Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jerash to the Dead Sea

 More remarkable history was seen in this country full of remarkable historic sites...

As we drove to Jerash, I couldn't help but notice how these highways are not much different than some of our own...not as much traffic but certainly, the construction of apartment buildings/condos along this main thoroughfare is a similar scene that we see here in America.

However, as we approached Jerash, we saw this sign.  While it appeared to be a banner of celebration for a specific event, it was not.  It is simply a permanent sign bearing yet another photograph of King Abdullah.  I do not know what it says in Arabic but I'm working on that!...UPDATE:  My friend, Marci, consulted with some of her Arab friends and they tell me that this signs says:  "The municipality of bigger Jerash welcomes you."  Thanks, Marci!  :) 

Jerash, settled over 5,000 years ago, is considered to be one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East.  Excavations confirm that Jerash was already inhabited by the Bronze Age (3200-1200 BC).  It is one of the cities of the Decapolis, a group of 10 cities on the eastern border of the Roman empire located in Syria, Israel and Jordan.  These 10 cities were centers of Greek and Roman culture in the midst of an area of Jewish, Nabatean, and Aramean influence.  Most of these cities were located in Jordan.  Jerash is often times referred to as the "Pompeii of the East", minus the volcanic activity.  

The Arch of Hadrian - the entrance gate to the ruins at Jerash: This gate was built by the Romans to honor the visit to the city of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the winter of 129-130 AD.  At the time, Jerash was known as "Gerasa". 

 It is believed that wooden doors once filled the arched spaces.

As we walked toward the city, purchased tickets, and procured a guide, we were privy to a display of devotion.  Salat times, or prayer times, happen five times during the day and the most devout stop all activity to participate.  There was a small group of men behind the ticket office who were preparing to pray.  Notice the prayer rug on which they are standing.  This moment was another opportunity for us to experience, on a simple level, a component of their religious culture.  I was honored to have witnessed it.

Again, we were fortunate to have had another educated, well-spoken and enthusiastic guide to take us around the site.  Abu made these arrangements, guaranteeing us another successful tour. Our time was limited and he made sure that the guide was aware of our time constraints while giving us the most comprehensive tour possible.  While our visit was filled with history and captivating background, I wish we had had more time.  As we have found throughout our inadequate time in Jordan, this area is so rich in history and is so connected to other civilizations that it would require a much longer stay here to fully understand its story.

As we continued toward the ruins, there was evidence of site restoration as you enter the ancient city and climb the steps to the Forum.  Approaching the Forum you will see a plaza surrounded by 56 pillars, each @20 feet high and comprised of four stones each.  The floor of the Forum is comprised of stones that increase in size as they move out toward the outer rim.

This unique Oval Forum was the center of public life.  Commercial and public affairs were scheduled in this area, as were, elections and public speeches.  Gladiator matches and even criminal trials were also held in the Forum.  Imagine being a citizen of this ancient city, drawn to the Forum as a way to connect with the "news" of the day, the developments in the political and legal world, perhaps wandering down the Cardo Maximus searching the market for the food that was needed in your home, and being a part of life in the city of Jerash.  How different this life was from how many of us live today.

Directly off of the Forum is colonnaded Cardo Maximus, the main street of the city, surrounded by more pillars - some repaired, while others lie in wait for restoration.  Restoration has been going on here since 1920 and, as in other spots we have explored, is very expensive.   Ruts made by ancient chariot wheels can still be seen, not unlike on the streets of Pompeii.  

Walking down the Cardo Maximus, we came to the nymphaeum, a very well-preserved fountain dedicated to the water nymphs, constructed in 91 AD.   Look in the foreground for the pink granite water base.  In its prime, water cascaded from 7 carved lions' heads into small basins on the sidewalk.  Pretty amazing this fountain is in such pristine shape and still standing after close to 2,000 years!

Located next to the Nymphaeum is the "cathedral".  In reality, it is a Byzantine church that, in the 4th century BC, was built on top of the original 2nd century building, the Temple of Dionysius.   The 4th and 5th century brought a significant influence of Christianity into this area and the building of churches was widespread and encouraged.  It was common for pieces of former temples to be used in the building of these churches.  This is just one example.

Jordan is one of the most heavily Westernized countries in the Middle East.  Many women are embracing Western culture and will wear trousers while still wearing a head covering.  We found this to be a widely accepted practice, with some women discarding the scarf, as well.

Much of history is a real puzzle.  Displayed along this colonnaded road are countless broken pieces of carved columns waiting to be put back in place to recreate the original ancient city.   It was a perfect opportunity to see these carving up close and personal.

Before leaving Jerash, we wandered through the local souk (market) and saw a craftsman creating colored sand creations in glass bottles and vases.  The one I saw was personalized for a visiting family.  Using small, thin tools, this artist created scenes within the bottle, included family names or place names and proudly displayed his work.  We saw countless places doing this work throughout our travels - all fine and detailed work representing one of the handicrafts for which Jordan is noted.

Abu took us to lunch and we met this breadmaker outside.  The method he used to bake the flat bread, known as shrak, is an old process requiring the open oven you can see slightly behind and to the left of this man (or to the right in the photograph).  After flattening out the dough using his fingers and the stone, he puts the flattened dough on his hand and quickly slaps the dough onto the inside wall of the hot oven.  If you look carefully inside the oven in the bottom two photographs, you can see this dough at about the 11:00 o'clock position.  When it is baked to perfection, the baker peels the bread off of the side of the oven and it is brought into the restaurant - freshly baked, warm shrak, eaten with Jordan's magnificent hummus and olive absolute favorite!

