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Jordan
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Petra, your reward for a camel-ride through Siq; The Dead Sea � only certain algae will put up with it, Wisdom and Wadi Rum�..


Rose-red Petra

According to Arab tradition, the Bible’s most refreshing fable happened here in around 1350 BC: “Moses raised his staff high towards the parched hot cliff-face, smashed it hard against the rock. Water glinted, dribbled, seeped, spurted and streamed down — a veritable shower”. The Arab name for the narrow valley at that leads to Petra is The Wadi Musa — ‘Wadi of Moses’, and it is after this which the nearby town is named.

Built in the 6th century BC, (repeated below)], the stunning city of Petra is your reward for a horse or camel-ride through the Siq, a narrow corridor of cliffs. Circumvent more rose red rocks and you’ll arrive at the amphitheatre, the museum and — 800 steps up a mountain — the un-missable monastery. This is Petra's largest monument, and dates from the 1st century BC. It is dedicated to Obodas I and, according to the inscriptions, it is believed to be the meeting place of the god Obodas.

“Petra” means rock, and it is a city of immense historical significance in this, the Jordanian governorate of Ma’an. Sandstone and granite rock-cut architecture and water conduits are the “Wow!” factors here. Established as the capital city of the Nabataeans, Petra is an exemplary symbol of Jordan and also its number one tourist draw. Lying on the slope of Mount Hor, Petra is a basin among mountains that are the eastern flank of Wadi Arabah — the mighty valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Petra was unheard of in the West until 1812, when it was ‘discovered’ by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In recent decades Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has publicised images of Petra’s Al Khazneh Treasury. This Treasury is almost entirely a façade, a wondrous 40m-high tomb hewn out of mountain in the 1st century BC, probably by Near-Eastern Hellenistic architects. It was appropriately listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, and was chosen as one of ‘the 40 places you have to see before you die’ by the BBC.

The Dead Sea

You need water if you take baptism seriously, John certainly did. He had the River Jordan at his disposal, and Bethabara’s shore is believed to have witnessed John’s baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. This river epitomises freedom as it pours downward, a watery divider between Israel and Jordan.

Exiting Lake Hula, the River Jordan plummets its 25km course to the Sea of Galilee, before twisting into the Dead Sea. Languishing 422m below sea level, this ‘sea’ is actually a deep hyper-saline lake with its water level and shore at the lowest point on Earth. With 8.6 times more salt than the ocean, it would deaden any sea life, allowing only certain algae, bacteria and microbial fungi to survive.

Many of the world’s most beneficial spas are inexorably linked to the dense salt-buoyancy of the Dead Sea. Possibly the world’s oldest recognised spa water, it was Cleopatra of Jerusalem’s al fresco bath in the 1st century BC. She and her husband Herod the Great highly valued its restorative minerals and warm muddy clay.

Dead Sea-shore towns like Swaimeh are dotted with luxurious hotels with spas that present an array of rejuvenating health treatments — including body wraps, body scrubs and mud facials of Dead Sea-bed clay. But it’s the traditional Arabic Royal Hammam ritual of purification and skin cleansing that’s most sought-after. You may also sample — Cleopatra-like — the delights of wallowing 422m below sea level.

Wisdom and Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum cuts its way through sheer rock in southern Jordan, 60 km to the east of Aqaba. ‘Wadi’ is Arabic terminology for ‘valley’, and this is the largest wadi in Jordan. ‘Rum’ derives from the Aramaic meanings of ‘high’ and ‘elevated’. Though it is always upstaged by Mountain Um Dami’s 1,800m, Mount Rum towers 1,734m above sea level.

Extraordinary petroglyphs were incised, picked and carved onto walls of sandstone and granite in the caves of Khaz'ali Canyon. Here are depictions of humans and antelopes from the time of the Thamūds. These were tribes of ancient southern Arabians who settled in Wadi Rum in the 1st millennium BC. The Qur’an declares that the Thamud were punished by the ravages of an earthquake; wiped out like dinosaurs.

The profoundly famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom watch wisely over Wadi Rum. This sandstone and granite chasm, known as The Valley of the Moon, also acted as a double for Mars in the movie Red Planet, and much of David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here. Wadi Rum is inexorably linked to the British officer who bolstered Arab rebels against the Ottoman Turks (1916-18) — Captain T.E. Lawrence ‘of Arabia.’ It was Lawrence who named the distinctive rock formation as ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ and then continued on to use this as the title of his eventual memoirs.

In the 1980s Wadi Rum enjoyed the start of its renaissance as an adventurous arena for trekking, climbing and caving. Indeed, the Zalabia Bedouin work prolifically with climbers and trekkers, have become successful in developing eco-adventure tourism as their main source of income.