Through the ongoing troubles and conflicts of the Arab Spring taking place in neighbouring Egypt and Syria, Jordan still enjoys a stable and peaceful environment enviable in the region. It is also a major tourist destination in the Middle East, boasting unique natural wonders, untouched desert landscapes and impressive archaeological sites, a number of which are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here are seven of the country’s most impressive highlights.
Always known to local Bedouins, and first described by a Westerner in the 1800s, Petra’s geological and elaborate rock-cut architecture has made this site a national symbol of the country and an obvious contender to Wonders of the World lists. The city, today Jordan’s leading tourist attraction, was once the capital of the ancient Nabataeans, nestled in a secluded valley and carved out of the sides of rose-colored mountain walls. After walking through a narrow gorge, some 1km long, rocks give way to an opening revealing the biggest attraction here, the facade of the Treasury, or Al Kazneh. Past numerous tombs, an amphitheater and a steep uphill walk is an equally impressive facade, the Monastery, scenically perched above the site.
Wadi Rum: the impressive red desert landscape, rich in rock formations, which more often than not has found its way on to the big screen, perhaps most famously as the romantic backdrop to David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia. Unsurprisingly due to the striking red sands, it is also filmmakers’ favorite spot to emulate the surface on planet Mars. Wadi Rum, also known as The Valley of the Moon, is an unspoiled natural wonder traced by millions of years of changing weather conditions and erosion. Sunsets here are especially colorful and best enjoyed after an off-road drive through the heart of the desert, and a night spent in black tents as guests of semi-nomadic Bedouins.
Some 50km north of the capital Amman, Jerash is home to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Gerasa. Surrounded by green mountains and valleys, these ruins are some of the best preserved among the region’s collection of ten Roman cities, and are a testimony to the fine and great scale of Roman urban planning. Among the top attractions are the monumental Hadrian’s Arch (built to celebrate a visit by the emperor himself), two amphitheaters, the temple of Artemis, and the vast oval forum, almost completely encircled by high standing columns.
A collection of Byzantine and Omayyad-era mosaics have lent this small, culturally diverse market town its claim-to-fame and the moniker of City of Maps. Of particular importance is the Madaba Map, a 16mX5m floor mosaic housed in the Orthodox Basilica of St. George depicting the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land with Jerusalem at its center. The major attractions are best explored on foot, easily accessible to visitors with the opening of an Archaeological Park.
The Dead Sea is an attraction in itself. Driving down an arid landscape to the lowest point on the earth’s surface, reaching the salt crusted coast, and then slowly making your way to the Sea’s highly buoyant waters is an experience unlike any other. Apart from a number of adjacent local spas, straying some kilometers further takes one to a number of worthy attractions including the historic Mount Nebo from which to enjoy panoramic views, and the excavated remains of Bethany Beyond the Jordan on the Jordan River, believed to be Christ’s baptism site mentioned in the New Testament.
At the country’s very south, this modern harbor city enjoys a remarkable and strategic coastal location overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba and enclosed by a line of desert hills. Though it boasts a rich history, including the remains of what is possibly the world’s oldest church, the archaeological ruins here are less impressive than those found elsewhere in Jordan. Its main asset lies in the warm waters of the Red Sea itself, dotted with sandy beaches and with seas rich in marine life and colorful reefs, making it a major snorkeling, diving and water sports resort.
The town of Umm Qais, situated in the extreme north-west of Jordan and close to borders of Syria and Israel, holds within its territory the ruins of the ancient town of Gedara. A visit to the site is more than worth it if you’re missing some green landscapes in this generally dry country. At some 400m above sea level, views from this hilltop stretch towards the sea of Tiberias, and the idyllic, albeit militarily occupied by neighboring Israel, Golan Heights in Syria.