Jordan is a country that is rich in culture and history. During the first part of my trip I was introduced to many facets of Jordanian culture (tea at every turn, riding camels, etc) and during the second part.
After a few hours in the car, stepping out into the warm evening on top of Mt. Nebo was a relief. I really liked this historical site—it’s one of the best historical museums I’ve been to. First we trekked to the far side of the site to see the view. As the legend goes, Mt. Nebo is where God took Moses to see the promised land. I would imagine theat Musa was at least as impressed as I was by the hills and valleys and sea of the Holy Lands. The panorama is incredible and the map to point out landmarks is very clever.
Next to the lookout and the map is a sculpture which is an allusion to Moses’ staff and the crucifixion. It’s an interesting sculpture that doesn’t quite fit in with the older buildings at the site, but it is a really cool art piece. (And I somehow don’t have a picture of it?)
Next we went inside to see the church. Many of the original mosaics have been restored and steel platforms have been installed so that you can get close to the mosaics and look over them withouth actually stepping on them. Additionally, some of the graves that had been dug in the church have been excavated and had glass installed over the openings so you can see how those are decorated. Finally, there is a small chapel area at the front of the church. Interestingly, unlike most churches the congregation would sit below the stained glass windows and the priest would have their back to the door of the building rather than the other way around.
There is also a small museum dedicated to the history of Mt. Nebo. We took a breif stroll through it, but there wasn’t much time to read all of the little plaques. The dioramas of the excavation sites were interesting, though.
Madaba is a very busy city, but in a grove of pine trees there’s a small spot of quiet. Our stop at St. George’s was very short, but quite rewarding. It is the home of the oldest known map of the holy lands. Here are pictures:
Plus, the shawarma across the street is awesome (Pro tip: you can get a 9 year old to eat basically anything if you remind him that the Avengers ate it)
One afternoon while there was a bit of a break in the rainstorm, Jen and I went to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Down in the Jordan River Valley is the site of Jesus’ baptism. While “Baptism Site Commission” is the title of the organization that runs what is essentially a national park, Jesus’ baptism site is far from the only historical site on the land. While we waited for the next tour to begin, Jen showed me a map of all the things you can visit in this one park. We entertained the idea of visiting the cave of St. Mary of Egypt, but once I learned that the path to the cave in question was strictly marked due to the presence of unexploded land mines, I was somewhat less willing to make the pilgrimage. Soon enough, the tour to Jesus’ baptism site began and we shuffled onto a small bus occupied by mostly Ukrainians.
As we drove down to the river we passed a crazy number of churches in this relatively small area which were of all different denominations. We didn’t get to go into any of them, but seeing the different architectural styles helped us to figure out which ones were which and when they were first built. Near the neighborhood of churches is the mound where Elijah ascended into heaven. It really doesn’t look like much, but it was clearly important to many of the people on our tour.
After a very short ride, we exited the car and started walking. The first stop on the walking portion of the tour was the place where Jesus was baptized. What stands in the spot today is the skeleton of a church that was built on what was once the banks of the Jordan river. Next to the church is a staircase that would have descended down to the river so that others could be baptized in the same place and waters as their savior. But, as our guide frequently reminded us, rivers move, so while the church and stairs still stand, they do so next to a dry riverbed that held a few inches of rainfall. So after learning about all the different times that the church has been rebuilt and restored, we continued our walk to where the Jordan River runs today.
“River” and “run” are relative terms here. The Jordan River, at least in the spot where we were, is little more than a stream, it’s also slow moving and murky. However, after some more rain it should clear up and swell, but I digress. Partially on the bank of the river and partially built over the river is a deck like platform that includes a ramp down into the river. Unlike our Ukrainian comrades, my cousin and I did not care to enter the river and baptize ourselves, but we did enjoy sitting in the shade and listening to our guide tell us about all the preservation that had gone into keeping this park to keep it from being ruins.
He also told us about the security measures that are taken, seeing as the six foot wide river is the border between Jordan and Israel. After he had moved on to other visitors, Jen pointed out to me that the guns carried by the Jordanian guards were not loaded. So I’m not entirely sure what the security measures actually are. Too quickly our time at this peaceful place was over and Jen and I drove back to Amman to get the kids from school.
Two days later, however, we were all back on the road and heading north. About an hour south of the Syrian border is an anti-crusader castle called Ajlun (Ajloun in English).
Built in the late 1100’s, the castle was built by Arabs to counter the European crusades. Today, it’s a museum. Sort of. There are very few exhibits and essentially, the structurally sounds parts of the castle are open for exploration. So that’s what we did. Jen and the girls were a bit put off by the cold—it’s cold and misty in the mountains—but Sean and my little cousin and I explored as much of the castle as we could. There were niches for archers, rooms that still have piles of cannon fodder laying around, balconies on all sides for lookouts.
There are no furnishings left, so it could be tricky to figure out what some of the rooms were meant for, but it was still fun to climb around on the worn staircases and explore all the nooks and crannies.
The rain only got heavier as the hours went by, so once we were all soaked and cold we picked our way around a colony of feral cats, packed ourselves back in the car, and headed home.