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The Cradle of Civilization - The Metro

News   •   May 19, 2014 00:00 BST

Discover a lost civilization

The Lost City of Petra is an adventurer’s fantasy. Undiscovered by Westerners until 1812, it was known only by folklore and to the kohl-eyed Bedouin tribesmen who inhabited its caves like fleeting, blue-robed moths.Petra was founded as early as 312BC by the Nabataeans, a group of Arabian nomads who, after trying unsuccessfully to infiltrate local tribes, were cast out into the desert. There, in Jordan’s inhospitable hinterland, they discovered a narrow canyon that snaked deep into the flank of what many consider to be the biblical Mount Hor, on the side of a rocky mountain range.Deep inside the heart of the range, they carved Petra from the sandstone itself, ‘a rose red city, half as old as time,’ in the words of 19th-century poet John Burgon. Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt rediscovered the city in 1812 after years of searching.Visitors still access the preserved site through that same canyon, only two metres wide in places, which spills out into the airy plaza of the Treasury building. This vast, colonnaded edifice soars high above the camels that cluster beneath it, and presides over the mystical valley of ornate tombs, deity carvings and a complex system of aqueducts that allowed Petra to reign supreme for hundreds of years.

Visit the Worlds Coolest Museum

The Jordan Archaeological Museum may well the best museum in the world. Housed in an unassuming stone building atop the ancient citadel of Amman, it’s stuck in a time warp from 1951 and crammed to the rafters with ancient wonders so unfathomably important as to defy belief.Among the artefacts are the Ain Ghazal statues, the oldest in existence, dating from 8,000 years ago. There is also material from palaeolithic flint hunting tools to Hellenic glass jewellery. In short, it’s a museum as museums ought to be, and it wears its mantle of importance lightly. Entry is the best £1 you’ll ever spend.

See the desert with Bedouin

The Wadi Rum is home to neolithic rock paintings, soaring eagles and vast sandstone mounts so deeply eroded they resemble monstrous, melting Gaudi creations. Jordan’s largest wadi, or desert valley, was Lawrence of Arabia’s preferred stomping ground and contains the country’s highest peak, the sandstone and granite mass of Mount Umm Dami, which soars over 1,800m above sea level.The local Bedouin tribesmen, who have turned tourism to their advantage by exploiting their own natural affinity for trekking and rock climbing, largely control tourism here. The many desert camps in the area are run by these locals, who use them as a showcase for traditional skills such as zarb cooking (sand roasting) and camel handling.The desert itself is an intense, red, Mars-like landscape punctuated by rough scrubland and the odd caravan of camels silhouetted on the crest of a dune. The Wadi Rum is reachable from the capital, Amman, and from the Dead Sea in just a few hours by car.

Trace stories from the Bible

Jordan shares its borders with the more unsettled countries of Syria, Iraq, Israel and Palestine. It is steeped in geographical and historical wonders – many of which are noted in the Bible – yet is compact enough to be explored on in just a few days. Exodus (exodus.co.uk) offers a nine-day Jordan In Luxury trip covering the highlights including Petra, Amman, the Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea. Its main guide, Dr Sami Atmeh, is a Jordanian with a degree in political science from the University of Michigan.The trip includes return flights from Britain, transfers, one night at a luxury Bedouin camp and seven nights in five-star hotels, breakfasts and one dinner, from £1,699 per person. The next departure is on September 27.


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