Saturday, September 29, 2012

Whispering Columns of Jerash

We hired a driver from Amman to take us to the provinical Roman city of Jerash, 48 kilometers away.  Sometimes it's nice to relax and let someone else do the driving.  Although we couldn't stop at every fruit and vegetable stand nor shop at the roadside tables piled high with pottery, we enjoyed the rolling fields of agriculture (and saved some money!).

We spent two hours walking through this magnificent site.  Columns upon columns upon columns line the ancient streets.  It is said that they could carry a whisper from one end of the forum to the other.  It's easy to imagine how splendid Jerash must have been during the first and second centuries.  Ah, the wealth that poured in!  And the secrets that could not be kept!
Wealth poured into the city from agriculture and iron mines.  A flourishing trade was also going on with the Nabataeans and later, with the entire Roman province when roads connected the cities throughout the region.

The city continued to prosper under Emperior Trajan.  Temples and monuments were built and the magnificent Corinthean columns that remain today, replaced the older Ionic ones.  Like many Roman cities, however, it was soon abandoned after the Crusades.  Jerash was not rediscovered until the 1800's.  Today, it is second only to Petra as Jordan's most popular tourist site.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Minarets and Roman Ruins

Our first afternoon in Amman we took a taxi up to the Citadel for views of the city.  The seven hills of this Jordanian city are covered with both modern and ancient buildings.  The mix of minarets and Roman ruins, so exotic to a Californian like me, are commonplace all over the Middle East.  The amphitheater, built back in the days of Emperor Antoninus Pius, is still used today.  Unbelievable!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Madaba Map

On the way to Mount Nebo, we stopped at the Greek Orthodox church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan to see the remains of a Byzantine mosaic floor. It is the earliest surviving cartographic map of 6th century Palestine and covers the area from Northern Lebanon to the Nile Delta.  We had a hard time deciphering the labels since they are in Greek, but a local man who saw our interest walked over and pointed out the cities of Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  It all started to make sense.  I love the fish flowing into Jordan from the Dead Sea.

Historians do not know who created it, but think it was made by several members of an early Christian community living in Madaba at the time.  For someone like me who loves pouring over maps, this was a true highlight of my visit to Jordan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mount Nebo

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo . . .and the Lord showed him all the land. . .The Lord then said to him, "This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I would give to their descendants.  I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over."  So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the Lord, died as the Lord had said.


Travelers from all over the world include Mt. Nebo on their Holy Land tour.  It is located 10 km west of Madaba in Jordan.  The views of the Promised Land are breathtakingly beautiful and we spent a happy couple of hours up here soaking it all in.

The little church is now a monastery run by the Franciscans.  The original church was built in the 4th century in honor of Moses.  No one knows for sure where he was buried, but the above verse from the Bible indicates it was up here somewhere.  The modern sculpture of Mose's staff marks the possible location.

The mosaic floor in the new baptistery is fascinating. The scenes are not biblical, but of every day men hunting animals.  The animals, however, are purely fictitious.  I had the feeling the artist had heard of the zebras, giraffes and lions that had been caught and transported to Rome, but had never seen them.  One man holds a giant ostrichlike animal on a leash; another holds a cross between a camel and a giraffe.

We continued our trip through Jordan, stopping every few kilometers, utterly spellbound by its beauty.  I'm glad Moses got to see it! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Petra's Roman Era

On our second day in Petra we concentrated on the Roman ruins, always magnificent and historically fascinating.  After the Romans conquered the Nabataeans in 106 CE,  a brief Renaissance occurred.  After Trajan ordered the conquest, the newly formed province continued to flourish under Hadrian, the Antonines and Septimius Severus. 

The paved road still exists.  It was an engineering marvel for the time, a 500 kilometer road that connected Petra to Aqaba, the sea port to the south.  A guidebook is an absolute must because there are layers of history here. Roman ruins are scattered among the Nabataean temples and tombs.  It is a sad irony that its initial rebirth led to its eventual decline.  Heavy taxation ate up the revenues.  Caravans began to reroute, and although the city continued to survive under Byzantine and Islamic rule, it eventually died and disappeared.  There is no doubt, however, that Rome left her mark.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Riding Horses into Petra

Anticipation is mounting to a level never experienced before.  I know what is at the end of the narrow siq, but the horses are going too slow.  The baby on my back dozes and finally falls into a heavy sleep.  I adjust the pack so he doesn't fall out.  Will we ever get there?

 Such eager anticipation of an event can often lead to disappointment.  I try to calm down.  I count to ten in Arabic.  Again and again.  When at last, I glimpse a sliver of the red rock Khazneh through the narrow opening ahead, I gasp.  No photograph, no movie, no story can prepare me for the kingdom of splendor that enfolds.  This is the reason I travel.  This is magic.

The carved Nabataean Kingdom of Petra is as old as the Bible.  It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Jordan's most popular tourist destination.
Because of abundant water, fertile soil and the defensive cliffs surrounding this rock city, Petra grew to become a prominent stopping point among the caravans plying the two major trade routes:  The Silk Road to the East and the Spice Road to the South. It linked China, India and Arabia to Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.  Two thousand years ago, the entire world knew about this magical place.  Its importance declined with the fall of the Roman empire.  Unbelievably, it remained hidden until a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, rediscovered it in 1812.

We dismounted from the horses and began our tour with the Khazneh, which means "treasury" in Arabic.  It is believed to be the tomb of King Aretas II (86-62 BCE) who expanded the Nabataean kingdom to include Syria, but no one knows for certain.  With its Corinthian capitals, complex carvings of humans and animals, it is an Hellenistic masterpiece.

But there are a hundred more tombs to explore, so we move on.  We choose to walk rather than hire a camel, and we proceed to spend one of the most enjoyable days I have ever had.  We read aloud from our guidebook as we go.  We climb ruins, poke inside, sit and stare, play with the baby (and change a few diapers).  This red rock city carved into the mountains is as surreal as it is breathtakingly beautiful.
One day is not enough.  We return the next day for more.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roosters of Arroyo Grande

On my morning walk of Arroyo Grande, I came across this flock of chickens and roosters by the creek.  A woman was scattering feed for them in the parking lot and they were having a grand old time.  They were completely fearless, letting me stick my camera lens right down in their faces. 

"What's with these roosters?" I muttered out loud, not even realizing it.  Another early riser, a man walking his dog, heard me.  "People buy chickens for pets, realize how much work they are and then abandon them.  Been going on for years."
The local population has decided to make the roosters the town's unofficial mascots.  Obviously, they are well fed and someone has even built chicken coops on either side of the creek.  City officials have shrugged their shoulders, allowing the little guys to stay as long as they behave themselves.
They were fun to watch and fairly harmless, although this cocky one above wasn't about to give up his bench for me.  I suppose as long as they stay by the creek and don't wander into the neighborhoods, they'll be allowed to stay.  
Rooster artwork is found all over the village in various shapes and forms.  In Arroyo Grande, these guys definitely rule the roost!