Jordan is a land steeped in history. It has been home to some of mankind's earliest settlements and villages, and relics of many of the world's great civilizations can still be seen today. As the crossroads of the Middle East, the lands of Jordan and Palestine have served as a strategic nexus connecting Asia, Africa and Europe. Thus, since the dawn of civilization, Jordan's geography has given it an important role to play as a conduit for trade and communications, connecting east and west, north and south. Jordan continues to play this role today.
Because of its centralized location, the land of Jordan is a geographic prize which changed hands many times throughout antiquity. Parts of Jordan were included in the dominions of ancient Iraq, including the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Mesopotamian Empires. From the west, Pharaonic Egypt extended its power and culture into Jordan, while the nomadic Nabateans built their empire in Jordan after migrating from the south of the Arabian peninsula. Finally, Jordan was incorporated into the classical civilizations of Greece, Rome and Persia, the relics of which are scattered across the Jordanian landscape. Since the mid-seventh century CE, the land of Jordan has remained almost continuously in the hands of various Arab and Islamic dynasties. (See history)
The second geographical factor which has helped shape the history of Jordan concerns climate. Only the northern highlands and the Jordan Valley have received enough rainfall to support large populations. Therefore, this area has always been more settled by farmers, villagers and townspeople. Most of the urban civilizations of Jordan have been based in these fertile lands. To the south and east, meanwhile, there is very little rainfall and no rivers for irrigation. These desert areas, which comprise the majority of Jordan, have rarely supported large settled populations. In some periods, there appears to have been no settled population at all. The lifestyle of the Bedouin inhabitants of these desert lands has remained similar in some respects to that of their Edomite or Nabatean predecessors. The contrast between the pastoral "desert" and agriculturally fertile lands is particularly pronounced in Jordan, and much of the area's history can be linked to population shifts between large urban centers and more dispersed, nomadic tribal groups.
The country is bordered by Syria; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Israel; and the West Bank, a territory west of the River Jordan. The Kingdom is located in the Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia. Total area, is about 89,213 sq km, and while the land area is 88,884 sq km. Amman is Jordan's capital and largest city.
The climate of Jordan is marked by sharp seasonal variations in both temperature and precipitation. Temperatures below freezing are not unknown in January, the coldest month, but the average winter temperature is above 7° C (45° F). In the Jordan Valley summer temperatures may reach 49° C (120° F) in August, the hottest month, but the average summer temperature in Amman is 26° C (78° F). Precipitation is confined largely to the winter season and ranges from about 660 mm (about 26 in) in the northwestern corner to less than 127 mm (less than 5 in) in the extreme east.
Sunni Muslim 92%, Christian 6% (majority Greek Orthodox, but some Greek and Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant denominations), other 2% (several small Shi'a Muslim and Druze populations) (2001 est.). The population of Jordan is 5,307,470 (July 2002 est.)
The majority of the Jordanian people are Sunni Muslims. Shiite Muslims form a small minority. Christians, about one-third of whom belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, make up about 6 percent of the population. Islam is the state religion.
Arabic is the official language and is spoken by all Jordanian people. English is widely spoken particularly at government and business levels. French and German are spoken to some extent. The Circassian community has managed to retain its Circassian language as well as speaking Arabic.
