Jordan the country is quite a fascinating place in the world, although it is not given much attention by many because of its precarious location given the current state of world affairs. Even though it is overlooked, it has much to offer in terms of history, as well as some of the most prominent archaeological sites in the world.
Located in Western Asia, this Arab country is situated on the East Bank of the Jordan River. It is bordered by Syria to the north, Palestine and Israel to the west, Iraq in the northeast, and Saudi Arabia to the south. In the southwest is the Red Sea, and along its western borders is the Dead Sea. The country holds a strategic position at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and Asia.
A Bit of History
People have been around this area since the Paleolithic period (the Old Stone Age). Moab, Edom, and Ammon are kingdoms which gained some stability by the end of the Bronze Age. The area was later ruled by the Nabataean Kingdom, the Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.
During World War One (I), around 1916, there was a revolt (Great Arab Revolt) against the Ottomans. This resulted in the area being partitioned off by France and Britain. In 1921 the area was established as the Emirate of Transjordan and became a British protectorate.
It gained its independence in 1946, and at that time was called officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. Then in 1949, it was renamed Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This was right after the Arab-Israel War in 1948 when it captured the West Bank (it lost it to Israel in 1967 and renounced its claim to the territory in 1988).
A Few Facts to Consider
- The ancient city of Petra, also known as the “Red Rose City” (because of the color of its rocks), is one of the most well-known and popular archaeological sites in the world. It was built by the Nabateans two thousand (2000) years ago.
- The capital and largest city is Amman which is its center of culture, politics, and economy
- The population is approximately in the nine (9) to ten (10) million range
- The official language is Modern Standard Arabic. Most citizens speak at least one of the non-standard dialects as well. English is widely spoken throughout the country.
- Jordan is the founding member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as of the Arab League
- It is a sovereign state set up as a constitutional monarchy
- The current king is Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein who holds very wide legislative and executive powers
- Omar Razzaz is the Prime Minister
- It is one of two (2) Arab states to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994
- The country is highly developed and has a above middle income economy with a highly skilled workforce
- Because of its highly developed health sector medical tourism is a major contributor to its economy
- The Grand Temple built by the Romans dedicated to Hercules in Amman no longer exists except for the Giant Hand, the Hand of Hercules, which was probably part of a bigger statue, which would make it one of the biggest statues in history [estimated to be approximately four-three (43) feet (13 meters) tall.]
- The geography is a combination of arid plateaus, major cities, small towns, rivers, shoreline on the Red Sea and Dead Sea, and highland areas with arable land and evergreen forests
- The Dead Sea is the lowest point below sea level on earth being -1378 feet (-420 meters). It is also the saltiest body of water anywhere as well.
- The highest point in Jordan is six thousand and eighty-three (6,083) feet (1,854 meters) above sea level in Jabal Umm at Dami
- This country has a diverse ecosystem with assorted habitats due to the variety of environments and landscapes throughout the country
- The Society for the Conservation of Nature was established in 1966
- There are a number of nature reserves such as the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, the Azraq Wetland Reserve, the Mujib Nature Reserve, and the Dana Biosphere Reserve
- The climate varies quite a bit. Inland from the coast has greater variation in temperatures with less rainfall. The country has a mixture of Mediterranean climate and arid desert. Even in the arid areas there is low humidity and the evenings are cool. Winters are chilly and summers are hot and dry.
- There are over two thousand (2000) species of plants with many mammals and reptiles as well (honey badger, glass snake, wild boar, fallow deer, caracal, long-eared hedgehog, Arabian wolf, and golden jackal). Bird species include pharaoh eagle owl, barbary falcon, hooded crow, Palestine sun bird, Eurasian jay, and the Sinai rose finch.
- The currency of Jordan is the Jordanian dinar (1 JOD to 1.41 USD)
- Jordan has the thirty-fifth (35th) best infrastructure in the world
- There are three (3) commercial airports: Queen Alia International Airport (hub for Royal Jordanian Airlines), King Hussain International Airport, and the Amman Civil Airport
- Its industries are highly developed with construction, manufacturing, power and mining playing a significant role
- The largest museum is the Jordan Museum
- The Jerash Music Festival showcases many of the popular Arab singers. Alternative Arab rock bands have hit the scene as well.
- Jordan has participated in the Olympic Games with football (soccer), basketball, and Taekwondo being their favorite sports
- They are the eighth (8th) largest producer of olives in the world
- The literacy rate here is the highest in the Middle East and one of the highest in the world at 98.1%
Tourism contributes greatly to the economy of Jordan. Most tourists are from other Arab countries as well as from Europe. Of course, turmoil in this part of the world has adversely affected the tourist trade at times, such as during the Arab Spring (2010 to 2016). Things started to return to normal in 2017.
With approximately one hundred thousand (100,000) tourist and archaeological sites, many in the cities of Jerash, and Petra, there is a lot to see and take in. Being part of the Holy Land, there are many biblical attractions as well.
Add to this the many modern conveniences and activities with many recreation and entertainment areas in Amman and other cities. You have a good selection of things to do includiing hiking trails, seaside recreation, and several international resorts.
Unlike other Arab countries, alcohol is widely available in supermarkets, liquor stores, and tourist restaurants. There is plenty of nightlife in cities such as Amman which has numerous nightclubs, discos, and bars.
Now check out this video which gives you a very good overall view of what this country is all about. Then we will get into a few more specifics of things to do.
