HISTORY & CULTURE
There is no mistaking the fact that Jordan is a Kingdom steeped in history and
culture. From the moment you arrive, you get a sense of its rich heritage, all
around are remnants of ancient civilizations long since past, yet they still
remain, stamped into the very fabric of this amazing Kingdom and etched into
the soul of the people who live here. To find out more about historical sites
in Jordan, select a destination from the dropdown below:
A sprawling city spread over 19 hills, or "jebels".
Amman is the modern, as well as the ancient capital of the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan. Known as Rabbath-Ammon during the Iron Age and later as
Philadelphia, the ancient city that was once part of the
Decapolis league, now boasts a population of around 1.5 million. Often
referred to as the white city due to its low size canvas of stone houses,
Amman offers a variety of historical sites. Towering above Amman, the
site of the earliest fortifications is now subject to numerous excavations
which have revealed remains from the Neolithic period as well as from the
Hellenestic and late Roman to Arab Islamic Ages. The site which is known as
the Citadel includes many structures such as the Temple of Hercules,
the Omayyad Palace and the Byzantine Church. At the foot of the Citadel lies
the 6000 seat Roman Theatre which is a deep-sided bowl carved into the hill and
still used for cultural events. Another newly restored theatre is the 500-seat
Odeon which is used for concerts. The three
museums found in the area offer a glimpse of history and culture, they
are the Jordan Archaeological Museum, The Folklore Museum and the Museum of
The Roman Theatre in Amman.
more about Amman
The trip south from Amman along
the 5,000-year-old Kings Highway is one of the
most memorable journeys in the Holy Land, passing through a string of ancient
sites. The first city to encounter is Madaba,
“the City of Mosaics ". The city, best known for its spectacular Byzantine and
Umayyad mosaics, is home to the famous 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem and
the Holy Land. With two million pieces of colored stone, the map depicts hills
and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta. Other mosaic
masterpieces found in the Church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the
Archaeological Museum, depict a rampant profusion of flowers and plants, birds
and fish, animals and exotic beasts, as well as scenes from mythology and
everyday pursuits of hunting, fishing and farming. Literally, hundreds of other
mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered throughout
Madaba's churches and homes.
The Mosaic at St. Georges Church in Madaba.
more about Madaba
The ancient city of Petra is
one of Jordan's national treasures and by far its best known tourist
attraction. Located approximately three hours south of
Amman, Petra is the
legacy of the Nabataens, an industrious Arab people who settled in southern
Jordan more than 2000 years ago. Admired then for its refined culture, massive
architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a
UNESCO world heritage site that enchants visitors from all corners of the
globe. Much of Petra's appeal comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a
narrow desert gorge. The site is accessed by walking through a kilometre long
chasm (or siq), the walls of which soar 200 metres upwards. Petra's most famous
monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the siq. Used in the
final sequence of the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", the towering
facade of the Treasury is only one of myriad archaeological wonders to be
explored at Petra. Various walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of
buildings, tombs, baths, funerary halls, temples, arched gateways, colonnaded
streets and haunting rock drawings - as well as a 3000 seat open air theatre ,
a gigantic first century Monastery and a modern archeological museum, all of
which can be explored at leisure. A modest shrine commemorating the death of
Aaron, brother of Moses, was built in the 13th century by the Mamluke Sultan,
high atop mount Aaron in the Sharah range.
The Treasury at Petra.
more about Petra
A close second to Petra on the
list of favourite destinations in Jordan, the ancient city of
Jerash boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more
than 6,500 years. The city's golden age came under Roman rule and the site is
now generally acknowledged to be one of the best preserved Roman provincial
towns in the world. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and
restored over the past 70 years, Jerash
reveals a fine example of the grand, formal provincial Roman urbanism that is
found throughout the Middle East, comprising paved and colonnaded streets,
soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas,
baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates. Beneath its
external Graeco - Roman veneer, Jerash
also preserves a subtle blend of east and west. Its architecture, religion and
languages reflect a process by which two powerful cultures meshed and
coexisted, The Graeco - Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient
traditions of the Arab Orient.
