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Published: January 6th 2010
If you start counting the number of places classified as one of the "Seven Wonders of the World," you quickly pass seven. This, I've learned, is because there are multiple lists - the ancient seven wonders of the world, the modern seven wonders of the world, the natural seven wonders of the world, etc. It makes checking off visits to them all quite difficult! Normally, I wouldn't complain about having more places to visit, its actually a great thing to know there are still many exciting things to see, but it is a tad depressing as I approach the end of my trip to realize (again) that I have only begun to scratch the surface of what is out there. Of course, particular sites are mere details, I still have several continents to visit!
But, as to what I have seen, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit both Petra, one of the more recently listed wonders of the world, and the Cairo pyramids, one of the "original" wonders. (This blog is just about the Jordan visit, more to come later on Egypt.)
I visited Jordan from Israel, as part of an organized tour. I found a local company (Mazada tours) that offered a three day trip to Jordan and signed up to leave on the 18th of December from Tel Aviv. As instructed, I was outside the company's office by 8:30 on the 18th, waiting for the car to come with the other couple on the trip (something about their paying for the 5 star version of the tour, and me only the 2, meant that they got picked up at their hotel and I lugged myself over via the bus). By 9:30 I was getting a wee bit annoyed at the wait, when one of the office employees showed up full of apologies. Turns out, the tour couldn't leave that day as all the borders to Jordan were "unexpectedly" closed for the day. The company apparently had no idea the cause for this closure. As it turns out, the 18th was Islamic New Years - um, this doesn't seem like an obscure holiday to me, really, perhaps something a tour company doing business in Arab countries should know about? Anyhow, after that auspicious start to the tour, I agreed to depart a day later and spent an extra day relaxing in Tel Aviv.
On the 19th I again was outside the office by 8:30 (this time having to take a taxi to get there since the public buses don't run on Shabbat). The car arrived at 9:15 and we set off on an approximately hour and a half drive to the northernmost of the three border crossings between Israel and Jordan. I learned on the drive that we were no longer doing the 3 day tour, but a 2 day version, which would end in Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv. I explained that I would need a ride back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and was assured it would be arranged. (The fight for a partial refund I saved for my return.) Our driver, the owner of the company, dropped us off outside of the Israeli border station, giving us brief instructions of the dozen or so steps we would need to take to reach the Jordanian side and a car there. We shuffled through the process and made it to Jordan by about noon.
Our first destination was Jerash, an ancient Roman city in the north of Jordan that has been the subject of extensive excavations and renovations. On the way we drove along the very fertile Jordan valley before the landscape gave way to a more desert feel, with lots of large rock outcroppings and hills. Jerash was really spectacular, perhaps one of the best preserved/reconstructed Roman cities that I have seen. You enter via an arch erected for the emperor Hadrian and proceed into the city. There are now parts of the former theater and temples visible, the large market area, surrounded by columns reminiscent of the courtyard in the Vatican, and the major city street, lined by columns and parts of former shops, storage spaces and fountains. Many of the blocks of rock that you walk over on the street are the originals, you can even run your hands over the grooves left by years of roman-style carriages. Also visible on the streets are signs of the city's original sewage and water systems. Most of the former residential areas are still underground, likely under the current city and thus unlikely to be excavated. There were also several buildings that were converted into churches by the Byzantines when they occupied the city and some of their mosaic floors remain. I spent only an hour and a half walking around the site with a guide, but it was a fantastic visit, I would highly recommend this site to anyone visiting Jordan. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to see it, but the site also does living history presentations of horse races and gladiatorial competitions in the original arena (without, I'm assuming, any "thumbs up, thumbs down" votes from the audience).
After Jerash, we drove through Amman to Petra, which is a few hours from the southernmost tip of Jordan. (My hotel that night was great - everything was purple, the water even had a purplish tinge, but happily I'd brought several liters of bottled water from Israel - a leftover habit from hiking in the desert, it took several weeks before I could head out with less than a liter of water in my bag.) The next day, we started our tour of Petra at 7 a.m., when it first opened. You begin a visit of the site by walking about 1.5 miles through the natural canyon. This walk itself is absolutely beautiful and alone would have been worth the visit. Along the way there are some caves, likely burial sites from the original dwellers, tomb carvings and evidence of the two systems of pipes constructed to conduct water to the lower and higher parts of the city. I learned that local Bedouin tribes actually lived in the Petra ruins until 1985, when the government built them a village next to the site and forced them to move out of the old city. Today, most of the guides and folks offering rides (horses through the gorge, camels through the site and donkeys up the hills) are members of that Bedouin tribe. Overall, the folks working there, while of course hawking their goods, including "air conditioned taxis," (aka donkeys), were extremely friendly and I enjoyed having tea with them in one of the still accessible caves.
As you turn the last bend in the gorge you get an amazing view of the Treasury building, probably the best known site in Petra (and yes, the one from the Indiana Jones movie😊 The building, which is now empty, is really impressive. In reality, it was probably a large burial site/temple complex, but is known as the treasury because of myths that large treasures were hidden in a stone jar on a ledge at the top of the building. The jar is now pockmarked with bullet holes as the Bedouins apparently used to try to shoot open the structure to see if there really was treasure there. (As my guide pointed out, there are also bullet marks on surrounding parts of the building because "not everyone had such good aim.") After the treasury, there is about another 1.5 miles of paths through the old city, again surrounded by amazing structures carved into the rocks. Today, with one exception, all that is left are the structures that are carved into the rocks, which were built from the top down. All free standing buildings, which included all of the residential areas, have been destroyed, largely by earthquakes. When the Byzantines occupied the city, they apparently used some of the less-ornate burial caves as churches, probably not knowing the original use of the chambers. At the end of the city, you can walk up a hill (about 20 minutes up if you walk quite briskly) to see the monastery, which in design is quite similar to the treasury but even larger. I was fortunate enough to see the treasury both in the morning and midday, at the latter time it had the pink/red coloring that I was expecting.
While I could have easily spent a full day in Petra, I had to leave by 1 as we needed to drive back to the border, which we reached by travelling along the King Hussein highway, which was a beautiful trip (although I think that the Dead Sea is prettier from the Israeli side). When we crossed back into Israel we went via the border station that enters into the West Bank. Needless to say, security here is even more stringent than at Israel's other border crossings. This time it took an hour and a half of questioning before I was allowed back into Israel. When I finally made it through, we were met by a car and driven to Jerusalem. Here, I learned how my transfer back to Tel Aviv had been "arranged." I was dropped off at the public bus station!
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