The Lowest Place On Earth

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Middle East » Jordan » North » Amman
September 8th 2009
Published: September 16th 2009
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With A Royal Route To Get There

Leaving Petra, we had a couple of stops before we got to Jordan’s capital, Amman.

First on the agenda… the ruins of one of the Crusader’s Castles at Shobak. Built around the 11th Century, it was taken back by the Arabs later and embellished in a more Arabic style before an earthquake in the early 1900’s made it uninhabitable. During the time of the crusades, the area was split up in to principalities with each of the castles presided over by a noble or prince to safe guard the route between Europe, Damascus and the holy city, Jerusalem. This route came to be known as the King’s Highway and although not a highway by today’s standards, back then the traffic doing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem made the road an important landmark that lives on. Now days, the castle is slowly being repaired and made safer for visitors to wander around it’s tumbling turrets.

Following the King’s Highway North, next stop was Dana National Park. One of the first nature reserves in Jordan and a haven for flora and fauna alike, it was the first place where hunting was prohibited to try and help the Ibex regain numbers. Unfortunately, today there is so few left in Jordan that they are considered on the verge of extinction in the wild. The biggest mistake I made about this place was that on hearing the words nature reserve I automatically assumed trees and lush landscapes for animals to forage. Nope… wrong!!! More desert with a little green at the bottom of the rocky gorge where seemingly there was once a river. Striking vistas but not what I expected. Goes to show once again… when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me!!

Last stop before the capital is a city called Madaba, Not much to look at but housing some unique treasures. While rebuilding a particular church after an earthquake damaged the foundations, upon excavation they found what is thought to be the oldest map of Jerusalem in existence. How was it lost you might ask?? Well… at that time the area was well known for it’s mosaic industry and the floor of the church was actually the map of the area from Syria to Egypt and the Nile. During some restoration works it had been paved over and hidden for centuries until the earthquake revealed it to the world again. Showing signs of how Christians defaced the pagan gods, as well as the numerous branches of the Nile Delta that no longer exist, it is thought to date from the early fourth century and shows the holy city in remarkable detail. From the five gates through the city walls to the set up of the main streets and even red roofs for the churches, it is a shame it was so damaged through mother nature for the rest of the map not to be able to be recovered.

On the outskirts of Madaba is a Franciscan Monastery. Located on Mt Nebo, it overlooks the River Jordan, the boundary between Jordan and Israel and the Palestine States. More importantly it is the place that, at the age of 120, Moses finally died. Promised by God to be shown the Promised Land, due to his lack of faith and sins committed, God only allowed him to see it and never reach it before dying on this mountain. In the text it says that he stood there and was shown all the lands from the Gulf to Damascus and out to the Mediterranean Sea, but even on a clear day it’s difficult to make out even Jerusalem at 66 kilometres away, let alone to the sea. What is thought is that it is in the words of… ”God showed him the Promised Land” meaning that his sight was enabled by a miracle. Regardless, it is a great view and the ruins from an earlier church to Moses make for a interesting look into the past. On a side note though… the remains of Moses were never found and most believe that’s because God hid them so as not to make his death something to be celebrated through worship. Obviously that didn’t work out to well for Him now did it.

Amman is commonly referred to as the white city due to it’s buildings using white render to try and subdue the harsh sun. From a distance I can agree but as you get closer the passage of time and the accumulation of dust creates a more creamy, orange tone. What it does do however, is provide a brilliant view of the moon rise considering it was a full moon the first night we were there. Peaking over the horizon flaming red like the sun, it slowly softens to orange and then down through the hues until it finally settles some hours later on a creamy yellow. Mesmerising it was. I sat there the entire time in stunned silence watching the procession as if it was done just for me.

Our final day of the tour began with a trip out to Jerash and the best preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East. Quite a large Roman city, it built it’s usefulness once again on being firstly on the caravan route between India, Egypt and other lands that traded with Europe at that time, and later because of it’s location on the pilgrimage route. This made it a thriving town with markets, plazas, a theatre and a hippodrome (the only one out of Europe and the largest after Circo Massimo in Rome). An ornate gate dedicated to the emperor Hadrian (the same one as the wall in England) guards the Southern colonnade leading into the city. With temples to the Greek Zeus and Artemis and a theatre that was so well constructed acoustically that at a certain point in the centre you but need whisper and the entire audience will hear, the thing that really interested me was the elaborate drainage and sewage system that ran under the roads and down to the city walls to be discarded outside. Now making the roads somewhat uneven, in the day it must have been a marvel to have such a system.

With half a day left, we made our way to the lowest place on Earth that’s above water, the Dead Sea (at over 400 metres below sea level). So called because the salt content is 10 times the concentration of normal sea water, nothing survives in there… so I was to find out! What’s really alarming is that the sea continues to shrink about one metre every year and so becomes ever saltier. The Jordanian government is trying to get a proposal up and running to link the Dead Sea with the Red Sea via a channel that will create hydro-electricity in the process too. There are a lot of environmental factors to be taken into consideration such as the marine and coral protection in the Red Sea as well as the economical factors of the salt industry and even some thoughts of a desalination plant on the channel as well to try and provide extra drinking water in the process. All up, the idea has stalled and the water level continues to drop. Luckily enough, experts say that it will never actually disappear though. It will only drop to about 11 metres deep and then hold at that level because of the minerals and salt. What is known though is that even with the canal, the level won’t increase but only be maintained.

My experience in the Dead Sea was amazing!! Never a bad swimmer and able to float quite well on my own, I found it hilarious that there was no possible way to sink. I could have tried to dive into it and probably would have bounced off the surface. It’s almost greasy in it’s feel, kind of like swimming in soup I’d imagine, an when you get out your skin feels slimy. On the other hand, the minerals are supposed to be very good for the skin, so like all the others I lathered myself in mud and let it work it’s magic. Do I look younger?? I doubt it… but it was fun none the less. Now… going back to the fact that I said I could have dived in. You see in the Dead Sea, if you get the water in you mouth or even worse, your eyes, your in pain for about half an hour. Your mouth fells like it’s trying to turn itself inside out and while you cough and splutter to try and regain some feeling from the raging pins and needles assaulting your tongue, if your silly enough to open your eyes it’s instant blindness!!! After that you realise you cant wipe your eyes without making it worse and so you tend to do a kind of zombie walk up the beach, blind and speechless, until suddenly you are unsuspectingly doused in freezing cold fresh water. That’s the first time you can say anything and it’s usually not very sociable, but it does the trick and for the wise, it’s a lesson learnt.

With the last night together upon us, it was farewells and exchanging of emails before early the next morning I was off and about again. Where to this time?? Germany!!!

”Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken." - Frank Herbert

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