Jordan was nothing but full of surprises. Our mission of visiting all the new seven wonders of world had brought us to Petra. The historic archaeological site of Petra was truly remarkable, it is still one of my travel highlights to date. However, apart from Petra, there is actually lot of other things to see in Jordan, especially the journey to Petra was just as exciting as the destination. But first, let’s explore the capital city of Jordan, Amman.
The name “Amman” comes from “Rabbath Ammon,” or “Great City of the Ammonites,” who settled in the region some time after 1200 BC. Amman is the capital and most populous city of Jordan with a population over 4 millions. Situated in northern-central Jordan, Amman is the country’s economic, political and culture centre, it is also among the most liberal and westernised Arab cities. Because of Petra, Jordan is a major tourist destination in the region, particularly among Arab and European tourists, approximately 2 million visitors arrived in Amman in 2014.
First stop, the must visit in this city is Amman Citadel.
Amman Citadel is a historical site located at the centre of downtown Amman. Known in Arabic as Jabal al-Qal’a, the citadel is considered one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places. It has had a long history of occupation by many great civilisations including Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad.
The most significant Roman structure in the Amman Citadel is the Temple of Hercules, which is visible from afar. It was built in the period between 162-166 AD, same period as the Roman amphitheatre not far form the citadel. The absence of columns on the rest of the structure, has convinced the excavator that the temple was actually left unfinished.
The site also contains a hand carved out of stones resembling the hand of Hercules.
Behind the Temple of Hercules is the Byzantine Church, built in the 5th-6th centuries AD. Its nave is flanked by two rows of ornate columns.
Another significant building at the citadel is the Ummayad Palace. It is a large palatial complex from the Umayyad period, constructed during the first half of the 8th century, it is now largely ruined, with a restored domed entrance chamber, known as the “kiosk” or “monumental gateway”.
Jordan Archaeological Museum (website written in Arabic) is also located in the Amman Citadel. Built in 1951, here you will witness artefacts found at archaeological sites in Jordan, dating from prehistoric times to the 15th century.
From the top of the citadel, you will also get a panoramic view of the downtown area.
From the Amman Citadel, we followed Google Map and found our way down the hill to the Roman Amphitheatre. The theatre was built during the reign of Antonius Pius in the 2nd century, it can house 6,000 spectators. They still use the theatre to this day but as a venue for cultural activities including the Amman International Book Fair, the Amman Marathon prize ceremony, and musical concerts, most notably the Al-Balad Music Festival.
After some sightseeing, we decided to walk back to downtown to look for food. We followed the main Al-Hashemi Street and happened to stumble upon a horde of people. Initially we had no idea what was going on as everyone was staring at us and the whole street was covered in flattened cardboard boxes. Only then we realised the locals had just finished the main afternoon prayer and now the whole street had turned into a big bazaar afterwards. Apparently a lot of the goods were smuggled through border without taxes. They weren’t the best products from China, but they were dirt cheap and everyone was shopping for bargains. This part of town is definitely worth exploring as you get to see and experience something different.
If you are looking for food, most of the restaurants are located on Abu Bakr al Siddiq street, but more commonly known as the famous Rainbow Street. Here you will find cafes, bars, restaurants and also quite a night life. With a little bit of research, we ended up having the best meal in Amman at a restaurant named Sufra.
The restaurant is housed inside a white bungalow separated into three dining areas. The main dining hall was opulent, covered in Persian rug and dark wooden furniture and decorated with Christmas ornaments as it was during Christmas season when we were there. The menu was extensive, here you can expect traditional Jordanian classics plus many other middle east cuisine.
The food was well executed with finesse. How I wish I could try all the hot and cold mezze on the menu, but we managed to share five and they were all delicious. So we tried:
Mutabbal (AUD$5.53)- Roasted aubergine mashed with tahini sauce and a hint of garlic. (similar to baba ganoush)
Hummus (AUD$5.07) – It was possibly the silkiest chick peas dip I’ve ever tasted and I loved it was served with whole chick peas in the center.
Kubbeh (AUD$6) – Hands down this was my favourite dish of the evening. The little balls made from burghul and lamb paste were fried to perfection, it was crunchy outside with soft centre filled with minced meat, onion and pine nuts. It was a steal at $6 for 4 pieces.
Grilled Nabulsi (AUD$7.84) – Very similar to haloumi, the grilled Nabulsi is the one of the most popular white brined cheeses made in the Middle East. Who would say no to cheese, right?
Thalat (AUD$7.29) – we always like to try something unusual when we are travelling, so this time we decided to try Thalat, which is roasted lamb spleen. The thinly sliced roasted lamb spleen was surprisingly tender and rich in flavour (probably too gamey for some), topped with parsley, garlic and chilli pepper. We actually quite liked the dish.
