There is no mistaking the fact that Jordan is a Kingdom steeped in history and culture. From the moment you arrive, you get a sense of its rich heritage, all around are remnants of ancient civilizations long since past, yet they still remain, stamped into the very fabric of this amazing Kingdom and etched into the soul of the people who live here. To find out more about historical sites in Jordan, select a destination from the dropdown below:
A sprawling city spread over 19 hills, or “jebels”. Amman is the modern, as well as the ancient capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Known as Rabbath-Ammon during the Iron Age and later as Philadelphia, the ancient city that was once part of the Decapolis league, now boasts a population of around 1.5 million. Often referred to as the white city due to its low size canvas of stone houses, Amman offers a variety of historical sites. Towering above Amman, the site of the earliest fortifications is now subject to numerous excavations which have revealed remains from the Neolithic period as well as from the Hellenestic and late Roman to Arab Islamic Ages. The site which is known as the Citadel includes many structures such as the Temple of Hercules, the Omayyad Palace and the Byzantine Church. At the foot of the Citadel lies the 6000 seat Roman Theatre which is a deep-sided bowl carved into the hill and still used for cultural events. Another newly restored theatre is the 500-seat Odeon which is used for concerts. The three museums found in the area offer a glimpse of history and culture, they are the Jordan Archaeological Museum, The Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Tradition.
The trip south from Amman along the 5,000-year-old Kings Highway is one of the most memorable journeys in the Holy Land, passing through a string of ancient sites. The first city to encounter is Madaba, “the City of Mosaics “. The city, best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, is home to the famous 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. With two million pieces of colored stone, the map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta. Other mosaic masterpieces found in the Church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the Archaeological Museum, depict a rampant profusion of flowers and plants, birds and fish, animals and exotic beasts, as well as scenes from mythology and everyday pursuits of hunting, fishing and farming. Literally, hundreds of other mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered throughout Madaba’s churches and homes.
The ancient city of Petra is one of Jordan’s national treasures and by far its best known tourist attraction. Located approximately three hours south of Amman, Petra is the legacy of the Nabataens, an industrious Arab people who settled in southern Jordan more than 2000 years ago. Admired then for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a UNESCO world heritage site that enchants visitors from all corners of the globe. Much of Petra’s appeal comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. The site is accessed by walking through a kilometre long chasm (or siq), the walls of which soar 200 metres upwards. Petra’s most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the siq. Used in the final sequence of the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, the towering facade of the Treasury is only one of myriad archaeological wonders to be explored at Petra. Various walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of buildings, tombs, baths, funerary halls, temples, arched gateways, colonnaded streets and haunting rock drawings – as well as a 3000 seat open air theatre , a gigantic first century Monastery and a modern archeological museum, all of which can be explored at leisure. A modest shrine commemorating the death of Aaron, brother of Moses, was built in the 13th century by the Mamluke Sultan, high atop mount Aaron in the Sharah range.
Aclose second to Petra on the list of favourite destinations in Jordan, the ancient city of Jerash boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. The city’s golden age came under Roman rule and the site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and restored over the past 70 years, Jerash reveals a fine example of the grand, formal provincial Roman urbanism that is found throughout the Middle East, comprising paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates. Beneath its external Graeco – Roman veneer, Jerash also preserves a subtle blend of east and west. Its architecture, religion and languages reflect a process by which two powerful cultures meshed and coexisted, The Graeco – Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient.
A quick trip from Aqaba, Wadi Rum offers a truly unique and adventurous experience. The visitors will be amazed by their surroundings amid the stupendous cliffs, canyons, and seemingly endless orange sands as they enter the desert on a camel, horse, or 4×4 jeep driven by a local Bedouin. It is then up to them to explore and discover the secrets of Wadi Rum hiking through the sand and mountains. Rock climbing is a popular activity and visitors come from around the world to tackle Wadi Rum’s challenging climbs. Many have described these routes as comparable to those found in the Dolomites.While it is an easy day-trip from Aqaba or Petra, Wadi Rum is best experienced during a night or two of camping under the stars enjoying the silence of the desert far away from the stresses of everyday life
Famed for its preserved coral reefs and unique sea life, this Red Sea port city was, in ancient times, the main port for shipments from the Red Sea to the Far East. The Mameluk Fort, one of the main historical land marks of Aqaba, rebuilt by the Mameluks in the sixteenth century. Square in shape and flanked by semicircular towers, the fort is marked with various inscriptions marking the latter period of the Islamic dynasty. The current excavations at the ancient site of early Islamic town Ayla with its two main streets intersecting in the middle dates back to the 7th Century already revealed a gate and city wall along with towers, buildings and a mosque. The museum houses a collection of artifacts collected in the region, including pottery and coins. Aqaba also hosts the house of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the great grandfather of King Abdullah II. Other places of interest include the mud brick building thought to be the earliest church in the region.
