Monday, October 06, 2008

A TRAVEL PIECE ON JORDAN in the Lexington Herald-Leader surveys some of its antiquities:
Jordan's attractions range from archaeological (Roman remains at Jerash) to religious (Wadi Kharrar). They include sublime natural spectacles (Wadi Rum and the Dead and Red seas) and peerless man-made spectacles (the ancient city of Petra).

Jerash, though less famous than the Roman cities of Ephesus in Turkey and Magnus Lepta in Libya, is impressive. Some 30 miles north of the capital of Amman, the ruins, which include avenues, buildings, columns, theaters, villas and mosaics, remain remarkably well-preserved after 2,000 years. Strolling down the Cardo, the main street lined with decorative columns, it is easy to imagine Jerash in all its splendor as a Decapolis, one of 10 cities in the ancient kingdoms of Jordan, Syria and Israel linked by their trade routes, whose importance is referenced in the Bible.

A more important biblical site, however, is Wadi Kharrar, a lonely outpost in the shadow of Jericho in the Palestinian Territories. Wadi Kharrar, on the Jordanian side of the River Jordan, is where John the Baptist baptized his cousin Jesus, according to biblical scholars now supported by archaeological evidence. This is also the spot, according to the Bible, from which the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot and returned in spirit to proclaim, "I am a crying voice in the wilderness."

Archaeological excavations begun here in 1996 — after King Hussein brokered a peace accord with Israel — have uncovered a host of late Roman/early Byzantine churches, mosaics, the cave of the hermits and an underground spring.

While the attractions of the capital, Amman, can be seen in a half-day sightseeing tour, there are several must-see spots in the vicinity: Madaba, the city of Mosaics, dating back 3,500 years (the mosaic map of the Holy Land, pieced together with 2.3 million tiles on the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, is the oldest map in the world); and Mount Nebo, on which Moses is said to have stood, forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. Here, above the windswept plains, a beautiful chapel stands as a memorial to the prophet who lived out his days, died and was buried here.

South of Amman are Jordan's two famous seas — the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth (1,300 feet below sea level) with a salt content eight times that of most of the world's oceans, and the Red Sea, known for its casual resort lifestyle and incomparable diving.
And there's Petra too, of course.