REGIONS of JORDAN
AMMANThe capital city Amman, known in history as Rabbath-Ammon and in Roman times as Philadelphia. No more than five hours drive from anywhere in the country, it is the most convenient place to arrive in the first place. Business and the arts are booming, and there are luxurious hotels, restaurants, galleries and shops to enjoy. It will also be an overwhelming experience to visit the old part of Amman.
AQABAGreatly prized as Jordan's window to the sea, Aqaba brings a refreshing release from the rose-coloured desert to the North. Its sandy beaches and coral reefs are the most pristine on the Red Sea, and Jordanians hope to preserve them through careful planning. With several first-rate hotels, restaurants and shops, Aqaba caters to a tourist crowd that is tranquil and relaxed, seeking its pleasures more by day than by night.
Aqaba's reef is healthy and thriving, adorned with untold varieties of live coral and colorful fish. Aqaba also boasts some of the world's best scuba diving by day or by night, and several diving centers that can arrange trips for all levels of expertise.
Aqaba basks in balmy weather nine months of the year, in winter, spring and fall. Summer is hot, but you can pace your activities and adapt to the climate, slowing down in midday, and reviving in the cool of the evening.
KAN ZAMANThe walled village of Kan Zaman, just outside Amman, dates back to the turn of the century. This fortress has since been transformed into a restaurant and handicraft complex, with small shops offering a wide variety of traditional hand-crafted products and workshops in which you can see glassblowing and wood carving.
MADABA & MOUNT NEBOTo the south, from Amman along the 5,000 years-old King's Highway is going to be one of the most memorable journeys in the Holy Land, which passes through a string of ancients sites. The first city you come upon is Madaba, "the City of Mosaics".
Madaba's chief attraction -in the contemporany Greek Orthodox church of St. George- is a wonderfully vivid, sixth-century Byzantine mosaic map showing Jerusalem and other holy sites. Ten minutes to the west is the most revered site in Jordan: Mount Nebo, the memorial of Moses, the presumed site of the prophet's death and burial place. A small, square church was built on the spot by early Byzantine Christians, and later expanded into a vast complex.
JERASH & NORTHERN JORDANSecond only to Petra in tourism appeal, the ancient city of Jerash is remarkable for its unbroken chain of Human occupation. Here at a well-watered site in the hills of Gilead, you find remains from Neolithic times, as well as Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Omayyad and others. Jerash's golden age, however, arrived with Roman rule. When Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129, it was already thriving. To honour its guest, the city raised a Triumphal Arch, just one part of a massive building program. Today you can walk beneath four imposing gates, or make your way down the "Street of Columns" -the Roman Cardo- running 600 meters north from the Oval Plaza.
As you step over the tracks of chariot wheels still visible in the paving stones, imagine prosperous citizens window-shopping beneath a covered sidewalk. The engineering of Jerash was so advanced that large parts of the city still survive intact and much more has been painstakingly restored by archaeological teams from around the world.
SALTThis ancient town was once the capital of Jordan. A half-hour drive northwest from Amman transports you back in time to a town of picturesque streets and dazzing houses from the late Ottoman period, with their characteristic long-arched windows. It's the ideal place for admiring the architecture, stopping off at the small museum, and finishing up at the recently opened Salt Zaman.
THE DEAD SEAThe lowest point on the surface of the earth, which is located at the northern end of the Great Rift Valley lies the Jordan Valley. At the Dead Sea, it is more than 400 meters below sea level. The valley is typically Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot summers. The valley also has profund meaning for religious travellers. The Jordan River is known as the place Jesus was baptised and near where John the Baptist lived.
Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of a deep and narrow gorge. Used in the final sequence of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this towering facade is only the first of Petra's secrets. Various walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of buildings, facades, tombs, baths, funerary halls, temples and haunting rock drawing and reliefs-enough to keep you here for many days.
WADI RUM & THE DESERT VISTAS"Vast, echoing and God-like" -these are the words T.E. Lawrence used in describing Wadi Rum. It is the largest and most magnificent of Jordan's desert landscapes, but by no means the only one. There are many ways to experience Jordan's fragile, unspoiled desert retreats. Serious trekkers will be drawn to Wadi Rum, with challenging climbs some 1,750 meters high, while casual hikers can also enjoy an easy course through the colourful hills and canyons. Tourists with a sense of high adventure will want to try hot air ballooning over Rum. Those of a calmer disposition will probably prefer a camel ride or a night under the stars in a Bedouin tent.
Naturalist will be drawn to the desert in springtime, when rains bring the greening of the hills and an explosion of more than 2,000 species of wildflowers. Red anomones, poppies and the striking black iris, Jordan's national flower, grow at will by the roadside and in more quieter reaches.
UM QEIS. PELLA & THE JORDAN VALLEYIn addition to Jerash and Amman, Pella (now known as Tabaqat Fahil) and Gadara (now Un Qeis) were once Decapolis cities, and each has unique appeal. Um Qeis or Gadara -site of the famous Gadarene swine- was renowned in its time as a cultural centre. It was the home of several classical poets and philosophers, including Theodorus, founder of a school of Rhetorics in Rome: one poet called the city "a new Athens". Perched on a splendid hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee, Um Qeis boasts an impressive colonnaded terrace and the ruins of two theatres. You can take in the sights and then dine on the terrace of a fine restaurant with a breathtaking view of three countries.