A network of small castles extend eastward along ancient trade routes from Amman, the capital city of our mystery country. They are important examples of early Islamic architecture, built in 7th and 8th centuries by Umayyad caliphs. Although they are collectively referred to as castles, they include forts, towers, baths and caravanserai. Built in the early Islamic period, when figurative art was common, some of the castles shelter lovely frescos of dancing-girls, hunting parties, assembled rulers and cavorting animals. Later, depictions of humans and animals was discouraged in Islamic art. Qasr Kharana, about 40 miles east of Amman.
the Dead Sea forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan
The Dead Sea is almost 1400 feet below sea level, the lowest place on earth. There is no outlet for the water, which flows into the Dead Sea, technically a lake, from the Sea of Galilee (also technically a lake) via the Jordan River. Water leaves the Dead Sea only by evaporation, leaving minerals behind in high concentration. Because of the extremely low elevation, the barometric pressure is higher than anywhere else on earth, there’s a greater concentration of oxygen in the air, greater filtration of ultraviolet sun rays, and the air is practically free of pollen and other allergens.
The Dead Sea has been known for its healing properties for thousands of years, and even today, the unique climactic and mineral properties are used in therapies for conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis and cystic fibrosis. Continue reading →
The Greco-Roman city of Pella (named for the birthplace of Alexander the Great) was a Decapolis city, one of 10 centers of Greek culture established on the eastern fringes of the Hellenistic Greek world. Pella is located about 80 miles north of our mystery country’s capital city Amman (built on the site of another Decapolis city, Philadelphia).
Even in its ruined state, the Roman Temple of Hercules, including the evocative, disembodied Hand of Hercules, commands the high ground in the city of Amman. Amman’s central hill, Jabal al-Qala’a or the Citadel, was among the earliest parts of the city to be settled, with archaeological evidence of habitation going back to the Neolithic period. A list of occupiers includes many of the usual suspects, as well as a few relatively small, regional powers – Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, biblical Ammonites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and the early Islamic Umayyad and Ayyubid dynasties. The Umayyad Palace is another prominent historical remnant on the Citadel.
The grand entrance hall pictured above is all that remains intact of the large palace complex that once wrapped around the north side of the Citadel, the historical and geographical center of the country’s capital Amman, as well as its highest point. The palace was built around 720CE by the Umayyads, a dynasty that ruled the area 661-750. Much of the complex was destroyed by an earthquake in 749. The entrance hall takes the unlikely-for-Islamic-architecture shape of a cross because it is built on top of the foundations of a Byzantine church.
Gerasa (modern Jerash), 30 miles north of Amman, is the second most visited tourist site in Jordan, after Petra, and one of the world’s most extensive Roman sites outside of Italy.
There is evidence that the area has been inhabited since the Neolithic period but serious development began with the Hellenistic Greeks in the 3rd-century BCE. The city grew and prospered under Roman rule and was a member of the Decapolis, ten politically important city-states in the far eastern reaches of the empire. At its height, in the 2nd-century CE, 20,000 people lived in Gerasa.
Temple of Artemis, Jerash, Jordan
The ancient remains sprawl across an elevated, rolling plain with the modern town and cultivated fields looking on from the surrounding slopes. Much has yet to be uncovered. Demonstrations of gladiator fights and chariot races take place in the hippodrome every day except Tuesday. For three weeks each summer (around late July-early August) the site hosts the Jerash Festival, an acclaimed arts festival with theater, music and dance performances staged among the ruins.
Known as the “Citadel,” the site pictured above is located on the highest of seven hills that make up Amman, the capital city of our mystery country. The area has been continuously inhabited at least since the Bronze Age and excavations have only scratched the surface. Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad remains have been uncovered to date, including the Roman Hercules Temple above, a water cistern and palace from the Umayyad period and a Byzantine church. The national archaeological museum is also located at the Citadel.