Archive for March, 2012

TGIF. (March 2012)

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Another Friday and the Muslim day of rest.

As we are on the Dead Sea, we decided to slum it and spend the afternoon at the Mövenpick Resort.

The therapeutic benefits of the Dead Sea are well known so most people were there to float on its salty waters and encrust themselves in its mud.

The Dead Sea water has a salt concentration of 31% so swimming is out of the question. You just lie back, relax and let the water do the rest.

Daylight saving has just started in Jordan so the afternoon was long and the sunset over Israel seemed to last forever.

I need a wider lens. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

My 12-24mm wide angle lens has always been more than adequate for a variety of locations.

That’s until Wadi Rum.

There the massive sandstone mountains seemed to tower so high above me, that I was continually checking to see if the lens was at its widest angle.


Sound and light at Petra. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

The simplicity was overwhelming.

Candles, two musicians and a monologue.

The Bedouin delivering the ten minute narration asked us, in the words of John Lennon, to imagine.

Imagine Petra as it was 2,000 years ago.

Imagine the water flowing through viaducts, down the gorge and bubbling up through the nymphaeum in the Roman colonnade.

Imagine caravans, laden with gold, frankincense and myrrh, passing through this ancient city from the exotic east to the Mediterranean coast in the west.

Imagine the streets, palaces and tombs lit by 8,000 olive oil lamps.

And then finally, imagine what the people were like who could conceive and build this amazing place.

This was far more moving than the over produced, over scripted and contrived Son et Lumière that you’ll find at most tourist destinations.


The Nabataeans. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

I have long lived under the belief that Petra was built in the classical Graeco-Roman style.

The Corinthian columns, triangular pediments and relief sculptures are all features from that architectural period.

It’s easy to understand why when the building, most featured, in the tourist guides, is Al-Khazneh or The Treasury.

It’s only when you spend some time exploring, and reading, that you discover what an amazing civilization the Nebataeans were.

Having found an almost impenetrable river gorge on the main spice route between the east and west they then taxed all the caravans that passed though. They used the wealth gained from the caravans trade to carve out a city from the surrounding sandstone mountains.

The Nabataeans were a sponge of civilizations, soaking up architectural and social influences from the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

All these styles can be found in some of the lesser known buildings and tombs. The Obelisk Tomb, with four pyramid shaped needles, is clearly influenced by ancient Egypt.

They also developed some original styles of their own.

The Nabataeans created a place that is unique, by borrowing from the greatness of other cultures and then adapting it to their own specific needs.

That’s true creativity.


Saladin showing off. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

On the road trip from Amman to Petra we encountered another castle at Ash-Shawbak. There are at least 5 spelling variations of this name.

This one was built high on a mountain by the Crusaders.

There are so many tunnels, stairways and hidden rooms that it’s easy to get lost.

It was only 75 years before the castle fell to the armies of Saladin. He boasts this fact with an Arabic inscription carved in relief above the entrance.

Al-Hussein Park. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Friday is the Muslim day of rest and for the people of Amman, what better place to spend it than at Al-Hussein Park with family and friends.

It has become a ritual for us, that’s if two weeks in a row is a ritual, to find a park on the weekend and observe the locals at play.

What made this day even more special was that spring was definitely in the air. After an unseasonably cold spell for Amman, the weather was warming up.


Are you a Christian?

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Today was our biblical interlude in Jordan.

We visited Madaba, Mount Nebo and Bethany Beyond Jordan.

Madaba contains an amazing 6th century Byzantine mosaic of the Christian’s holy sites, east and west of the Dead Sea. There are only fragments left and photographs don’t do it justice.

Mount Nebo overlooks Israel and the Dead Sea and is supposedly the site where Moses met his maker.

While Bethany Beyond Jordan is apparently the part of the Jordan River where John became the Baptist.

The electronic guided tour, that you are forced to take, is aimed at the devout believer. The language and accompanying sound effects are a total oversell of what is actually there.

It’s no longer the Garden of Eden.

The mighty Jordan River isn’t what it used to be in biblical, or even recent, times and has dropped about 5 meters in the last 50 years.

Its muddy colour now resembles the Yarra after heavy rain.

I was asked by one of the local guides if I was a Christian, I replied that no, I was an historian.

He seemed happy with that response.


Old Amman, the Citadel, Desert Castles, Umm Qays, Ajlun and Jarash. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Like Old Cairo, the ‘Downtown’ area of Amman, the capital of Jordan, has the most character.

There are markets, street vendors, restaurants and cake shops.

The Jordanians seem to have a sweet tooth and the shops in this area are famous for producing pastries and cakes that are full of nuts and soaked in honey.

The Amman Citadel towers over the old part of Amman and is one of the city’s oldest known places.

This hill has a history dating back 7,000 years, to the time of the rise of civilisation in Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley.

The Citadel, with it’s panoramic views of Amman, is dominated by the Temple of Hercules.

The Desert Castles are out to the east of Amman and some of them are not castles at all.

Al Harrana Castle was built as an inn and Amra Castle was originally a guest house with a Turkish Bath.

The only real castle is Al-Azeaq and it’s claim to fame is that Laurence of Arabia spent some time here while fighting the Ottoman Turks during WW1.

Umm Qays is an ancient Roman city that is perched on a hilltop with splendid views of Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.

Well it would have had splendid views if it wasn’t for another sandstorm.

Ajlun Castle was built by one of Saladin’s generals in 1184 AD. It became an important link in the defensive chain against the Crusaders.

Jarash has been continually inhabited for 6,500 years and boasts one of the best preserver Roman provincial towns in the world.

Again the sandstorms prevailed but they did make for great light, especially late in the afternoon.

Old Cairo and Al-Azhar Park. (March 2012)

Friday, March 30th, 2012

We decided to visit Al-Azhar Park, not knowing that it was right next to the old Muslim part of Cairo we had visited previously.

After that we just spend some time wandering through the streets and then sitting and sipping a sweet cup of Turkish coffee.

We then headed to the park and it seems that most of the city had the same idea.

It was a great insight into what the average Cairene does on their day of rest.

Old Cairo. (March 2012)

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

On returning to Cairo we visited the old Muslim section.
Most people were exhausted and just wanted to head back to the hotel, me included. However this detour turned out to be one of the highlights.
The old city is still full of character and characters.