Journey Through Jordan, Part 2

In my last post, we began our photo tour of Jordan in Amman, the capital city.  You can check out that post and all the pictures here.

Today we continue our tour of Jordan with a visit to Jerash, Madaba and Mount Nebo, all areas significant to both religious and secular history.   These archaeological sites abound in beauty and awe. 

We spent about half a day in Jerash, also known as Gerash or Gerasa.  It is one of the largest Roman architecture sites apart from Italy that is still so well preserved.  It is also one of the most visited sites in Jordan.

Some Neolithic artifacts indicate that Jerash was likely settled as early as 7500BC.  And some Greek inscriptions found throughout the ruins also suggest Alexander the Great was a primary founder during the Hellenistic Age.  Once conquered in 63BC, the city of Jerash became part of the Roman province of Syria and eventually became a crossroads town on the various trade routes.  Some of the most notable road construction was around 106AD by Emperor Trajan, the leader during Jerash’s “Golden Age.”  The stone road that runs through the Forum is a likely result of that construction. 

On the south end, the first impressive site you encounter on a visit to the ruins of Jerash is the Arch of Hadrian.  This arch was built to celebrate Emperor Hadrian’s visit in 129AD.  After crossing under this arch and wandering into the ruins a bit, you come to the Hippodrome where horse and chariot races happened.  There is even a fun chariot race experience you may get to see on your visit.

Keep wandering north and you will enter through the impressive south gate to the Forum.  The Forum is made up of 56 columns surrounding the limestone plaza.  You can get to the Temple of Zeus and South Theater from the Forum.  Heading north from the Forum is the colonnaded street known as Cardo Maximus.  The most notable sites on the north end of Jerash are the Temple of Artemis and North Theater.

Despite great destruction in the earthquake of 749AD, the preserved remains sat buried until they were discovered in the early 1800s.  From the columns to the theaters to the hippodrome, the architecture created so long ago is a magnificent sight to see.  I do hope that it will one day be named an UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Mount Nebo, Madaba, and Um er-Rasas
Mount Nebo, Madaba, and Um er-Rasas are often paired together on tours because of their proximity as well as the common archeological finds.  Let’s begin in Mount Nebo.

Mount Nebo site has historical significance across multiple religions but is most notable for Christianity.  Mount Nebo is the site that is referenced in the last chapter of Deuteronomy as the place where Moses was shown the promised land despite never getting to enter it. The chapter goes on to say that Moses was buried in the valley in the land of Moab.  It is also speculated in 2 Maccabees that Jeremiah also hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave in this area. 

In addition to the religious significance, the archaeological finds are tremendous with the discovery of a Byzantine church and monastery. It is estimated that the church was built in the 4th century to commemorate Moses’ death.  The archaeological efforts uncovered remnants of mosaics that are still as beautiful as when they were first created.

There is a modern-day Franciscan monastery that is open to visitors and that protects some of the most remarkable mosaics that depict Byzantine era wildlife, hunting and trading.  After you spend time enjoying the mosaics inside the church, you can stand at the edge of the property and see the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jericho on a clear day. 

Another significant part of Mount Nebo in present day is the Brazen Serpent Cross sculpture created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni as a shrine to Moses and the bronze serpent he put on a staff entwined on a cross as a shrine to Jesus and his crucifixion.

Not far from Mount Nebo is Madaba.  This town is most known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics.  There is something special about seeing mosaic designs that were created so long ago yet preserved.  The most notable mosaic, located in St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church, is a map of the Holy Land that was discovered only in the 1880s.  This mosaic is estimated to have been created around 560AD and references all the major biblical sites of the Middle East and has more than 150 Greek captions.

After studying the mosaic inside St. George’s Church, we head further south to Um er-Rasas where we explore the remains of 16 churches, some with beautifully preserved mosaics.  Much of this site has yet to be excavated fully but enough has been discovered that this site is now designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This location is believed to have been a Roman military camp before it became a 5th century town.  The most visited portion of this site is the Church of St. Stephen where a very large mosaic has been preserved.  The mosaic depicts picture maps of Egyptian and Palestinian towns from the Byzantine Empire.

The Roman columns of Jerash were fascinating.  And I was quite emotional during our time on Mount Nebo.  But I keep going back to my pictures of the unbelievable works of art created in the mosaics we saw.  We even visited a local community outreach program that teaches the art of mosaic design to locals with disabilities.  We learned the detail and time required to create a small, simple mosaic which is still created by hand.  A simple piece of art can take days and weeks to perfect.  So, you can imagine how surprised we were when our host gifted us with our own mosaic designed after our travel agency logo.

We finished our time in this part of Jordan with full hearts and greater appreciation for the craftsmanship and creativity of those that lived in this part of the country.

What could be better than today?  We are off to Petra and Little Petra next.  No need to be a treasure hunter like Indiana Jones to visit Petra.  Stay tuned to see what all this gem has to offer.

Catch up on our journey through Jordan Part 1 here.

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