the wars of Apostasy and took part in the conquest of Greater Syria. A victim of the Great Plague, he died in the 18th year after the Hijra. His tomb is located in a mosque superimposed by a dome, in the town of Deir'Alla.
The Jordan Valley is less than an hour's drive from Amman heading West and is clearly signposted throughout the journey.
The Jordan valley has profound meaning for religious travelers. The area opposite Jericho has been identified for nearly two millennia as the area where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. Significant archaeological discoveries between the Jordan River and tell Al-Kharrar since 1996 have identified this area as biblical 'Bethany Beyond the Jordan', where John was living when he baptized Jesus. Two thousand years later, people from all over the world still come to this site to be baptized. The late pope John Paul II and pope Benedict XVI also visited the site as part of their spiritual pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Tell Al-Kharrar (St. Elijah's Hill), is reminiscent of the Prophet Elijah. It is from this hill that he ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.
What To See:
St. Elijah's hill is now the focal point of the Baptism Site and is covered with the remains of a Byzantine monastery with churches, large baptism pools and a water storage system. Findings from the early 1st century AD confirm the site was inhabited during the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist.
A 3rd century building with a white mosaic pavement has been called an early Christian "Prayer hall", this may be one of the earliest Christian prayer facilities identified anywhere in the world. Also identified on Elijah's Hill is the cave where, according to numerous Byzantine pilgrims' texts, John the Baptist lived and baptized Jesus Christ. The Byzantine church built around the cave, and a man-made water channel emerging from the cave have been excavated in the last few years and can be now visited.
Closer to the Jordan River are four other Byzantine churches and large pools with extensive water systems. These facilities were mentioned in texts by Byzantine writers, who linked them with the tradition of Jesus' baptism.
Take the Dead Sea Highway, when you reach Suwaymeh Intersection take a right turn northbound, following the signs to the site. Bethany is 45 minutes away from Amman.
Today its eastern shore is sparsely populated and serenely quiet. With much of the landscape virtually unchanged since ancient times, this is a favorite spot for a holiday drive. Spend the day sunbathing, swimming, or dining. Relax in the gently lapping waters and be amazed that you can't sink. Treat yourself to a soothing massage or try the well known healing powers of minerals from the sea's muddy floor. If you'd like a more leisurely stay, spend the night at one of the wrold-class hotels that look across the sea to the western banks. This west-facing view provides visitors with the sight of spectacular sunsets.
What To See:
Lot's Sanctuary: One of the most significant archaeological discoveries in Jordan is located near modern Safi. For decades, guided by the Madaba mosaic map of Palestine which pointed to the existence of such a site, archaeologists have searched for ancient Zoar. Here, Lot and his daughters are believed to have sought refuge in a cave after God destroyed the city of Sodom, according to the book of Genesis.
The cave is on a hill near a tiny spring, overlooking the Dead Sea. A dried pillar of salt nearby is said to be the remains of Lot's wife, who disobeyed God's warning not to look back as she fled Sodom. Lot's cave is around 1.5 hours south of the hotel and spa resorts
The Mujib Nature Reserve: Is located within the spectacular Wadi Mujib gorge, the Biblical Amon Valley, which enters the Dead Sea at 410 meters below sea level.
The Amman Touristic Beach: Just south of the hotel and spa resorts is a great place for low budget travelers. It is also an ideal location for beach parties and events.
No trip to the Dead Sea is complete without a visit to one of the many outlets located in the resorts selling world famous Dead Sea products. These are reasonably priced, excellent quality, and make great gifts to take home.
Take the Airport Highway till you see the Dead Sea sign. Turn right and follow the signs.
Pella is a favourite site among archaeologists as it is exceptionally rich in antiquities. Besides the excavated ruins from the Graeco-Roman period, including an Odeon (theatre), Pella offers visitors the opportunity to see the remains of a Chalcolithic settlement from the 4th millennium BC, the remains of Bronze and Iron Age walled cities, Byzantine churches and houses, an Early Islamic residential quarter, and a small medieval mosque.
What To See:
Pella boasts many interesting sites, many of them still under excavation. Important are the 6th century West Church 6th century Civic Complex church, 1st century Odeon, Roman Nymphaeum and East Church.
Take the Jordan Valley road northbound via the Dead Sea Highway through Naur, or the shorter route via Arda through Salt. Pella is 1.5 hours away from Amman.
Whether you approach Karak from the ancient Kings' Highway to the east or from the Dead Sea to the west, the striking silhouette of this fortified town and castle will instantly make the traveller understand why the fates of kings and nations were decided here for millennia.
An ancient Crusader stronghold, Karak sits 900 meters above sea level and lies inside the walls of the old city. The city today continues to boast a number of restored 19th century Ottoman buildings, restaurants, places to stay, and the like. But, it is undoubtedly Karak Castle which dominates.
The town of Karak is built on a triangular plateau, with the castle at its narrow southern tip. Throughout the castle, dark and roughly shaped Crusader masonry is easy to discern from the finely crafted blocks of lighter and softer limestone used in later Arab work.
Karak's most famous occupant was Reynald de Chatillon, whose reputation for treachery, betrayal and brutality is unsurpassed. When Baldwin II died, his son, a 13-year-old leper, pursued peace with Saladin. The leper king, however, died without an heir, and in stepped Reynald, who succeeded in winning the hand of Stephanie, the wealthy widow of Karak's assassinated regent. He promptly broke the truce with Saladin, who returned with a vast army, ready for war. Reynald and King Guy of Jerusalem led the Crusader forces and suffered a massive defeat.
Islam's first expansion beyond the Arabian Peninsula was northwards into Jordan.
Here the first contact between Islam and the non-ArabByzantine world occurred. Consequently, several strategic 7th century battles took place : the battles of Muta, Yarmouk and Fahl (Pella). Many of Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) companions and military leaders were martyred and buried in Jordan, and their tombs and shrines today are important destinations for pious Muslims such as AI Mazar aj Janubi, just 25 minutes south of Karak.
What To See:
Karak Castle is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. More imposing than beautiful, the castle nevertheless gives an impressive insight into the architectural military genius of the Crusaders.
Karak Archaeological Museum
From Amman, head south. You can either take the Desert Highway (approximately 130kms from Amman 2 hours drive) or you can take the more scenic Kings' Highway or Dead Sea road.