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Biblical Epic in the MIddle East

Costa Rica

Jordan is a proud and welcoming nation, keen to show off its spectacular landscape and fabulous history, which include an outstanding Roman city, the fabulous rose coloured ruins of Petra hewn from the rock, and the place where Jesus is believed to have been baptised. It also offers the greatest free float on earth, in the Dead Sea. I toured some of Jordan’s marvels. This is my must do list.

Romans remain.

The Roman Empire was huge. You can fly for five hours from Britain to Jordan,
and find monuments to Emperor Hadrian in both countries. We have the Wall.
The great Roman city of Jerash , an hour from the capital Amman, has
Hadrian''s Arch, one of many highlights in this, one of the biggest and best
preserved Roman cities in the Middle East . We wandered all morning, through
the hippodrome, the amphitheatre where a bagpipe band from the Jordanian
army played for us, down an original street under a hundred columns, and
around a massive oval Forum. What did the Romans ever do for traffic control? A four sided arch still marks the junction of two stone highways, deeply rutted
from 2000 year old wheels. Summer events here include chariot racing,
legionaries in full armour and fighting gladiators.”

Stone sensation

Petra, high and cool in the mountains in southern Jordan, one of New Seven
Wonders of the World, is a sensation. The great but mysterious Nabataean
civilization built a set fit for Hollywood- the final scenes of Indiana Jones and
the Last Crusade were filmed here-but 2000 years early.
Even the buildup is high drama. We walked alongside camels and horse-drawn
carts down a tight half-mile-long chasm, between towering cliffs, which
suddenly opens into a deep, wide space overwhelmed by the mighty temple-
shaped Treasury building. This is only the start. Valleys lead off, crammed with
tombs and monuments, behind elaborate facades hewn into in the rose,
cherry, and violet sandstone rock. With 800 structures to see, you could
spend days here. There are hotels in the adjoining town Wadi Musa.

Float free

Floating on the Dead Sea, 10 times saltier than the Mediterranean, is great
fun, But take a good book, as there’s not much to do. The big draw since the
Queen of Sheba’s day is the claimed healing properties in the nutrients and
minerals of the water and mud. The splendid new Kempinski Ishtar is one of
the opulent new spas on the water edge. The entrance is an ambitious tribute
to the original Ishtar Gate in Babylon. The grounds are full of transplanted
olive trees, one of them 800 years old. The big, generous rooms, in individual
villas, all face the water, and the longest private beach in Jordan. It’s a very
sunny spot, but, 1200 feet below sea level, the sun’s rays are filtered by an
additional buffer zone of oxygen. I enjoyed a blissful hour in the spa’s pools,
including one follwd with filled with Dead Sea water, Jacuzzis and saunas.

Holy site

The Baptismal Site at Bethany on the Jordan River – it is the border between
Jordan and Israel - is proof that good things do happen in the Middle East.
Since the two nations signed a peace treaty in 1994, archaeologists have be
able to dig here and discover the original stones leading down to the point on
the river where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus, next to
the remains of several early Christian churches, built on top of one another.
We stood above this place, powerful and compelling whatever your beliefs. It
was serenely quiet. To get there I advise hiring a car. Or book one with a
driver from your hotel – we paid £100 for a day. You park a mile away. A
shuttle van, with a guide, takes you to the site.

In the steps of Moses

You need a car to reach the top of Mount Nebo, unless, like the prophet
Moses, you climb the 2680 feet up from the plain. Deuteronomy wrote that
this was where Moses was shown the Promised Land that God intended for the
Jews. Some say Moses was even buried on this mountain.
It’s a sensational panorama: on a clear day you can see the Holy Land,
Jericho and even Jerusalem. A modern church incorporates the original
Byzantine basilica with mosaics from AD 531, uncovered in the 1970s in almost
pristine condition It’s a short trip to Madaba (“City of Mosaics'') for the
church of Saint George, with its 6th century mosaic map, the oldest surviving
study of the Holy Land. For a quick snack, cross the road to the excellent
Dana cafe.

Mid East mix

Jordanian cuisine is a big nourishing mix of influences, drawing on the
traditional cooking of the Bedouins, Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians and
Lebanese. We had a memorable lunch in the Lebanese House restaurant on
the road just south of Jerash, the full range of Middle Eastern mezzes, with
kebbeh a delicious concoction of lamb, onions, pine nuts and dried mint leaves.
We also liked Hisham restaurant in Wadi Musa, just outside the entrance to
Petra. They did a delicious maqloobeh, layers of lamb and onions, eggplants,
rice, spices and pine nuts, then turned upside down and wrapped in thin bread.
We had an superb Italian meal in the Via Appia restaurant in the Kempinski
Hotel Amman. Our memorable café experience was sipping Turkish coffee with
cardamom, in a street café surrounded by locals smoking hubble bubbles.

The writer travelled courtesy of Bales Worldwide, flew with Royal Jordanian (Heathrow-Amman),and stayed with Kempinski.

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