With its rich antiquities Pella is a favorite among archaeologists. Below the main section of the site lies a perennial spring, which used to bubble out water to the nearby valley. To visit in the spring months is a particular treat as the hillsides are abundant with anemones, calendula, spring groundsel and asphodel.
Pella was often made into a battle ground, perhaps the reason that so little of the Roman Pella still exists. It has also been the victim of several earthquakes causing a great degree of damage to the site.
The Pella site also shows evidence of an Early Islamic residency and a medieval mosque; most likely dating back to 635 after Islamic forces defeated the Byzantine army and moved into Pella, living side by side with its Christian residents.
Dating back to 250,000 BC hunters have roamed the hills surrounding the site. By 5000BC there was a Neolithic farming village at Pella itself. The residents of Pella traded widely throughout the Mediterranean in the Canaanite period, as attested by the discovery of artifacts such as perfume bottles, pottery and ivory boxes. It is said that Alexander the Great “discovered” Pella, but there is no evidence to confirm this. Part of a Chalcolithic settlement (4th Millennium BC), is situated on the slopes of Jabal Sartaba, east of Tell Husn.
You can see why this Jordan Valley site is an archeologist’s dream – something for everyone!
Um Al Jimal was built entirely from black basalt from its local surroundings and is considered to be the best preserved of the Hauran towns. In Arabic the name means “Mother of Camels” and became more fitting as time went by and as Bedouins began to shelter their newly born camels in the ruins and make good use of the ancient reservoirs. Nowadays you’ll often find a herd of white camels grazing alongside the ruins (one of the UAE’s Sheikhs uses the site for breeding racing camels). The enormous Nabatean water cisterns beside the site explains Um al Jimal’s raison d’etre – it was a watering station for caravans and travelers headed to or from Damascus.
At its peak Um Al Jimal was the residency of about 4000 citizens. Most of the best-preserved buildings belonged to the 6C when the town was predominantly Christian. There are at least 14 churches scattered among the ruins. This probably doesn’t reflect an extreme civic piety as much as it does early Christianity’s remarkably divisive arguments over church doctrine.
On first impression Um Al Jimal gives off a grim feeling due to the dark stones. The more you explore the more enchanted you will become. The dark buildings give the site a unique atmosphere which makes it both interesting and beautiful. Walking within the city walls of the “Black Gem of the Desert” under brooding archways you will begin to see why this city has inspired poets for centuries.
About 10 km to the north of Madaba, lies modern Hisban (Greek Esebon, Esbous; Latin Esbus) which is believed to be the biblical “Heshbon”, mentioned over 40 times in the Old Testament.
Hisban represents the archaeological spectrum of Jordan since there are artifacts from the Paleolithic Era, early Bronze Age, Iron Age, Greco-Roman Classical period, Byzantine Era, Early Islamic and Ottoman period.
The archaeological site of Tell Hisban has a history of continuous human inhabitation; from the Paleolithic Era to the modern time. Archaeological discoveries include: a huge water reservoir, a massive defensive wall from the Hellenistic times, a Roman acropolis area, Roman cemetery and three early Christian basilica churches.
Salt is about 28 km N/W of Amman. The name as-Salt comes from the Latin origin “Saltus” meaning the Valley of Trees or “ThickForest”. It was the regional capital during the Byzantine era and the capital of the important province of Al-Balqa during the Islamic period.
In the late 19th century, Salt became an important commercial center, and went through period of rapid expansion. Many buildings from this period survive to the present day. They were built in an architecturally elegant style, using attractive honey-colored local stone wrought-iron balconies.
Right after World War I, the town was the site from which Herbert Samuel, British High Commissioner for Palestine and Trans-Jordan, chose to make his announcement that the British favored self-government for Jordan (which was finally granted in 1921).
You can have a nice afternoon wandering around, drinking coffee at a local coffee shop, and visiting sites such as Share’ al-Hammam, the Museum of Antiquities of Salt, the handicrafts shops, the Latin Church Complex, the shrine of Prophet Ayuob (Biblical Job) and the shrine of Joshua. Future plans are to create a pedestrian mall that links historic buildings, handicrafts shops and other points of interest in the center of Salt.
