Jordan’s cultural, historical and natural treasures play a huge part of what the country is about. Any story on Jordan would be very incomplete without them…
The ancient city of Petra has traditionally been what Jordan is most famous for. The design and construction of Petra represents the engineering genius of the Nabataean tribe – an industrious Arab people that settled here over 2,000 years ago, when the area was an important junction for the silk and spice routes. Access to the entrance of Petra is through a deep, narrow gorge. From here, visitors get their first glimpse of the city’s massive, 50 metre high façade of the main entrance. Petra today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’.
The Dead Sea, resting over 420 metres below sea level, is another Jordanian icon. Since ancient times, people have made their way to the sea’s warm, buoyant and mineral rich waters. Wellness treatments combining Dead Sea water and the rich black mud found along its shore can increase circulation, ease arthritis, revitalise the skin – and provide many other health benefits. It is hard not to be deeply affected by the surreal quality of Wadi Rum – the famous desert valley in southern Jordan, which is home to a maze of monolithic rock formations that rise up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750 metres. It is possible to schedule a trip of several days in Wadi Rum – done on camel back or by four-wheel drive.
A close second to Petra on the list of historical destinations in Jordan is the ancient city of Jerash. Located 48 kilometres north of Amman, Jerash is one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world, outside Italy.
Modern Jordan – the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon – was founded by King Abdullah I after World War I. It was ruled by his grandson, the late King Hussein, for 46 years until his death in 1999, when his son, King Abdullah II, assumed the throne. Since then, Jordan has grown into a modern nation that has enjoyed remarkable measures of peace, stability and economic growth. With warm, dry summers and cool winters, Jordan has a Mediterranean-style climate. This makes it an attractive year-round destination for visitors. Major cities are the capital Amman and Salt in the west; Irbid, Jerash and Zarqa in the north west; and Madaba, Karak and Aqaba in the south west. Major towns in the eastern part of the country are the oasis town of Azraq and Ruwaished.
The highest point in the country is the 1,854 metre high Jabal Umm al Dami, which experiences seasonal snowfall at its peak. The lowest point is the Dead Sea, which is at 420 metres below sea level in the Jordan Rift Valley. The waters off Aqaba, on Jordan’s section of Red Sea coastline, contain a vast array of tropical marine life. Here, there is the chance to dive and snorkel with schools of colourful fish – and possibility encounter sea turtles, dolphins and whale sharks. It has been said that Aqaba also represents a microcosm of all the good things Jordan has to offer: excellent hotels, superb visitor facilities, good shopping and friendly people.
Jordan’s Natural Wonders
One of Jordan’s greatest assets are its nature reserves – most of which are ‘undiscovered’ by mainstream tourism. For instance, the Ajlun Nature Reserve in the Ajlun highlands consists of beautiful Mediterranean-like hill country, dominated by open woodlands of Oak and Pistachio trees. The spectacularly scenic Mujib Reserve is called the ‘lowest nature reserve in the world’ due to it’s proximity to the Dead Sea. And the Dana Biosphere is interesting as it is the only reserve in Jordan that encompasses all four of the country’s bio-geographical zones. There are other nature reserves too. The Shawmari Reserve was created in 1975 by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and is today a thriving environment for the protection of rare animals from the Middle East. The newest addition to Jordan’s network of nature reserves is Dibeen. Located north of Amman, it offers nature walks, wonderful views of the countryside, and an exceptionally large variety of tree species.
Amman: Jordan’s Centre Stage
If much of Jordan’s attractiveness lies in its history, culture, and natural resources, then the capital, Amman, represents something completely different. The city still retains much of its old-world charm, and if one is willing to look for it, they’ll be fascinated by the history and heritage of what is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. However, there’s a good reason why Amman is often referred to as the most sophisticated city in the Middle East, and a bustling metropolis. Amman is the modern, trendy, commercial centre of the region, and it hums with the energy of trendy cafes, start-up businesses, galleries, boutiques, classy shopping malls and entertainment venues – all of which are filled with Jordan’s fashionable, fun-loving crowd that are serious about ‘living the good life’. The city consists of an older, more traditional region referred to as the downtown area – and then a more modern, vibrant area in the western part. Amman is very much a city of hills – to get anywhere one will have to zoom up and down many hills. The positive part about this is that there are spectacular views at almost every turn. Amman’s mall and market culture is a big part of what the city is about. Besides the malls that stock international brands and designer items, there are other shopping experiences not to be missed.
For instance, at the Balad, the busy downtown area in the old heart of the city, you can walk through a maze of street cafes and shop stalls that sell everything from fruits and spices, to souvenirs, clothes, hardware items, and all kinds of tasty local dishes. Wakalat Street is a pedestrian street in Sweifieh that has shops, restaurants and cafes with open areas for sitting, relaxing and ‘people watching’. The much-loved Shari’ Al-Rainbow is a cobblestone street that has a European feel to it, and is populated with small antique stores, clothing shops, restaurants, cafes and tea shops.
It’s been said that the people of Amman are multi-cultural, multi-denominational, welleducated and extremely hospitable – and they welcome visitors and take pride in showing them around their fascinating and vibrant city. What more could any visitor desire?
Oman Air flies seven times a week between Muscat-Amman.