The Temple of Artemis at Jerash.
more about Jerash
Famed for its preserved coral reefs and unique sea life, this Red Sea port city
was, in ancient times, the main port for shipments from the Red Sea to the Far
East. The Mameluk Fort, one of the main historical land marks of
Aqaba, rebuilt by the Mameluks in the sixteenth century. Square in
shape and flanked by semicircular towers, the fort is marked with various
inscriptions marking the latter period of the Islamic dynasty. The current
excavations at the ancient site of early Islamic town Ayla with its two main
streets intersecting in the middle dates back to the 7th Century already
revealed a gate and city wall along with towers, buildings and a mosque. The
museum houses a collection of artifacts collected in the region, including
pottery and coins. Aqaba also
hosts the house of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the great grandfather of King
Abdullah II. Other places of interest include the mud brick building thought to
be the earliest church in the region.
The Fort at Aqaba.
more about Aqaba
Jordan's desert castles, beautiful examples of both early Islamic art and
architecture, stand testament to a fascinating era in the country's rich
history. Their fine mosaics, frescoes, stone and stucco carvings and
illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Graeco - Roman traditions,
tell countless stories of the life as it was during the eighth century. Called
castles because of their imposing stature, the desert complexes actually served
various purposes as caravan stations, agriculture and trade centres, resort
pavilions and outposts that helped distant rulers forge ties with local
bedouins. Several of these preserved compounds, all of which are clustered to
the east and south of Amman,
can be visited on one - or two - day loops from the city.
Qusair Amra, one of the best preserved monuments, is a UNESCO World Heritage
Site. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with lively frescoes, and two
of the rooms are paved with colorful mosaics.
Qasr Mushatta, Qasr al - Kharrana, Qasr at -Tuba and Qasr al - Hallabat have
been restored and are all in excellent condition. The black basalt fort at
Azraq, in continuous use since Late Roman times, was the headquarters
of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt.
For those fascinated by the Crusader Legends and Lore, a second group of
castles beckons. The scenic Kings Highway is
littered with the remains of Crusaders forts and outposts. The most important
among these are Karak and
Shobak - fascinating examples of architectural and military traditions
of the time. Their galleries, towers, chapels and ramparts still echo with the
resolve of the Crusaders who built them almost a thousand years ago.
Ajloun Castle (also known as
Qal'at [Castle] ar-Rabad) was built in 1184 by 'Izz ad-Din Usama bin Munqidh, a
general of Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders in 1187. A fine example of
Islamic architecture, the fortress dominated a wide stretch of the northern
Jordan Valley and passages to it. From its hilltop position,
Ajloun Castle protected the communication routes between south Jordan
and Syria, and was one of a chain of forts, which lit beacons at night to pass
signals from the Euphrates as far as Cairo. Today,
Ajloun Castle is a splendid sight with a fascinating warren of towers,
chambers, galleries and staircases to explore, while its hilltop position
offers stunning views of the Jordan Valley.
more about Ajloun
The fort itself is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways.
The best preserved are underground, and to be reached through a massive door
(ask at the ticket office). The castle in itself is more imposing than
beautiful, though it is all the more impressive as an example of the Crusaders'
architectural military genius. 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, sued for 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 huge army, ready for war. Reynald and King Guy of Jerusalem led
the Crusader forces and suffered a massive defeat. Reynald was taken prisoner
and beheaded by Saladin himself, marking the beginning of the decline in
Crusader fortunes. The castle was enlarged with a new west wing added by the
Ayyubids and Mameluks.
more about Karak
A lonely reminder of former Crusader glory is Shobak Castle, less than an hour
north of Petra. Once called "Mont Real", Shobak dates from the same turbulent
period as Karak. It is perched
on the side of a mountain, with a grand sweep of fruit trees below. The
castle's exterior is impressive, with a forbidding gate and encircling triple
wall. Despite the precautions of its builder, the fortress fell to Saladin only
75 years after it was raised. Inscriptions by his proud successors appear on
the castle wall.
In addition to Jerash and
Amman, Gadara (now Umm Qays) and Pella (Tabqat Fahl) were once
Decapolis cities, and each has unique appeal. Perched on a splendid
hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee, Umm Qays boasts
impressive ancient remains, such as the stunning black basalt theatre, the
basilica and adjacent courtyard strewn with nicely carved black sarcophagi, the
colonnaded main street and a side street lined with shops, an underground
mausoleum, two baths, a nymphaeum, a city gate and the faint outlines of what
was a massive hippodrome.
