Jerash, Ajlun Castle and Umm Qays

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Middle East » Jordan » North » Jerash
January 27th 2013
Published: January 29th 2013
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Grrrr, Bernie collected an internet password from the reception desk last night, but we haven't been able to connect to the internet. On our way to breakfast we let them know at the reception desk that we couldn't access the internet. They said they would look into it and asked us to call back at the desk on our way back from breakfast. On the way back to the room we picked up an IT guy at the reception desk and he came upstairs to check our connection. He couldn't connect our laptop either and left saying that he would ask the head of IT to come to our room. However, the head of IT hadn't arrived by the time we had agreed to meet Ahmed in the foyer so we had to leave without checking our emails or updating the blog.

This morning Ahmad drove us through pine plantations and olive groves to the ancient city of Jerash which is considered to be one of the most beautiful and well-preserved Greco- Roman cities in the world. It was certainly very atmospheric to be able to stand at the southern Arch of Hadrian and be able to see the ruins stretching all the way to the northern Arch of Hadrian. The arches were constructed outside the city gates to commemorate Hadrian's visit to Jerash.

The city was damaged extensively by an earthquake in the middle of the 8th century BC and many of the features visible today are reconstructions that provide an impression of what the city once looked like. Inside Hadrian's Arch we viewed the quadrangle, an area that was used for horse races and athletic events. Its dimensions made the hippodrome in Istanbul look small in comparison!

From the quadrangle we proceeded to the south gate and the very impressive oval forum. While many of the standing structures were levelled by the earthquake and have been reconstructed the paving is original. However, it is no longer level, but retains waves that were caused by the earthquake's passage. We walked along the colonnaded street, past the circular agora and the nymphaeum to the north gate (with the northern Arch of Hadrian behind) and the northern amphitheatre (capacity 3,000). From the amphitheatre we looped back around to the Temple of Artemis, a Byzantine church, the smaller southern amphitheatre (capacity 1,500) and the Temple of Zeus where there was a tremendous view overlooking the forum. We are enjoying an added bonus that Ahmed is a photographer so, not only is he telling us about the sites, he is recommending 'shots' that we should take.

Our next stop was Ajlun Castle which was constructed by the Crusaders to defend the land they had secured as they tried to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. The castle was later taken by Salah ah-Din who expanded the castle and added a watchtower. Unfortunately most of Salah ah-Din's extensions have not survived the passage of time. While still an impressive mediaeval relic, the castle was somewhat smaller than I anticipated.

Once again Ahmad was very accommodating with photos, making two stops along the way so that we could photograph the castle perched high atop its hill. At our second photo stop we were surrounded by a herd of sheep (goats?). I think Ahmad was a bit alarmed that he had placed us in the herd's path until I assured him that we grew up in the country and we aren't afraid of livestock.

After our visit to Ajlun Castle we started heading for the Jordan Valley. The Jordan River (that flows though the Jordan Valley) marks the border with Israel so we had to cross a check point and show our passports before we proceeded down the hill towards the border. We reached the floor of the valley and turned north alongside the river. I admit I dozed off after several kilometres of greenhouses and orchards; there are hectares and hectares of them!! When I woke up, Ahmad confirmed that most of this rich and fertile land was a military zone sewn with land mines while Israel and Jordan were at war.

We crossed the canal and several more check points until we were only metres away from Israel. As we started to head up again towards Umm Qays we could see the Golan Heights, the range of hills on the border between Israel and Syria, north-east of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Tiberias). Formerly under Syrian control, the area was occupied by Israel in 1967. Syria has been negotiating for the withdrawal of Israeli troops since 1992.

We reached Umm Cays in the late afternoon so had some very atmospheric lighting to work with. The ancient Greco-Roman city of Gadara was also badly damaged by the earthquake in the 8th century BC, although the western Roman amphitheatre made of basalt is quite well-preserved. The site suffers somewhat from comparison with Jerash because it has not been excavated or restored to the same extent. What is interesting about the site is the contrast between the sections constructed from dark basalt and those built using light coloured sandstone.

After taking us on the scenic route to reach Umm Qays, Ahmad drove us back to Amman on the motorway. With the sun having set by this stage there wasn't much to be seen on the return journey so the quickest route was the best route.

We were on our own for dinner tonight so we just went to the Trader Vic's restaurant in the Recency Palace Hotel - right next door to the Grand Palace Hotel where we are. It was late and we were too tired to think about venturing any further afield. After being driven to and from the hotel a couple of times, there don't seem to be many shops or restaurants nearby.

Steps for the day: 15,793 (10.77 kms)

Additional photos below
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