Nearby, there is Wadi Shuayb, famed for its fertile soil and the quality of its fruits and vegetables. It is believed to be the burial place of Prophet Shuayb (Jethro; Moses’ father in-law).
About 10 km to the N/W of Ajlun overlooking Gilead, lies Tell Mar Elias (Mar Elias in Arabic means Saint Elijah). This site has long been identified with Tishbe, the birth place of Elijah.
Archaeologists discovered one of the largest Byzantine churches in Jordan at Tell Mar Elias. The church dates back to the 7Th century, 622 AD is the most probable year. What distinguished this church is its cross-shape structure; which is a very rare style.
Nowadays, local Muslims and Christians still visit this site and practice their rituals; praying, lighting candles and tying ribbons to the trees.
A string of castles along the mountains overlooking the Great Rift Valley marked the expansion of the Crusader invasion in the 11th and 12th centuries. KarakCastle, overlooking the southern end of the Dead Sea, is the largest of these hilltop fortresses. Located about midway between Amman and Petra, just south of Wadi Mujib, the KarakCastle has a gem of a museum inside the walls. It’s interesting to explore theextensive remains, and try to reconstruct just how the castle must have appeared in its heyday. The bustling modern city of Karak just outside the castle walls, with its winding narrow streets and plethora of shops and street stalls, is an interesting place to walk around, sample some of the popular local street food such as shawerma and felafel and the sinfully delicious baklava and knaffa sweets.
ShobakCastle (Mont Real) lies further south, about 30 km. to the north of Petra. It’s smaller than Karak and a bit more intact, which gives you a better chance to imagine how the whole castle fit together. It’s one of the region’s castles which was built atop a fresh-water spring (which can be reached through a perilous and oxygen-poor descent straight into the earth), which made it eminently defensible. Fall it did, though, eventually–as witness the ornate early-Islamic inscriptions carved over the top of earlier Christian symbols on many of the building blocks.
The remains of the Tafila castle, between Karak and Shobak, is little more than foundations. The location is gorgeous, though–just to the north of Wadi al-Hasa, the site now overlooks the thriving university city of modern Tafila.
Petra boasts the remains of two Crusader fortresses. The WayraCastle, another site which is little more than foundations today, still shows off a complex and intricate water-channel system if you are fortunate to be around when it rains. The Habees fortress, just a short distance away, was situated on the mountain which houses the old PetraMuseum, between ad-Deir and Um al-Biyara massif.
At the head of Wadi Zarqa Ma’in is the waterfall and hot spring called Hamamat Ma’in. It’s sited just under the Herodian fortress of Mukawir, and is believed to be one of the spots where Herod came to find a palliative for gout. It’s an impressive sight, and the start of an excellent but challenging hiking trail down Zarqa Ma’in to the Dead Sea–but the springs are part of the Six Senses Spa and Resort property, so admission is a bit pricey. If you’re looking for a luxurious out-of-the-way resort where you can pamper yourself with spa treatments and good service far from the crowds, this is the place to go.
Far more popular and less tourist-oriented is the Hamamat Afra hot springs. Locals from all parts of Jordan visit the springs seeking cures for a variety of ailments. At one time in the recent past, the area was plagued by reminders of litter-happy picnickers. These days, some efforts have been made to establish a clean and comfortable visitors’ center to permit people to enjoy the springs without battling their way through piles of hummus bowls and water bottles.
Now a little-visited area just west of the busy Desert Highway, Humeima (Hawara) was a major Nabatean agricultural and trade-route provisioning settlement made possibly because of the Nabatean hydrology mastery. The settlement relied on a system of aqueducts carrying water from the springs in the escarpments above the site, as well as a typical Nabatean channeling system to capture the run-off from infrequent rains. Through the Roman occupation Humeima remained an important fortress along the Via Trajana, and the settlement had continued occupation through the Byzantine and early Islamic periods, although with shifting trade routes its strategic importance was greatly diminished. In this “white city” (the sandstone formations are noticeably paler than in the nearby red desert of Wadi Rum), you can spend an interesting morning poking around the area tracing the complex channeling systems.