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Jordan: Umm Qais, Ajlun Castle and Jerash

May 4, 2010

Our second day in Jordan took us to the north to the Syrian border.  Our first visit was to Umm Qais, the Hellenistic-Roman city of Gadara.  The area around Gadara is mentioned in the Bible as the location where Jesus cast out the demons into a herd of swine.  Prior to the Romans, the city was called Antiochia when Antiochus the Great conquered the city in 218 BC.  The ruins of the city sit high atop a hill offering a clear view of the Golan Heights.  This splendid city at one time had two theaters, a temple and many magnificent buildings.  A long paved street with double colonnade still shows the ruts worn by chariot wheels… grim reminders of the Roman armies that roamed this area two thousand years ago.    

Umm Qais - Gadara

Umm Qais - Gadara

After our stop at Umm Qais we circled through the rolling Jordanian countryside.  The valley’s were lush and green and supplied truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables to the people of Jordan.  They also export produce to Iraq from these farms.  Along the way we passed an occasional Bedouin camp.  The small camps typically consisted of tents and make-shift huts constructed of tin and scrap lumber.  Donkeys, camels, sheep and goats grazed in the open fields nearby.  The Bedouin’s are the last nomad herdsmen of the desert hanging on to a way of life that goes back to the dawn of civilization.  As the populations of Jordan, Israel and Egypt grow and fill in open areas, the Bedouin’s are slowly abandoning the nomad life and blending into society.  

Camel following us from a Bedouin camp

Camel following us from a Bedouin camp

View from atop Ajlun Castle

View from atop Ajlun Castle

The next stop was Ajlun Castle, a huge Muslim fortress erected on a small mountain to fend off the Crusaders.  Izz al-Din Usama, a Muslim commander and nephew of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi  (Saladin), built the structure in 1184-1185 AD.  Inside the walls of the castle was a significant supply of large rounded stones, some weighing over 100 pounds.  This was the remainder of the ammunition used by the old catapults.  Ajlun castle was used in Mamluk battles against the Mongols in the 1200’s and in later Ottoman battles.   

The streets of Jerash

The streets of Jerash

Our final stop was Jerash, the Roman city of Gerasa.  Archeological excavations indicate Jerash was inhabited as early as 3,000 BC.  This large city has a number of impressive ruins including sections of the old wall, Hadrian’s Arch, a large hippodrome, two immense temples (to Zeus and Artemis), an oval Forum surrounded by Corinthian columns, a long colonnaded street, two theaters and several small temples.  Since Roman times several Byzantine churches were built in Jerash and their ruins are mixed in among the Roman ruins.  Jerash is one of the largest sites of Roman ruins anywhere, comparable in size to Ephesus in Turkey.   

The ruins of Jerash

The ruins of Jerash

After a long day of hiking through amazing antiquities we were ready for some exciting food.  Our visit to a Lebanese restaurant did not disappoint.  We decided to skip the hubbly-bubbly, the community hookah water pipe with hoses.  Our meal included delicacies like tabbouleh (a salad with ground wheat, parsley, fresh mint, tomatoes, onions, olive oil, etc.) hommos bithineh (mashed chick peas in ground sesame), falafel, grilled shrimp and other treats with names that escape memory.  Mmmmm!  A great end to a long day.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 7:58 pm

    Did you get to ride a camel while you were there? The ruins are awesome!!!! It never fails to amaze me what people were able to build an accomplish. I look at what is being built nowadays, but we have machines, computers, and tons of help along the way. It is so crazy to me that this was done by hand, it always puts me in a quite state of wonder/awe. I am sure it was so much better walking through this in person, but your pictures give a pretty good idea 😉


    • May 26, 2010 11:43 am

      We did not ride a camel while we were Jordan. We did ride one while in Egypt. I really like camels… they are so calm. They are not as attractive as a horse, but I can see how someone could become very attached to their camel. I must say, Jordan is a well kept secret. Israel and Egypt seem to be very popular destinations for tourism and, after visiting all three locations, I highly recomment this area.

  2. June 3, 2010 12:29 pm

    Hello, my family and I lived in Jerash in the early 80’s. My husband worked on the King Talal Dam. I loved living in Jordan. I am so grateful that Queen Noor was doing such good work, and the people loved her. She often did not wear a head scarf, and was tall and blonde. SinceI was tall and blonde and when we were there, (Jerash) it was a small village, so my children and I were quite noticable.The people of Jerash treated us so kind and I remember living there with fond memories and a soft spot in my heart for the Jordanian people.

    • June 3, 2010 8:05 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We found that the people of Jordan were very gracious and respectful. Our visit was wonderful and the people were a part of that experience.

  3. January 1, 2013 12:18 pm

    wonderful photography. I would love to visit this region someday…thank you for bringing some of it to us.

    • January 2, 2013 2:14 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you had wonderful Christmas and New Years.

      The people in Jordan were fascinating. Many spoke English so it was conducive for conversation. Jordan is filled amazing sites. We were within a half mile of Syria in the north… we ventured east and crossed the desert to within 20 some miles of Saudi Arabia and we travelled to Petra in the south. The foods, the architecture, the history… Jordan was a feast. There is so much there it is good to do some reading prior to a trip so you know more about the area so you can chose the things to are meaningful to you.

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