Arriving in Amman after a month in Egypt was a refreshing start. We rented a car and were on our way to the Holiday Inn Express where we recuperated from the pollution and craziness of Cairo. We arrived with our Jordan Pass in hand – which we highly recommend purchasing prior to entering Jordan as part of it’s fee is the Jordan entry visa. You have a choice of 1 – 3 days in Petra and the pass covers most sights including the entry fee to Wadi Rum. All the sights that we visited were part of the Jordan Pass except for a few churches in Madaba and Mt. Nebo.
The next day we visited the Citadel which sits atop the highest hill in Amman (about 850m above sea level), and is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon – Amman’s name during the Iron Ages. The Greeks renamed it Philadelphia. Occupied since the Bronze Age, it is surrounded by a 1700m-long wall, which was rebuilt many times during the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. There’s plenty to see, but the Citadel’s most striking sights are the Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace.
Below the Citadel and just a five minute walk from downtown Amman, the Roman Theater is the most impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia. It was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE) and is very similar in design to the amphitheater at Jerash. Surprisingly it can accommodate 6000 spectators – although when standing in the middle of it, it feels much more cozy. The theater is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.
Ajloun Castle (a 1.5 hour drive north of Amman) was built atop Mt ‘Auf (1250m) between 1184 and 1188 by one of Saladin’s generals, ‘Izz ad Din Usama bin Munqidh (who was also Saladin’s nephew). The castle commands views of the Jordan Valley, and three wadis leading into it, making it an important strategic link in the defensive chain against the Crusaders and a counterpoint to the Crusader Belvoir Fort on the Sea of Galilee (present-day Israel and the Palestinian Territories). You can also catch glimpses of Syria in the distance.
Our next stop (on our way back to Amman) was Jerash which is only 48 km north of Amman and is an absolute must see! The Jordanian Tourist Board states that this is the second most visited site in Jordan after Petra.
Jerash is known for the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. It became an urban center during the 3rd century BC and a member of the federation of Greek cities known as the Decapolis (“ten cities” in Greek). Prospering during the 1st century BC as a result of its position on the incense and spice trade route from the Arabian Peninsula to Syria and the Mediterranean region, it was a favorite city of the Roman emperor, Hadrian. Jerash reached its height in 130 AD, flourishing economically and socially. The city began to decline in the 3rd century, later becoming a Christian city under the rule of the Byzantine empire. The Muslims took over in 635 AD, but the final blow to the city was dealt by Baldwin II of Jerusalem in 1112 AD during the Crusades.
Modern Jerash sprawls to the east of the ruins, sharing the same city wall but little else. Thankfully, the ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment. The old city of Jerash is quite large – we needed quite a few hours and good walking shoes to see all the sights properly prior to it’s closing at 5 pm (winter months).