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Amman is essentially now a modern Arab city but is Philadelphia of Roman times…


It is the capital of Jordan, home to more than 2 million people although as recently as 1900 it was little more than a village.

From a distance, it is a sprawling city of identical concrete boxes, minarets on the skyline and the highest (127m) free-standing flag-pole in the world!
But on the streets, it is a leafy town of many trees, modern shops and feels like any western city.

Although clearly Arab, the ‘Arab’customs are greatly diluted by western ways, -an easy place for us to stay a while!

The town has a lot of history, but not so much remains to be seen of it now.
There has been continuous habitation for 3500 years but the population has come and gone.
In Biblical times it was home to the Ammonites, was besieged by King David then later sacked by Herod and fell under the power of the Romans. The Greeks were also in there for a while.
During the Byzantine period it was the seat of Christian bishops, then fell to the Muslims around 600 AD, became a trading town and then as routes moved away, declined once more, only to be revived when King Abdullah made it the capital for Trans-Jordan in 1921.
As a friendly place, its population has grown rapidly with Palestinian refugees from Israel since 1948 and more recently, Iraqi.

The old city centre still has some Roman ruins, -the ampitheatre, a nymphaeum and a forum.

On the hill above is the ancient fortified Citadel, little of the buildings remain, just the pillars of the temple of Hercules

and maybe his fingers on the lawn nearby?
The citadel is open and airy, has great views across the town, and is also home to an excellent little museum of Amman through time, with relics from

the Bronze age,


and Roman influence;

some of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered not too far away;

and among many other things, the rather curious standing sarcophagi, -reusable coffins designed for  multiple occupants!

Madaba and Mt Nebo

Madaba is a small town about 30km southwest of Amman. Known for good reason as a ‘mosaic city’, it has many good examples and its core industry is Mosaic manufacture.
The town has long been a centre for Christianity in Jordan and its historic mosaics date back to the Byzantine era.

The most famous is in the Greek Orthodox church of St George.
The building only dates back to the 1880s, but in the construction, the old floor mosaic from 560 AD of a Byzantine Church was uncovered.

It was originally probably about 20 m long by 6 m wide and is a depiction in map form of all the major biblical sites of Palestine.  It is the oldest map of the area surviving.

The image used on thousands of postcards and tourist brochures is just a small part of it, -the egg-like map of the old city of Jerusalem, quite recogniseable as the old city of today.

In Jordan tourist shops, mosaics are sold everywhere, but they all come from here in Madaba.
Various factories make them, many employing partially disabled people, it is very big business. In the busy times, people come by the busloads, ordering everything in mosaic from earrings to outdoor dining tables!

We visited one at a quiet time, fortunately, as we could have the place to ourselves, but unfortunately perhaps in having the full attention of the very persuasive sales people… but then also fortunately in that the piece we  eventually settled on was for a very good price. They had to haggle as they wanted a sale!

The work is all beautiful,

but the finer the stones, the better the definition, -a pixel principle! -and the bigger the price… It is very labour intensive.
The subjects range from classic such as reproductions of the Byzantine, to abstract, to copies of the work of the impressionist painters.

A small reproduction piece of the ancient St George’s floor was eventually our pick and now Quo Vadis has a list…

Nearby Madaba is Mt Nebo. This is a small hill on the the edge of the East Bank plateau overlooking the Dead Sea

and the green of the Jordan valley to Israel beyond.

On a clear day in winter, they say you can see Jerusalem, but in the haze we could only see where it would be.

It is where Moses was said to have been taken by God to show him the promised land to which over the period of many years he had been leading the children of Israel.
But Moses never made it to Israel, he died soon after (at about 120!) and was reportedly buried somewhere here too.

Now there is a 6th century Moses Memorial Church on site, unfortunately at present closed for restoration work, but we did get to see its floor mosaic

another ancient masterpiece!

Ajloun and Jerash

North of Amman is fertile farming country

where there are fresh-flowing streams of clear water, orchards and people at the roadside selling magnificent vegetables, fruit…and the best figs ever!
It is bountiful countryside!

Ajloun is a town on the hills and has a landmark castle built around 1180 AD by the Arabs in defence against the Crusaders.

The situation is commanding with a 360 degree view,

the defences impressive with deep dry moat and thick stone walls

but although largely restored it has suffered from earthquake and war, it is not an attractive building and  little remains in the interior

apart from ancient ammunition at the ready…

Neighbouring Jerash, on the other hand, has an amazing amount of the much older remaining, it is one of the best preserved Roman towns out of Italy.
Built in the first few centuries AD there are all the features of a self respecting Roman city…Hadrian’s triumphal arch, several other ceremonial arches, a couple of ampitheatres, an oval forum, colonnaded street the cardo maximus,  various temples, a nymphaeum and numerous other things probably yet  to be uncovered…

See slideshow now:

…and a small museum, with more old mosaic! Surprisingly it is not annotated, but is a neat little picture and must be of Alexandria in Egypt?

It was a small world even in Graeco-Roman times!

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