Of all the people of the Middle East, none has a reputation as the Bedu, or Bedouin. Largely a nomadic people they cling to ancient ways living by fabled codes of hospitality and kinship. There is a sense of honour and pride in the Bedouin's hospitality. Although village life has in recent years changed more radically than that of the nomad, it remains in essence the same. The older women of the village, and sometimes the younger ones too, still make and wear the traditional dress... a long black Thobe, with hems, yokes and sleeves decorated with tiny embroidered stitches that form intricate and colourful patterns. Even in the cities traditional values have not been lost. From an early age Jordanians are taught to be generous, warm, open and friendly, and at the core of Jordanian society remain the ideals of tribal unity and respect for the family. The legendary Arab hospitality is no myth and has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
The word "Bedu" comes from the Arabic word "Badawi", meaning "A dweller of the desert". The Bedouin endure the desert and have learnt to survive its unforgiving climate. They treat it with due reverence, knowing that the wilderness has no respect for fools. Today most of Jordan's Bedouin reside in the vast wasteland that extends eastwards from the great Desert Highway. The traditional Bedouin way of life has come about by adopting measures that ensure survival. There are a few societies whose existence is as harmonious as that of the Bedouin. They walk a tight line between life and death, balancing with tenacity and skill. They understand their flocks of goats and camels. Forging a synoptic relationship with them so that each depends on the other for survival. The herds rely on their masters for protection, the masters depend on their herds for milk, meat and skins. The constant wandering is no aimless venture; it is a carefully planned expedition for new pastures.
The clan is the centre of Bedouin Society. Each family has its own tent, a collection of which (known as Hayy) constitutes a gown of clan.
A number of these clans make up a tribe (Qabilah). People living in the same clan are considered to be of the same blood.
Leadership of the clan is the responsibility of the "Sheikh", an elder to whom matters of strife or decision are brought for adjudication. In the Bedouin society, all men are seen equal, with elders commanding extra respect gained through experience. The values of Bedouin society are vested in an ancient code of honor. This calls for total loyalty for the tribe, and to one's position of work, in upholding the survival of the group. There is a sense of honor and pride in Bedouin hospitality
A powerful symbol of the Bedouin people is the distinctive square head-cloth (Kaffiyeh), with its head-ropes (A'gal) to hold it in place. The wealthier Bedouin, would and still do wear A'gals woven with gold thread.
Circasians are a non-Arab Islamic people, who originate from the Caucasusin Russia, fled during the 19th Century following persecution to live in other Islamic lands. Many Circasians now live in Jordan, their groups are spread through Amman, Jerash, Wadi-ElSeer, Sweileh, Zarqa, Azraq and other parts of the north. Circasians brought with them traditions from the Caucasus; weaving, basket - making and carpentry. Many of the older Circasians in Jordan worry about the preservation of traditional beliefs and customs that they brought from the Caucasus. Teaching through proverbs and stories sought to give new generations grounding in behavior
Tourism in Jordan
Amman is a sprawling city spread over 19 hills. Amman is the modern as well as the ancient capital of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Known as Rabbath-Ammon during prehistoric periods and later as Philadelphia, the ancient city that was once part of the Decapolis league, now boasts a population of around 1.5 million.
Amman is a busy commercial and administrative center with many fine hotels, restaurants, art galleries and museums. Shopping amenities vary from old markets and souqs full of gold and spices to modern boutiques offering local handicrafts and imported fashions.
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 deep-sided bowl carved into the hill and still used for cultural events. Another newly restored theater 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 Museums, the Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Tradition.
Amman is an excellent base to explore the environs and many interesting half-day or full-day trips can be arranged. The ancient town of Salt and the traditional villages of Fuheis and Kan Zaman, for example, are less than an hour away and feature traditional restaurants, handicrafts complexes and picturesque streets from ancient times.
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.
Ten kilometers west of Madaba is the hilly district of Mount Nebo, on the western edge of the plateau with a spectacular view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
Mount Nebo is believed to be the tomb of Moses. It is a lonely, windswept hill. Protecting the ruins of a 4th and 6th Century church whose floor is still covered with marvelous mosaics, is a building constructed by the Franciscans who started excavating the site in 1933.
Um er Rasas is a walled settlement about 30 kilometers southeast of Madaba. Its main feature is a Byzantine tower 15 meter high used by early Christian monks seeking solitude. Archaeologists have also unearthed the Church of St. Stephen whose remarkable mosaic floor of the Umayade epoch is decorated with Jordanian, Palestinian and Egyptian city plans.
