Cities sculpted into stone valleys, architectural echoes of countless civilisations, an endless ocean of desert and host of some of the most important religious sites on the planet, Jordan is a veritable smorgasbord of cultural delights. Add to that the natural phenomena on offer and the immeasurable hospitality of its people and you may begin to question why you haven’t visited already. Here are the top ten reasons to visit this remarkable nation:
Marvelling at Petra’s stupendous facades
When anyone mentions the nation of Jordan, it is only natural to envisage the meandering rock passages leading to the intricate rose facade of Petra’s ancient city and it’s easy to see why. The rock-carved archaeological marvel and New Wonder of the World is one of the most iconic images associated with tourism in the Middle East. Founded by the nomadic Nabataeans over 2000 years ago, the city is a testament to their remarkable stonemasonry skills. Often referred to as the Rose City due to the magenta hue of the rock from which the buildings have been carved, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 before gaining wider international renown in 1989 through its appearance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Much like the famed fictional archaeologist, visitors to this site during a quiet day will feel as though they have stumbled upon an unknown civilisation lost to time.
Exploring the Greco-Roman ruins of Jerash
Regarded as one of the best preserved Roman cities outside of Italy, the collection of ruins at Jerash offers visitors a vivid insight into the lives of the civilisations who have called the city home for centuries. Column-flanked boulevards, weathered stone temples and the immaculately preserved Arch of Hadrian are just some of the structures that visitors will see whilst wandering the streets of this ancient city. Believed to have originally been founded by Alexander the Great, the city has had various ancient cultures call it home, having been part of the ancient Greek, Roman and Persian empires. Its Temple of Artemis was even used as a fortress during the Crusades. The deep and varied history of the site makes visitors feel as though they truly are taking a step back in time.
Floating in the Dead Sea
Lying between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is in fact a large salt lake lying 430 metres below sea level, making its coastline the earth’s lowest point on land. Due to the Dead Sea’s high salt content it is possible to effortlessly float on the water’s surface, giving swimmers a sensation of weightlessness. This hyper-relaxing experience isn’t all that the lake has to offer its visitors. Many believe that the mud lying under the water’s surface harnesses healing properties and that coating themselves with it leads to healthier skin. Beyond its spa-like properties, the Dead Sea also offers stunning views as it mimics the hue of the skies above. It is a particularly spectacular sight during sunrise and sunset when the water ripples in shades of amber, pink and violet as the crystallised salt of its rocky shores glimmers like a field of diamonds.
Stargazing in Wadi Rum
Consisting of a collection of obscure rock formations erupting from the red sands of the desert, Wadi Rum has gained notoriety for its collection of historic relics. Nabataean rock paintings and Roman temples are among the abandoned treasures discovered in this valley of sandstone and granite. However, some may argue that the greatest beauty Wadi Rum has to offer appears after the sun has set. Also known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum offers unparalleled stargazing experiences. The lack of light pollution due to the site’s middle-of-nowhere location means that the true splendour of the Milky Way can be witnessed with the naked eye.
Gorging on Jordanian food
Much like the food typical of its Middle Eastern neighbours, Jordanian cuisine is a treat for the tastebuds. Delicately blended spices and fresh local produce combine to create dishes that will keep you coming back for more time and time again. Whilst classic Middle Eastern dishes such as falafels, hummus and lamb koftas have become readily available in most local stores at home, nothing compares to the real thing. More traditional dishes include mansaf (slow cooked lamb prepared with whey, pine nuts and almonds) and maqluba (a layered meat and vegetable based casserole).
Located in the west of Jordan, Karak Castle is a magnificent fortress whose domineering walls still loom over the city in the valley below. Built in the mid-12th century and used as an important stronghold during the Crusades, the castle offers views over the sprawling countryside on all sides. On clear days one can even see the Dead Sea from the top of its ramparts. Today much of this fantastic castle’s barracks, towers and narrow passageways are open for exploration and various boards explain key eras of the structure’s history to those with an interest in how it came to be as it is today.
Wandering the streets of Amman
Considered one of the more modernised cities on the Middle East, Amman still has pockets of historical significance that serve as reminders of quite how long the capital has been standing. The best way to start a trip to Amman? A visit to the hilltop Citadel of Amman. Not only does this collection of historical architecture from the Roman, Umayyad and Byzantine eras ooze with historical significance but it also offers sprawling views over the whole of the city. If that doesn’t quench your thirst for ancient architecture then visit the impressive Roman Amphitheatre, which often hosts live music to this very day. Those looking to delve deeper into the contemporary local culture should lose themselves in the lively streets of downtown Amman or visit any of the number of the city’s magnificent mosques.
Following in the footsteps of prophets
Being the location for much of what was recorded in the Bible, it should come as no surprise that Jordan is home to many sites of immense religious significance. Some of the more notable sites include Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptised by John, Mount Nebo, where Moses was said to have first laid eyes on the promised land, and Mukawir, the site of King Herod’s Palace. Whether you consider yourself religious or not, a visit to these sites brings to life one of the most influential stories ever told.
Admiring the mosaics of Madaba
Much like most of Jordan, Madaba is a city steeped in history. Whilst the city is home to multiple significant historical sites and a bustling market scene, its most notable attraction is the 6th Century Madaba Mosaic Map. Discovered in 1884, the colourfully tiled map shows sections of the Middle East, including the holy city of Jerusalem, and is one of the oldest surviving depictions of the Holy Land. Found in St George’s Church, the importance of the map is reflected by the fact that it was used as a tool for locating and verifying sites of biblical significance.
The welcoming hospitality
A nation incorrectly considered by some as unsafe, Jordan is in fact home to some of the most welcoming people on the planet. Possessing a passionate kindness that has been ingrained in their very culture, Jordanians are only too happy to help anyone who has taken time to come and visit their incredible country. Locals treat visitors of Jordan with the same warmth they would show guests in their own homes, such is the depth of their pride in the nation that they call home. It is not uncommon for locals to invite tourists to their family house for tea or dinner without any real prompt to do so.