Jordan’s desert castles, beautiful examples of both early Islamic art and architecture, stand testament to a fascinating era in the country’s rich history. Their fine mosaics, frescoes, stone and stucco carvings and illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Graeco – Roman traditions, tell countless stories of the life as it was during the eighth century. Called castles because of their imposing stature, the desert complexes actually served various purposes as caravan stations, agriculture and trade centres, resort pavilions and outposts that helped distant rulers forge ties with local bedouins. Several of these preserved compounds, all of which are clustered to the east and south of Amman, can be visited on one – or two – day loops from the city.
The Dead Sea
At 410 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Jordan’s Dead Sea coast is one of the most spectacular natural and spiritual landscapes in the world and it remains as enticing to international visitors today as it was to kings, emperors, traders, and prophets in antiquity.
A large amount of investment in the area has provided the Dead Sea with new roads making the new and luxurious 5 Star Movenpick Hotel and Resort, 5 Star Jordan Valley Marriott, 5 Star Kempenski Ishtar Hotel, and 4 Star Dead Sea Spa Hotel easily accessible.
The main attraction of the Dead Sea is of course the soothing, abnormally salty water itself. The salt content of the water is 31.5% making the water so buoyant that it is impossible for the visitor to sink. The water also contains 21 minerals including high levels of magnesium, sodium, potassium, and bromine and 12 of these minerals are found in no other body of water in the world.
Studies have shown the combination of the Dead Sea water and the rich black mud found along the shoreline to have significant health benefits including increasing circulation, easing discomfort from arthritis, healing allergies, and revitalizing skin.
A trip to the Dead Sea would not be complete without a visit to one of the first class health spa facilities of the luxury hotels. Here the visitor can enjoy year-round a massage, Dead Sea mud bath, use the excellent fitness facilities, or just spend the day relaxing on their beautiful private beaches.
Visitors to the Dead Sea should also take advantage of another nearby wonder, Hammamat Ma’in (Ma’in Hot Springs). Popular with both locals and tourists alike, the springs are located 264 meters below sea level in one of the most breath-taking desert oases in the world. Thousands of visiting bathers come each year to enjoy the mineral rich waters of these hyper-thermal waterfalls. These falls originate from winter rainfalls in the highland plains of Jordan and eventually feed the 109 hot and cold springs in the valley. This water is heated to temperatures up to 63 degrees Celsius by underground lava fissures as it makes its way through the valley before emptying into the Zarqa River.
Situated in this exquisite spot is the 94 room Janna Spa and Resort offering a wide variety of professional services including mud wrappings, hydrojet baths and showers, underwater massages, mud facials, electrotherapy and cosmetology treatments.
From Mount Nebo’s windswept promontory, overlooking the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho and the distant hills of Jerusalem, Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan that he would never enter. He died and was buried in Moab, “in the valley opposite Beth-peor”. His tomb remains unknown. After consulting the Oracle, Jeremiah reportedly hid the Ark of the Covenant, the Tent and the Altar of Incense at Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo became a place of pilgrimage for early Christians from Jerusalem and a small church was built there in the 4th century to commemorate the end of Moses’ life. Some of the stones from that church remain in their original place in the wall around the apse area. The church was subsequently expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into the present-day large basilica with its stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics.
The serpentine Cross, which stands just outside the sanctuary, is symbolic of the bronze (or brazen) serpent taken by Moses into the desert and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
In addition to Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Mount Nebo, there are three other holy sites that were designated by the Vatican as Millennium 2000 pilgrimage sites.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Baptism Site)
The site of John the Baptist’s settlement at Bethany beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptised, has long been known from the Bible (John 1:28 and 10:40) and from the Byzantine and medieval texts.
The site has now been identified on the east bank of the Jordan River, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and is being systematically surveyed, excavated, restored, and prepared to receive pilgrims and visitors. Bethany Beyond the Jordan is located half an hour by car from the Jordanian capital Amman. The Bethany area sites formed part of the early Christian pilgrimage route between Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and Mount Nebo.The area is also associated with the biblical account of how the Prophet Elijah (Mar Elias in Arabic) ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire. (See main Image above).
The old Decapolis city of Gadara (modern-day Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is the site of Jesus’ miracle of the Gadarene swine. It is here that He encountered a demented man who lived in the tombs near the entrance to the city, Jesus cast the bad spirits out of the man and into a herd of pigs, which then ran down the hill into the waters of the Sea of Galilee and drowned.
A rare five-aisled basilica from the 4th century was recently discovered and excavated at Umm Qays. It has been built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb and has a view into the tomb from the interior of the church. It is also located alongside the old Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee. Everything about this distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb at this particular place, strongly indicates that it was designed and built to commemorate the very spot where the Byzantine faithful believed that Jesus performed his miracle.
Pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Mountain Church – a rebuilt cave that is venerated as a place where Jesus and his mother Mary passed during their journeys between the Sea of Galilee, the Decapolis cities, Bethany beyond the Jordan and Jerusalem.
Anjara was designated by the Vatican as a Millennium 2000 pilgrimage site.
The 1st Century AD Roman-Jewish historian, Josephus, identifies the awe-inspiring site of Mukawir (Machaerus) as the palace/fort of Herod, who was the Roman-appointed ruler over the region during the life of Jesus Christ.
It was here, at this hilltop fortified palace, overlooking the Dead Sea region and the distance hills of Palestine and Israel that Herod Antipas, the son of Herod, imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist after Salome’s fateful dance.
The Dead Sea & Lot’s Cave
The Dead Sea is one of the most dramatic places on earth, with its stunning natural environment equally matched by its powerful spiritual symbolism.
The infamous Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities of the Dead Sea plain, or (Cities of the Valley) were the subjects of some of the most dramatic and enduring Old Testament stories, including that of Lot, whose wife was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying God’s will. Lot and his two daughters survived and fled to a cave near the small town of Zoar (modern-day Safi). The Bible says Lot’s daughters gave birth to sons whose descendents would become the Ammonite and Moabite people, whose kingdoms were in what is now central Jordan. Although not confirmed, the sites of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are believed to be the remains of the ancient walled towns of Bab ed-Dhra’ and Numeira, in the southeastern Dead Sea central plain. On a hillside above the town of Zoar (modern-day Safi), Byzantine Christians built a church and monastery dedicated to Saint Lot. The complex was built around the cave where Lot and his daughters found refuge.
A rectangular walled city, about 30 kilometres southeast of Madaba, which is mentioned on both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. It was fortified by the Romans and local Christians were still embellishing it with Byzantine-style mosaics well over 100 years after the start of the Muslim Umayyad rule.
Just outside the city walls is the recently unearthed Church of Saint Stephen with its perfectly preserved outstanding mosaic floor, the largest of its kind to be discovered in Jordan and second only to the world famous mosaic map at Madaba.
The fort itself is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. The best preserved are underground, and to be reached through a massive door (ask at the ticket office). The castle in itself is more imposing than beautiful, though it is all the more impressive as an example of the Crusaders’ architectural military genius. Karak’s most famous occupant was Reynald de Chatillon, whose reputation for treachery, betrayal and brutality is unsurpassed. When Baldwin II died, his son, a 13-year-old leper, sued for peace with Saladin. The Leper King, however, died without an heir, and in stepped Reynald, who succeeded in winning the hand of Stephanie, the wealthy widow of Karak’s assassinated regent. He promptly broke the truce with Saladin, who returned with a huge army, ready for war. Reynald and King Guy of Jerusalem led the Crusader forces and suffered a massive defeat. Reynald was taken prisoner and beheaded by Saladin himself, marking the beginning of the decline in Crusader fortunes. The castle was enlarged with a new west wing added by the Ayyubids and Mameluks.
A lonely reminder of former Crusader glory is Shobak Castle, less than an hour north of Petra. Once called “Mont Real”, Shobak dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. It is perched on the side of a mountain, with a grand sweep of fruit trees below. The castle’s exterior is impressive, with a forbidding gate and encircling triple wall. Despite the precautions of its builder, the fortress fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was raised. Inscriptions by his proud successors appear on the castle
Pella (Tabqat Fahl)
Pella is exceptionally rich in antiquities, some of which are exceedingly old. Besides the excavated ruins from the Graeco – Roman period, Pella offers visitors the opportunity to see the remains of Chalcolithic settlement from the 4th millennium BC, evidence of Bronze and Iron age walled cities, Byzantine churches, early Islamic residential quarters and a small medieval mosque.
Umm Al Jimal
The eastern most of the major northern cities, Umm al Jimal is located at the edge of the eastern basalt desert plain, along a secondary road that was close to the junction of several ancient trade routes that linked central Jordan with Syria and Iraq. Among the most interesting structures to visit are the tall barracks with their little chapel, several large churches, numerous open and roofed water cisterns, the outlines of a Roman fort and the remains of several town gates.
The Kings Highway
The Kings Highway winds its way through the different ecological zones of the country, including forested highlands, open farmland plateaus, deep ravines, the edge of the eastern desert, and the warm tropical Gulf of Aqaba. Lining both sides of this 335-kilometre (207-mile) thoroughfare is a rich chain of archaeological sites that reads like an index of ancient history and a biblical gazetteer — prehistoric villages from the Stone Age, biblical towns from the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom, Crusader Castles, some of the finest early Christian Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East, a Roman-Herodian fortress, several Nabatean temples, two major Roman fortresses, early Islamic towns, and the rock-cut Nabatean capital of Petra. First mentioned by name in the Bible, the Kings Highway was the route that Moses wished to follow as he led his people north through the land of Edom, which today is in southern Jordan. The name may, however, derive from the even earlier episode recounted in Genesis 14, when an alliance of “four kings from the north” marched their troops along this route to do battle against the five kings of the Cities of the Plain, including the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The mighty fortress at Kharana is one of Jordan’s strangest deviations – built in the form of a castle, experts maintain that it was a palace in disguise. The lavish plastering of the upper halls and rooms, the splendid vaulted ceilings and attention to decorative details raise the question that Kharana was a fort.