The ancient city of Petra is one of Jordan's national treasures and by far its best known tourist attraction. Located about 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 kilometer long chasm (or siq), the walls of which soar 200 meters 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, temples, arched gateways, colonnaded streets and haunting rock drawings - as well as a 3000 seat open air amphitheatre circa, 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 a top mount Aaron in the Sharah range baths, funerary halls
With its clean sandy beaches and transparent waters, Aqaba is an ideal location for relaxation and water sports.Sunbathing, swimming, para-sailing, water skiing and jet skiing, are just some of the activities to partake in. 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 was originally a Crusader Castle, 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 Medieval Islamic Ayla already revealed a gate and city wall along with towers, buildings, a town mosque, courtyards and baths.
The Museum houses a collection of artifacts collected in the region, including pottery and coins. It also hosts the house of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the great grandfather of King Abdullah II. Other places of interest are the site of the oldest church in the world, the Aquarium and several diving centers across the shore line
A close second to Petra on the list of favorite destinations in Jordan, the ancient city of Jerash boasts as 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
The marvels of nature and the genius of medieval Arab military architecture have given north Jordan two of the most important ecological and historical attractions in the Middle East the sprawling pine forests of the Ajloun-Dibbine area, and the towering Arab-Islamic castle at Ajloun that helped to defeat the Crusaders eight centuries ago.
Both these natural and man-made marvels, along with other attractions in the north, are being carefully protected to form the core of a pioneering Eco-tourism project now being implemented with French technical assistance, which aims to preserve the large pine forest that stretches from Ajloun towards the north; this is a unique environmental resource, for it is the southernmost complete pine forest in the world.
The area's cool forests, beautiful picnic areas, and extensive walking trails already attract visitors throughout the April-October season, especially from the Gulf and other warmer regions of the Middle East.
Ajloun Castle, more formally known as Qualm er-Rabad, is the major ancient site within the Ajloun forests region. It towers above the green hills and can be seen from many miles away, betraying its strategic purpose as a military watch post that protected the trade routes in the 12th-15th Centuries. It was first built in 1184 by the nephew of Salaheddin (Saladin), Izzeddin Usama Munqith, to repel the Crusader threats to north Jordan (the Crusaders had already occupied south Jordan, from their massive castles at Shobak and Karak, and were driven out of TransJordan in 1189).
Within the folds of the Jordan Valley lies the Dead Sea, more than 400 m below sea level and the lowest point on earth. Rich in minerals that have seeped from adjacent wadis, the Dead Sea, as well as having exceptionally buoyant water, is believed by many to have curative powers.
The nearby waters of Hammamat Ma'in, where a thermal spa has been built, are thought to be similarly imbued.
The Dead Sea itself is flanked by mountains to the east and rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost other - worldly beauty. Although sparsely populated and serenely quiet now, the area is believed to have been home to five Biblical cities Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zebouin and Zoar
Famously described by T. E. Lawrence as "vast, echoing and God-like," and acclaimed by many as one of the most stunning deserts capes in the world, Wadi Rum is a nature-lover's paradise.
Serious mountaineers relish its challenging climbs (some 1,750 meters up sheer granite and sandstone cliffs), while casual hikers enjoy the peace and tranquility of its sweeping vistas, towering rock faces and boundless empty spaces. Those of calm disposition will probably prefer a camel ride or a night under the stars in a Bedouin tent.
Nature lovers will be drawn to the desert in spring time, when rains bring the greening of the hills and something in the region of 2,000 species of wild flower.
Options for exploring Wadi Rum include 4x4 vehicles and camel caravans. The best way, however, to experience Rum's grandeur is by hiking on foot and camping.
Camel trips from the wadi to either Aqaba (several days) or Petra (about a week) may also be arranged. Wadi Rum's beauty can only be described as breathtaking. One of Jordan's main tourist attractions, the area is spotted with fascinating sandstone Mountains decorated with an array of colors. The magnificent colors of the mountains spill into the sandstone dunes scattered all over the reserve.