The Riches of Jordan Travelers Find a Wealth of History and a Touch of the Exotic in This Fabled Nation in the Heart of the Middle East

By Wells, Judy | The Florida Times Union, March 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Riches of Jordan Travelers Find a Wealth of History and a Touch of the Exotic in This Fabled Nation in the Heart of the Middle East


Wells, Judy, The Florida Times Union


AMMAN, Jordan -- "Welcome to Jordan."

Few of the passengers arriving on the last flight of the night

into Amman's Queen Alia International Airport bother to read the

overhead greeting sign. They grumble as they pay one more entry

tax in another currency at yet another exchange rate. Passports

stamped, the bleary-eyed travelers straggle on to the next

hurdle, immigration.

"Wait, madam, you must come back," the tax man orders one of

the passengers, who immediately fears the worst.

He spends 15 minutes explaining how the entry tax has been

overpaid, stubbornly insisting she take back her dinars.

Welcome to Jordan.

Outside, surrounded by suitcases, two American women shiver in

the dark night. The chill of fall has arrived, but the hotel's

promised shuttle bus has not.

"You can call them," a passerby suggests. "Here, I'll write

down the number for you."

He pauses.

"Nevermind," the stranger says. "I will go call them for you."

Welcome to Jordan.

Fabled Bedouin hospitality imbues city dwellers and villagers

alike in this off-the-tourist-path country.

Cairo attracts the antiquarian and art historian. Jerusalem

beckons Biblical scholars and the devout. Few, however, make

Jordan their primary destination. But travelers will find much

to see and do.

All roads invariably begin at Amman.

The land around the capital has been settled for more than nine

millennia. Bronze Age settlements abound in the city referred to

as Rabbath-Ammon in the Old Testament, as Ishtar by the Hellenes

and as Philadelphia by the Romans and Byzantines.

The Citadel on Jebel Al Qala (Al Qala Hill) is a perfect

introduction to the city. It offers incomparable views, Roman

columns, a Byzantine church, cisterns and the Archaeological

Museum, which is home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In Amman's center, the Roman-era odeon, or music hall, and the

5,000-seat amphitheater are well-preserved and still used for

cultural events.

Preserved, too, is the good life in this cosmopolitan city

where elegant embassies are frequently dwarfed by single family

villas.

Jordan's stability is remarkable in light of Middle Eastern

turmoil since the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was established in

1950. The country experienced an economic and real estate boom

as money from neighboring countries was transferred there after

the Gulf War, according to Jordanian-born guide Mahmoud Salameh.

Wherever you go in Amman, guides and caretakers are inspired by

your interest, like the key-keeper at the impressive King

Abdullah Mosque, named for King Hussein's grandfather and

completed in 1982. Not only did he open the central mosque for

our group one dark, drizzly dusk, he took us through the

labyrinth of passages to the royal chapel where King Hussein,

Queen Noor and their staff wait before prayer services and

addresses to the Islamic Parliament across the street.

After insisting we take photographs of ourselves seated in the

king's chair, he took us by tunnel into the Parliament chambers,

where 400 delegates debate Islamic matters in four languages.

Welcome to Jordan.

Because the country is about the size of Indiana or Virginia,

most major sites are within a day's drive of Amman.

Forty-eight kilometers north of Amman is Jerash, considered the

world's finest example of a 2,000-year-old Roman provincial

city.

To the east of Amman are the desert palaces, hunting lodges,

baths, fortresses and meeting places of the Ummayed Caliphs,

leaders of the Arabic peoples who brought Islam to Jordan.

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