Ruins at Umm Qays.
Pella (Tabqat Fahl)
Pella is exceptionally rich in antiquities, some of which are exceedingly old.
Besides the excavated ruins from the Graeco - Roman period, Pella offers
visitors the opportunity to see the remains of Chalcolithic settlement from the
4th millennium BC, evidence of Bronze and Iron age walled cities, Byzantine
churches, early Islamic residential quarters and a small medieval mosque.
Graeco-Roman ruins at Pella.
Umm Al Jimal
The eastern most of the major northern cities, Umm al Jimal is located at the
edge of the eastern basalt desert plain, along a secondary road that was close
to the junction of several ancient trade routes that linked central Jordan with
Syria and Iraq. Among the most interesting structures to visit are the tall
barracks with their little chapel, several large churches, numerous open and
roofed water cisterns, the outlines of a Roman fort and the remains of several
Basalt arches at Umm al Jimal.
Umm ar Rasas
Excavations in Umm ar Rasas have uncovered some of the finest Byzantine church
mosaics, including a large carpet depicting Old and New Testament cities on
both the east and west banks of the Jordan River. Another feature at Umm ar
Rasas walled settlement is a 15-metre Byzantine tower used by early Christian
monks seeking solitude.
Excavations at Umm ar Rasas.
The Kings Highway
The Kings Highway winds its way through the different ecological zones of the
country, including forested highlands, open farmland plateaus, deep ravines,
the edge of the eastern desert, and the warm tropical Gulf of
Aqaba. Lining both sides of this 335-kilometre (207-mile) thoroughfare
is a rich chain of archaeological sites that reads like an index of ancient
history and a biblical gazetteer -- prehistoric villages from the Stone Age,
biblical towns from the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom, Crusader Castles,
some of the finest early Christian Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East, a
Roman-Herodian fortress, several Nabatean temples, two major Roman fortresses,
early Islamic towns, and the rock-cut Nabatean capital of
Petra. First mentioned by name in the Bible, the Kings Highway was the
route that Moses wished to follow as he led his people north through the land
of Edom, which today is in southern Jordan. The name may, however, derive from
the even earlier episode recounted in Genesis 14, when an alliance of "four
kings from the north" marched their troops along this route to do battle
against the five kings of the Cities of the Plain, including the wicked cities
of Sodom and Gomorrah.
A towering monolith at Petra.
Art Galleries in Jordan
Jordan has a rapidly developing fine arts scene, including an increasing number
of female artists. Today, artists from various Arab countries find freedom and
inspiration in Jordan. The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (Tel: 4630128,
Fax: 4651119), for example, boasts a fine collection of paintings, sculptures
and ceramics by contemporary Jordanian and Arab artists. The Jordan Association
of Artists can help in organizing studio and gallery tours of Amman.
Art Gallery in Amman.
Jordan hosts a number of centres devoted to local arts and culture, such as the
Royal Cultural Centre - a modern complex housing theatres, cinemas, and
conference / exhibition halls. A monthly programme is available on request and
local English-Language newspapers carry details of upcoming events.
Theatres & Cinemas
Foreign language films are shown with the original soundtrack and Arabic
subtitles. Times are listed daily in The Jordan Times, the daily newspaper.
A visit to Jordan is certainly incomplete without an introduction to its rich
legacy of ancient handicrafts. Traditional handicrafts in Jordan have been
passed down over many generations, from a time when all Jordanians met their
domestic needs by weaving their own rugs and making their own earthenware
vessels and utensils. An impressive cultural mélange of Arab and Islamic
imagery is reflected in Jordanian crafts, which include beautiful handmade
glass, handy earthenware vessels, skillful basket and carpet weaving, and
exquisite embroidery. Crafts produced on a smaller scale include artistically
decorated sand bottles, finely chiseled sculptures, and uniquely crafted silver
jewellery. During the past century or so, Jordanian crafts have benefited from
the skills and influences of other diverse cultural traditions.
Qusair Amra, one of the most preserved castles, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with lively frescoes, and two of the rooms are paved with colourful mosaics.
During the second half of the second century BC and down to the year 63 BC, the
history of Jordan was linked to the history of the Nabataeans. Their capital
city was Petra, the meeting centre of the trade routes coming from the Persian
Gulf, Western Arabia, and the Red Sea.