As has been the norm throughout our trip, we thoroughly enjoyed many Jordanian dishes at this restaurant, including tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, manakeesh, fattoush, and mansaf, in addition to my favorite  - hummus.  Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan and is a symbol of generosity.  I can attest to that!  The portions we were given, at every meal, were enough to feed 2 - 3 times the number of people at the table!  All of it was delicious!

Our day was far from over!  From our luncheon restaurant, we proceeded towards the Dead Sea.  Stay tuned!  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A King, a mosque, and other ancient ruins

Today we ventured out to discover some of the history of Amman. Obviously, one day is not a sufficient amount of time to do a thorough job but, with the expert guidance of Abu, we tried to use our time wisely!  We visited the Citadel, including the Roman Theater, went to Jerash, and finally to the Dead Sea.  It was a busy day and, once again, full of history and wonder!

We went to the King Abdullah I Mosque in downtown Amman with the hope of getting inside.  It is a beautiful blue-domed building built as a memorial to the grandfather of the late King Hussein.  It can house @7,000 worshipers with an additional 3,000 in their courtyard.  There is also a women's section that can accommodate up to 500 worshipers.  All women are required to cover their hair and everyone must remove their shoes if they plan to enter the prayer hall.  Of particular note:  this is the only mosque in Amman that openly welcomes non-Muslim visitors.  It also houses a  museum.  Unfortunately for us, it wasn't open...the first time we visited the mosque, it was prayer time and closed to to the touring public.  Our bad luck...

From here we headed up to the Citadel, in the center of downtown Amman.  In Arabic it is known as Jabal al-Qal'a and evidence proves that it is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited places.  Like Petra, the Citadel was occupied by many memorable civilizations.  The buildings that we saw were from the Byzantine, Roman and Umayyad periods, this last one being the period of the first Muslim dynasty. The Umayyads were first rulers of the Islamic empire and passed down that power within their family, ruling between 661 and 750 AD.  They were the most powerful empire of that time.  However, their downfall was threefold: they were not direct descendants from Muhammad, their dreadful mistreatment of non-Arab Muslims was intolerable, and their contentious practice of handing down power from father to son soon revealed its influence on their demise.

The views from the Citadel were astounding and divulged Amman's status as a thriving city with a population of over 4 million.  The foundation wall remnants can still be seen surrounding part of the site.

The ancient name of Jordan's capital of Amman, which dates back @7,000 years, was Philadelphia.  Read from right to left to see how the name of the capital city of Amman changed throughout the centuries as leadership of the area changed.

Archaeologist have been working at this historic site since the 1920's.  There is much work to be done, many mysteries to be solved, and connections to be made.  The cost for this work is overwhelming and slow to progress. 

Surrounding the Citadel are the remains of the foundation walls enclosing the heart of the site. There are many areas where repairs and overlays of newer civilizations can be seen.  The drop to the street from the hill of the Citadel is significant.  Notice the iron bar fence protecting visitors from slipping down the ancient hill.

The major buildings at the Citadel are the Temple of Hercules...

Many of the designs on the pillars and walls surrounding the temple were designs from nature.  Our guide pointed out one of the plants whose design was reproduced.  Below is the plant and its recreation on one of the pillars.

The Byzantine Church also claims much of the attention at the Citadel.  It was constructed during the 5th or 6th century A.D.  At this time, Amman was called "Philadelphia" and had been renamed after the Ptolemaic ruler, Philadelphus, in the 3rd century BC.  

The interior of the Umayyad-era Byzantine Church vestibule was painted and plastered in its original form.  The dome has been recreated using wood, as the weight of recreating it in stone was a concern.  

Since 1920, there have been archaeologist from France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and Jordan working on this site.  It is another massive historical project in Jordan and the potential for excavation and discovery are is the expense.

We continued to venture down to the Roman Theater, located near the center of Amman.  It can be seen in its entirety from the hill of the Citadel.  This structure could seat @6,000 people and was oriented to keep the sun from the spectators.  It was also designed so that everyone, regardless of where they sat, could hear the actors in the round. 

The area surrounding the Roman Theater is busy with traffic and pedestrians.  As is true all over in Jordan, large photos of King Abdullah and his son, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, are displayed. The prince is next in line for the throne.

The Roman Theater was the centerpiece of Roman Philadelphia and also the focus of the late 19th century development of Amman. Here we found some original Roman paving and the Corinthian colonnade that provided a space for the market place between the street and the theater, itself.

This structure was built between 169 and 177 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Its design is genius, as there is a spot in the middle of the semi-circle where one can stand, speak in a normal speaking voice and the echo of your voice will be heard throughout the theater.  If you step off this spot, the echo of your voice no longer exists.  While we didn't try it, legend says that 2 people crouching down at opposite ends of the orchestra can mutter into the semicircular stone wall below the first row of seats and can easily hear each other!  

The Citadel could also be seen on the hill from the Roman Theater.

There is so much to tell about Jerash and the Dead Sea that I will continue this day in the next post.  But are my two friends from the ladies room at the Roman Theater.  We found the people of Jordan eternally friendly and helpful...a country full of beautiful people.