* Cuisine — because of the large olive production int the country, it comes as no surprise that olive oil is a mainstay in the majority of their dishes. For an appetizer, hummus leads the way. The combination of chick peas combined with garlic, lemon, and tahini is quite appealing. Another appetizer that is very popular here is ful medames, which is basically a stew with fava beans and served with cumin, vegetable oil, and often other spices and herbs. A selection of small dishes served as an appetizer is called a meze, and contains a variety of items such as tabbouleh, olives, labaneh, pickles, koubba maqliya, and baba ghanoush. The food goes well with arak, an alcoholic drink. This drink is similar to the Greek drink ouzo. Others prefer beer, Jordanian wine, or pastis (an anise flavored aperitif from France). These same appetizer dishes served without alcohol are called muqabbilat or starters. The national dish of Jordan is mansaf. It brings in the spirit of the Bedouin culture and hospitality. It’s basically rice with boiled meat in a yogurt with herbs and pine nuts. Traditionally it is eaten with your hands. It is prepared for special occasions such as religious holidays, weddings, and funerals. Toward the end of most meals fruit is served, as well as a dessert such as halva, qatayef (made for Ramadan), knafeh, baklava, or hareeseh. Tea and coffee is a ritual here, and they flavor it with na’na or meramiyyeh. Now let’s not forget about falafels. This is a tasty and inexpensive meal, and just perfect for vegetarians. When in Amman stop by Hashem, which is a restaurant known for the stuffed version of this culinary treat.
* Mount Nebo — this is where you can walk in the footsteps of Moses. It is said that Moses first observed the Promised Land from here. It’s quite a mystical experience especially if you let your imagination soar.
* Petra — this is the main attraction of most folks who come here because of its many historic and archaeological sites. It is a UNESCO World site, and spending a few days here will give you the time to take it all in. This ancient city will provide many memories and rare treats. To save a few bucks get a “Jordan Pass” so that you don’t have to pay the pricey entrance fee. Also, Wadi Musa is a town close by where you can get less expensive accommodations. Check out the Petra Gate Hostel as it has all the necessities for a fair price.
* The Roman Ruins at Jerash — this city is located in the northern part of the country and has some of the best preserved Roman ruins. You can get there easily on a minibus from Amman. It is a huge area and it is thought that ninety (90%) percent of the city is still unexcavated. Spend a few hours checking out the temples, hippodrome, streets, gates, theater, and the forum.
* What About Wadi Rum — this area of the desert is inhabited by the Bedouin people who offer camps to visitors so they can experience the rare beauty of this area. Spending a night in this area of the desert will be quite an experience not to be missed. You are provided three (3) meals and an all day jeep safari.
* The Dana Reserve — this is a biosphere reserve with desert mountains and deep valleys. It is a great place to hike and explore the countryside. There are ecolodges scattered about for your accommodations and rest.
* Floating in the Dead Sea — you have to do this to appreciate it. Being weightless in the middle of this body of water between Israel and Jordan is an other-worldly experience for sure. It is best to get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
* The Madaba Mosaics — exploring the town of Madaba is a wonderful experience all by itself, but wander on over to St. George’s Church and take in these magnificent mosaics. These mosaics were accidentally discovered in 1884 while this
Byzantine church was being restored. While the workers were digging through the ruins they came upon a mosaic cartograph depicting the oldest known map of Palestine. It is displayed on the church floor.
* What about Amman — the capital city offers a variety of things to do such as the Souk market, which is next to Rainbow Street and has plenty of food, antiques, traditional products, handicrafts, and art. There are plentiful museums as well as other cultural establishments such as the Roman Theater and the Citadel. It also has a great nightlife with plenty of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The city has a relaxed atmosphere; in spite of its location in the Middle East, it is safe, peaceful, and slow moving. A fun thing to do is get some exercise by walking up the various hills in the city. You will be rewarded with spectacular views of the entire area. The Jordan Tower is an inexpensive hostel in Amman. There are also plenty of higher priced options.
* The King’s Highway — now it’s time for a road trip taking in some awesome views of this country. It’s quite a curvy road so you will need to rent a vehicle or join a group tour, since public transport does not head out this way. On a tour you get a driver so you can just sit back and take in all the gorgeous scenery. Along the way you will see the Crusader Castles of Shobak and Karak. The tour also takes you through Petra, so you can take in some archaeological sites as well.
* Aqaba — one of the main ports in the Middle East, it is the only entryway to the sea. It is surrounded by purple shaded mountains and offers a wide variety of activities such as snorkeling (experience underwater life and red sea corals), scuba diving, and other water sports.
So Why Visit Jordan?
Known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” because of its peaceful and stable political climate, this country is greatly underrated by many as a travel destination due to its geographical location. Being a politically neutral country, it is able to experience a peaceful atmosphere.
The government of Jordan is very sensitive to these issues, and puts a lot of emphasis on creating a good, stable environment for tourism. When arriving you will soon discover that it is rather challenging in deciding from all the things to do.
Islam is practiced in a milder form here, and it is a very good environment to challenge any beliefs you may have about it, and actually learn to let go of any stereotypes or prejudices. The people are warm and friendly, and actively embrace conversation.
After spending a bit of time getting acquainted with what Jordan has to offer, I think you may agree that this can be quite an interesting, entertaining, and fun place to visit.
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