On our final day of our whirlwind tour or Jordan, we drove to Ajloun Castle for a short visit and then onwards to the city of Jerash where we were handed off to a specialist guide who guided us through the massive Greco-Roman city of Gerasha (now known as Jerash).
Peter and I have visited many castles during our travels around Europe and I think we both went into our visit of Ajloun Castle thinking, “Oh, just another castle” but we were pleasantly surprised. Ajloun Castle is unlike any other castle we’ve toured. It is located 1,100 meters above sea level on top of a big hill, which, in itself, is not unique.
The castle has seven towers, four of which were original to the castle and three were added later. The original fortress of the castle was built between 1185-85 AD and the seventh tower was added sometime around 1214 AD. The castle was built out of limestone blocks which were extracted from the castle’s moat. I think it is the bumpy limestone blocks that made the look of this castle unique. Most castles I’ve visited have flat/flush blocks.
The entrance to the castle is accessible via a wooden bridge spanning the now-dry moat. The entrance wall (containing the door) was actually two walls which were separated by about a foot of empty space. The reason for this void was security reasons.
Guards of the castle could stand on the floor above the door and pour hot liquid or other damaging items between the two walls which would then fall on people standing at the door.
A wedding ceremony could be held in the L-shaped seventh tower (formally the palace quarters).
The ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Jerash was also a pleasant surprise. The site was massive and went on and on and on as the sun got hotter and hotter and hotter and I got sweatier and sweatier and sweatier.
The ruins of Jerash, located only 30 miles north of Amman, are the most well-preserved ruins Peter and I have seen in our travels. They are more well-preserved than anything in Athens or Rome – it’s not even a contest, actually.
The site included hundreds of columns (our guide said there were originally 500 columns), two giant arches, two temples, an oval forum, a really long colonnaded street, two theatres (one of which is still used today), and multiple churches, scattered temples, and baths.
This is going to sound surprising but I found Jerash more interesting than Petra. Let that sink in for a moment.
Petra is a site of tombs and there isn’t a whole lot of history which can be told about it or, perhaps, our “guide” at Petra was not able to effectively communicate the history . Our guide at Jerash walked us through the ruins, explaining where the churches were, where the shops were and how the city was laid out. We could envision how the ancient city once looked with its 25,000 inhabitants walking down the main colonnaded street, stopping only to pop into a shop or sit on a bench. The tour was absolutely fascinating.
What is also fascinating is that Jerash is not currently a UNESCO World Heritage site. I believe this is why so few people have heard of this awesome place which sometimes referred to as the “Pompeii of the Middle East”. Jordan submitted Jerash to the UNESCO World Heritage board on January 31, 2004 and their application was denied (not sure if they have appealed). Apparently some of the reconstruction of the site did not follow UNESCO’s reconstruction guidelines. I think it’s a shame because this site is more impressive than most other UNESCO sites we’ve visited.
Below is a gallery of photos from our tour of Jerash; captions include neat tidbits.
While Peter and I were admiring the Greco-Roman theatre in Jordan, two dudes appeared and played Scottish bagpipes for us Americans. It was strange and I think I could have done without it but it happened and I took a video of it because I was an American tourist and that’s what American tourists usually do.
On that note, it’s a wrap on our visit to Jordan. We spent many hours driving around the country and saw many things. To recap:
- Amman Citadel and Roman Theatre – visit if you have time to burn, otherwise, skip it.
- Dead Sea – a must visit, especially since it could be gone in as little as 50 years.
- Petra – a must visit, plan a full day for your visit (5 hours is not enough).
- Wadi Rum – skip it.
- Ajloun Castle – visit if you have time and are castle-deprived or wish to take wedding photos.
- Jerash – a must visit, spend the money to hire a tour guide because it will enhance your experience and will be worth the money.
- Dana view – skip it. Dana view consisted of us pulling over to the side of the road and taking photos of the mountains. I think it was just a good spot for our driver to take a smoke break.
- Shobak Castle – skip it.