The dessert menu was simply irresistible, we shared:
Raha & biscuit (AUD$4.60) – It was sweet, rose scented, chewy Turkish delight (lukum) paired with biscuits.
Arabic sweets (AUD$4.60) – Here we received two types of Arabic sweets, Awameh and Asabe’ Zainab. Awameh is like the gulab jamun of the middle east, fried donut hole soaked in sugar syrup. Asabe’ Zainab means Zainab’s fingers, which were more or less the same like Awameh, but just in elongated shape and soaked in orange syrup.
Sufra special (AUD$9.13) – The most expensive dessert but also the least exciting I must say, it was Arabic pistachio ice cream served with halva and pashmak fairy floss.
The night was still young after the meal, so we just wandered up Rainbow Street and decided to chill at a Hookah bar and drink some coffee. It was pretty cheap to have a puff of the hookah, I remembered it was like AUD$5.00. Believe it or not, the hookah actually has more nicotine than a normal cigarette, despite the sweet scent of fanta grape every time we puffed. We actually felt a little dizzy after puffing for 10 minutes!
We sure slept well that night, but I did wake up earlier that morning to see the sun rise.
It was early December when we were there, so the temperature was dropped below zero, it was nice to see the city covered in snow. We had an early start that morning as we will be heading to Petra with a few stops along the way. I highly suggest you to hire a personal driver. We hired a driver through the hotel we stayed at and cost us around $140 for a return trip from Amman to Petra.
The road trip was actually fascinating. Once we zoomed out of Amman city, the landscape changed dramatically to snow capped desert and small rural towns. It was a photographer’s dreamland out there.
Madaba Mosaic Map
We had no idea where our driver would take us, as we only told him that we would like to go to Dead Sea and The Petra, so the whole road trip was pretty much up to him. Our first stop was St George Greek Orthodox church in a town called Madaba. Inside the church, a lot of murals hanging on the wall were made of mosaics, but the most important piece is the Madaba Map on the floor in front of the alter. It is the oldest surviving original cartographic made of mosaics depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem. It dates to the 6th century AD. The mosaic map of Madaba is the oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history.
Mount Nebo Memorial of Moses
Next stop was Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo is an elevated ridge in Jordan, approximately 817 metres above sea level, this is the site mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promise Land. From the summit offers a panoramic view of the Holy Land, the valley of River Jordan, the west bank city of Jericho and also Jerusalem on a very clear day.
The remains of a Byzantine church and monastery were discovered in 1933 at the highest point of the mountain. Some remnants of the beautiful ornate mosaic floors from different periods can be seen but majority were still under renovations and were not open to public.
The lowest point on earth – Dead Sea
By midday, we had arrived the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordered between Jordan on the eat and Israel on the west. Its surface and shore 429 metres below sea level, which makes it the lowest point on earth. It is also the deepest hyper saline in the world and it is almost 10 times as salty as the ocean. Because of its high salinity, it makes for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot flourish, hence named The Dead Sea.
There are actually quite a few luxury resorts around the Dead Sea where tourists from around the world come to the Dead Sea for a dip in the lake and a mineral mud rub. We didn’t intend to stay but still managed to go in for a quick dip.
“I am floating!”
There was a kiosk where you can hire towel and also using the shower facility. It was a weird experience swimming in the Dead Sea. Because the density of the salt water is so high, you actually can’t sink! It was very awkward trying to get into the water and balance myself at the same time, eventually I was bobbing on the surface of the water effortlessly. Oh one more thing, make sure you do not have any cuts on your body or get any water into your eyes, because it will burn like hell!
We also had a simple buffet lunch here after the swim, then I decided to go back to the lake and took a few more shots. Then I was approached by these two lads, asking me to take a photo of them together. So I obliged. Then one of them signalled me that he also wanted to have a photo with me. Next thing I know, he was holding my hand for the photo, a common gesture to show the bond of brotherhood.
Cave of Prophet Lut (Lot)
The Pom did a bit of research on internet and found this next point of interest which is only a stone throw away from the Dead Sea. So we requested our driver to make a quick stop there as it is not really on the tourist radar. We followed the windy narrow road up the hill and eventually we arrived at the Cave of Prophet Lut. According to the bible, Lot and his family fled the small town of Zoar to the mountains and lived in the cave. It was where the two daughters decided to get their father Lot drunk and then had sex with him.
There wasn’t much to see really, but it is what happened inside the cave (according to bible) that got us intrigued and wanted to have a sticky beak really. Finally, it was time to head straight to Petra. At one point, our driver drove straight into a nearby village and got lost! We suddenly panicked and thought we were going to be kidnapped! He told us it was a shortcut but somehow he also lost his direction and had to ask the local where Petra was. Eventually we found our way back on the main road and our little panic attack averted.
It had been a long adventurous day, but eventually we made it.
Welcome to Petra.