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Jordan: The Oasis of Peace in Middle East

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Petra TreasuryThe amazing Petra Treasury is carved out of solid sandstone rock and was constructed around the 1st century B.C.

Jordan is a country rich in history. This, along with its amazing natural beauty, attracts pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the world, as Demola Ojo discovers while touring the middle-eastern kingdom. Jordan, the name evokes memories of the famous river in the Middle-east; embedded in history for so many reasons. It was the river the Israelites had to cross to reach the Promised Land as documented in the Bible. Another reason, which holds so much importance to Christians, is the fact that Jesus Christ was also baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a Middle Eastern country created in 1946, derives its name from this famous river. However, the geographical entity known as Jordan today has a rich history which in some cases can be traced back 7,000 years. This has made Jordan a preferred destination for history buffs and archaeologists, as well as pilgrims.

Ancient City of Amman

Evidence of the history of Jordan is captured in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Amman is among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places and has at different times been called different names including Philadelphia when it was a Roman city. Amman is a city built on seven hills and the Amman Citadel, a national historic site at the centre of downtown Amman, sits atop one of them. The Amman Citadel’s history represents significant civilisations that stretched across continents and prospered for centuries, as one empire gave rise to the next. It also symbolises the birth of the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Settlement at the Citadel extends over 7,000 years. The site represents a passage in time with an astounding open-air museum to explore as a part of the heritage of mankind. Historic structures, tombs, walls and stairs point to considerable archaeological potential at this site, as well as in surrounding lands, and throughout Amman.

Peaceful Country

It is important to highlight the peaceful nature of Jordan in an otherwise volatile middle-eastern region. Along with Egypt, it is the only country in the region that has a peace agreement with Israel. A little less than a tenth of its population is Christian and it is renowned for its tolerance and pro-western leanings. Jordan has been known to welcome visitors with open arms, especially refugees from neighbouring countries in strife. Its ability to stay detached from the chaos surrounding it has earned the country the appellation “an oasis of peace in the middle-east”, a tagline the Jordan tourism board markets the country under. Jordan, which is poor in many natural resources including water, has upped the ante in service delivery. It is recognised as a leading education and medical centre in the middle-east, while tourism is a major contributor to its economy.

Jordan has a wide range of attractions. The amazing landscape attracts leisure travellers to the scenic waters of the Red Sea while adventurers are drawn to Wadi Rum for rock climbing among other reasons. Of course, visiting Jordan would be incomplete without a therapeutic dip in the Dead Sea which is the lowest point on the planet at over 400 metres below sea level. In truth, it would be difficult to compress all of Jordan’s touristic charms into this piece without depriving the reader and intending visitor of vital information. Rather, below are a few of Jordan’s most significant historical and religious sites.

Jordan where Jesus was BaptisedBaptismal Site of Jesus at River Jordan

The River Jordan is bordered by Israel and the West Bank to the west and Jordan to the East. Bethabara, the spot which according to the King James Version of the Bible is the place where John the Baptist baptised those who came to him is in Jordan. Bethabara is also referred to as Bethany but is distinguished from the Bethany of Lazarus and his sisters as being beyond the Jordan. Bethabara is about 45 minutes’ drive from Amman and the area is also associated with the biblical account of how the Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, after having parted the waters of the Jordan River and walked across it with his anointed successor, the Prophet Elisha. The site where Jesus was baptised has been excavated and despite the river Jordan shrinking from a width of 60 metres at the time of Jesus’ baptism to just two metres now it is still pulls tourists and pilgrims from around the world.

Petra

Petra is a historical and archaeological city in Jordan famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Another name for Petra is the Rose City due to the colour of the stone out of which it was carved. Dating back as far as 300 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and is one of the seven new wonders of the world. The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812. According to UNESCO, it is one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf. The ability of the Nabataeans to control water supply was one of the main reasons that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. One of Petra’s most elaborate ruins, Al Khazneh (popularly known as “the Treasury”), is hewn into a sandstone cliff and is in remarkably preserved condition.

A little farther from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is a massive theatre, positioned so as to bring a great number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the city is revealed with striking effect. Petra receives an average of 2,000 tourists daily. A tourist visiting Petra should be prepared to walk for a couple of hours and realistically, a day is insufficient to take in the wonders of Petra. However, the marvellous sights are enough compensation for energy expended, as well as the opportunity to buy souvenirs and dine at one of the many restaurants which include a few international brands. There is also the option of touring on horseback, with a donkey, on a camel or in a carriage drawn by horses.

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is an elevated ridge in Jordan and is mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land that he would never enter. From the summit, one can see the Holy Land and the River Jordan.  Jericho is also usually visible from the summit, as well as Jerusalem. According to the final chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the Land of Israel.  “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho.” According to Christian tradition, Moses was buried at Mount Nebo, although his place of burial is not specified. Also, according to the book of Maccabees, the Prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in a cave on Mount Nebo. Sometime in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During his visit he planted an olive tree beside the Byzantine chapel as a symbol of peace. Pope Benedict XVI also visited Mount Nebo in 2009 from where he gave a speech, and looked out from the top of the mountain in the direction of Jerusalem. Pope Francis is also scheduled to start his pilgrimage of the Holy Land later this year from Jordan and Mount Nebo will be one of the religious sites he is expected to visit.

Jerash

Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. The city is reported to have been founded by Alexander the Great around 331 BC, and is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Middle East. Remains of the Greco-Roman era of Jerash include the famous city gate known as Hadrian’s Arch, two large temples dedicated to Zeus and Artemis, two theatres, a scattering of small temples and an almost complete circuit of city walls.

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