As Qasr Kharana does not have a substantial water source or a major route passing by, scholars suggest that it could have been an extravagant meeting place for Ummayed
Qasr al-Hallabat, now a crumbling mass of orange-brown blocks, was once an old Roman fort later converted into a 7th century retreat by the local ruling Umayyad princes. “The Umayyads were the first Caliph dynasty of the Muslim world,” explained Abdulla while the other guard gently dozed off. “The Umayyad rulers of Amman built castles throughout the desert for them to escape to when city life became too hectic. They liked to come to places like al-Hallabat and remember the desert.”
From Al-Hallabat, I walked two kilometers to Hammam Assarah, a bath house that was used by visitors to Al-Hallabat. The desert here is not the picturesque desert you might imagine from the movie, Lawrence of Arabia or in any French Foreign Legion film. The desert here was empty and desolate and relatively flat. One can see for miles and miles in all direction.
I was the only thing moving at that time or rather I was the only thing stupid enough to be moving in the middle of the day save for a few suspiciously present vultures. In the distance, I watched ephemeral dust devils twist slowly across …It was nice and cool inside the bath house. There three small unadorned chambers inside with a still intact dome roof. It was so quiet and peaceful that I drifted asleep on a pile of stones and dreamt that I was an Arabian prince enjoying a nice hot bath with my private Harem.
Qasr Mushata is located near Amman’s airport and is one of the largest of the Umayyad palaces. It is believed to have been constructed by the loose-living Caliph Al-Walid II but it was never finished, probably due to his premature death in battle. The palace is a mixture of several architectural styles: Romano-Byzantine, Sassasian-Persian, and Coptic (Christian Egyptian).
Qasr Mushatta is extraordinary because of its grandeur and construction. It is worth visiting Mushatta at sunset as the last rays illuminate the exquisite brickwork.
Another page of Mushatta’s history was added in 1904, when the magnificent patterns were removed and presented by the Turkish Sultan to German Kaiser Wilhelm. The remains were taken to Berlin and were destroyed in World War ll.
About 13 kilometers north of the Azraq Junction, on the highway to Iraq, you will find the large black fortress of Qasr al-Azraq. The present form of the castle dates back to the beginning of the 13th century CE. Crafted from local black basalt rocks, the castle exploited Azraq’s important strategic position and water sources.
The first fortress here is thought to have been built by the Romans around 300 CE, during the reign of Diocletian. The structure was also used by the Byzantines and Umayyads. Qasr al-Azraq underwent its final major stage of building in 1237 CE, when the Mamluks redesigned and fortified it. In the 16th century the Ottoman Turks stationed a garrison there, and Lawrence of Arabia made the fortress his desert headquarters during the winter of 1917, during the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire
This building was probably intended as a caravanserai, but was never finished. Unusually it is made of bricks rather than stone. To get here, you need an adventurous spirit, a 4×4 for the 35kms of dirt track and a knowledgeable guide, either from the local community or from the university at Amman. You have also a chance of finding somebody in Azraq to guide you here. Qasr Tuba is very large, and was planned as being larger still, but only the northern half was completed.Bird enthusiasts are likely to be attracted to Tuba, since it is close to the sole Jordanian nesting place of the very rare Houbara bustard, a flightless bird that is reputed to be able to outpace a Saluki hound.
Wadi Kharrar, Site of the Jesus’ Baptism
The Jordan River in the vicinity of the Baptismal Site. The Jordan originates from the sources of Banias, Dan, and Hesbani; it enters the Lake of Tiberias, and then moves down slowly towards the Dead Sea. In this last part of its course, the river makes an infinite series of meanders and curves like the ones in the above panoramic view recorded by our official photographer R. Pierri.
Sketch-plan of the taditional Baptismal Site (wadi Kharrar) after the excavation and restoration works done in view of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.
|1: Prophet Elijah’s Hill
3: Foot path
4: Wadi Kharrar
5: Ancient basin
|6: Rock-hewn cells
7: St. John the Baptist’s Source
8: Church of St. Mary the Egyptian
9: Church of St. John the Baptist
10: Jordan River
In the wadi Kharrar (Sapsafas or Bethabara in ancient sources), Christians from the Byzantine Period memorialized Jesus’s Baptism by the establishment of churches and hermitic cells. The new site was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to Jordan (March 2000).