A Tour of Jordan's Highlights
From Petra's Treasury to the Roman Ruins
By Louise Trotter
You’ve seen the pictures of Petra — the iconic image of the treasury facade carved into the sandstone, peeking through the narrow gorge of the Siq. Or maybe, like me, you associate first seeing the lost, ancient city of Petra with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
There’s a reason Petra is considered one of the most famous archaeological sites, a UNESCO world heritage property and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Spoiler alert –– it’s even better than you could imagine. Go to Petra, and if seeing the Treasury is your primary reason to visit Jordan, you won’t be disappointed, but make sure you don’t overlook the rest of this spectacular country.
Amman is Jordan’s capital and largest city building on seven hills. Start your visit in the town centre at the Citadel National Historic Site at the top of one of those hills. Being occupied since the Bronze Age means there’s a lot of history to absorb while navigating the historical buildings and artefacts. The Citadel is an open-air museum, and highlights include evidence of a Palace from the Ammonite Empire (800 BC), the great Roman Temple of Hercules (166 AD), a Byzantine Church (550 AD), and an Umayyad Mosque (730 AD).
The vantage point at the Citadel at 850 metres is the birds-eye view of the Roman amphitheatre built in the 2nd century. The theatre has three tiers offering the best seats to the rulers and dignitaries, the military in the middle, with the top tier for the general public. Today, the general public can get much closer to the action and climb the steps accessing each tier in the amphitheatre.
While still in Amman, walk down the appropriately named Rainbow Street to shop for artisan pottery and flavourful spices, and pause for the most delicious fresh mint tea at any of the many hip Jordanian cafés. Follow the locals or your nose to take advantage of mezze dishes –– the Jordanian way of sharing hot and cold appetisers provides an opportunity to sample more of the local fare. And don’t forget to try the hummus; it’s legendary!
A mere hour north of Amman is the ancient city of Jerash. There has been human occupancy here for more than 6000 years, and it is considered one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world. Jerash is accessed through Hadrian’s Arch, and upon walking beneath the gateway, the expanse of this archaeological site is realised. Explore the colonnaded streets, grand plazas, temples, two theatres, sanctuaries, communal baths, bridges, a market area, and a circuit of city walls. Prepare to be awe-struck in the “city of a thousand columns”, and wear comfortable shoes as you will spend ample time walking through history and taking in the views.
Petra was the thriving capital city of the Nabataean empire, with over 20,000 inhabitants. The Treasury is just one of the buildings amongst tombs, amphitheatres, colonnaded streets, and the Monastery. Start your visit by travelling the 2km walk through the rock canal and you will be in awe as changes in the light and shadows highlight the various colours in the sandstone layers. It isn’t until the moment you have that first glimpse of the Treasury that you realise how excited you are to see this famous monument. Savour each step to get there and relish the moment when you arrive. You can keep walking from the Treasury, another 2km to the rest of the city and end at Qasr Al Bint, the religious temple.
Although you could keep walking to the 900 steps to access the Monastery, the better plan is to set out the next day and hike through the “backdoor” trail. Book a ticket in little Petra for a 4WD that will take you 5km into the desert. Don’t expect a smooth ride along the sand. It’s bumpy, so you’ll be airborne numerous times on the ride. Then hike the 2.5km to the Monastery, a tomb much bigger than the Treasury. The hike is challenging in places but offers spectacular views. After reaching the Monastery, instead of returning the same way, keep going down the 900 stairs back into the ancient city for another opportunity to see the Treasury. Then return to the Visitor Centre via the Siq, at which time you’ll understand why the Smithsonian Magazine chose Petra as one of the 28 places you should visit before you die.
Wadi Rum, located in southern Jordan, is a 74,000-hectare protected area. Petroglyphs, inscriptions and archaeological remains testify to 12,000 years of human occupation and interaction with the natural environment. Virtually all the people living in and around Wadi Rum are of Bedouin origin and, until recently, led nomadic lives. Now the Bedouins are more connected to the tourism sector, offering tours of Wadi Rum via camel or "Jeep". The Jeeps are flatbed trucks. You ride in the back, careening over the desert and stopping for photo opportunities.
By Louise Trotter
Louise is navigating the route of Karl Creelman, a Nova Scotian who rode his bicycle around the world in 1899. More than just a travel expedition, this journey through time is a testament to one of the first Canadian adventurers who set out to see the world.