Temples, Castles, and Mosaics

Touring Jordan by car, May 2006





The yellow GPS tracks show were we went in Jordan.


By car and bus we drove 1540 mi; by bike we rode 118 mi.


We started by visiting Umm Qais, Ajloun, and Jerash. Then we saw the desert castles Harrana, Azrac, and Amra and after that Umm Rasas.


We then went on the 8 -day biking tour.


After biking, we went with the same guide as before the biking trip and went back to Aqaba, saw Dana and Karak on the way and finally finished with seeing Amman.








Looking north from Umm Qais, you can see the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) on the left. Israel, Jordan and Syria all come together in that valley.







Umm Qais then called Gadara was one of the most brilliant Greco-Roman cities.


According to Mathew 8:24-34, it was here where Jesus cast out the devil from two demoniacs into a herd of pigs.







The city reached its peak in the 2nd century CE and was compared with Athens, which testifies to the city’s status as a creative center of Hellenism in the ancient Near East.




Ajloun castle looks like a Crusader castle but is a 12th century example of Islamic architecture. It was built by a nephew of Saladin as a defense against the crusaders.


Two years after it was finished the Crusaders were finished too (until the Crusades started again a few years ago).








From the castle one has a good (telephoto) view of a present-day castle: one of the palaces of King Abdullah of Jordan.











Inside Ajloun castle.






On our way to Jerash we stopped and took another picture of Ajloun castle.


During the Mamluk rule, the castle was one of a network of beacons and pigeon posts that allowed messages to be transmitted from Damascus to Cairo in just 12 hours.








Jerash (called Gerasa by the Romans) is one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture outside of Italy. Hadrian’s Arch on the right was built to commemorate the emperor’s visit in 129 CE.







The hippodrome could seat 15000 spectators to watch chariot races and other spectator sports.


Note all of the columns in the background…







This picture gives an impression of the extent of the site. In the foreground is an oval plaza surrounded by 1st century CE Ionic columns.








This theater was originally built in 165 CE and served for city council meetings as well as theatrical performances. It was enlarged in 235 CE to its present size.






Artemis was the patron goddess of Gerasa and this was her temple. Eleven of the twelve Corinthian front columns are still standing.








Still paved with the original stones – the ruts worn by the chariot wheels visible – this 2400’ long street was the focal point of Gerasa.



The prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali was deposed as caliph by the Umayyad Mu’awiya in 661 CE (beginning of schism in Islam with the Shi’ite movement, from Shi’atu Ali, the ‘party of Ali’). The Umayyads (661-750 CE) were the first Islamic dynasty. They presided over a tremendous expansion of the Muslim world: to North Africa, Spain, and Central Asia. They stood for a fusion of styles from which a truly Islamic art was forged. The Dome of the



Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque in Damascus paved the way for later developments in Islamic art. A third example of their creativity is the so-called desert castles like Harrana (or Kharana) above or Amra on the left. While the purpose of Harana is not entirely clear, Amra on the left – a UNESCO World Heritage site – was a desert retreat bath house and hunting pavilion. It was probably built by Caliph Walid I (700-715) builder of the Great Mosque in Damascus.



The real attraction of Amra is extensive wall paintings which represent the formative stage in the development of Islamic art. Figures and even erotic scenes are displayed, showing late Hellenistic and Persian influences. The painting on the right reminded us of early paintings by Picasso. These are dancing girls.









Outside Amra, Yvonne and our guide Khaled enjoy some hot mint tea in a Bedouin tent.





Another ‘desert castle’ is Azrac constructed from basalt stones. Note the massive basalt door (behind Yvonne) which still swings on its own hinges.


Azrac was also the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arabian revolt.








Ten miles west of Amman lies a Hellenistic palace called Qasr al-Abd. It was built in the late 3rd century BCE.












There are beautiful lion carvings on Qasr al-Abd.






Umm Rasas is a site with a long history. It’s mentioned in the Bible and was an important frontier station in classical times. Two churches were built in the 6th century CE with magnificent mosaic floors.


There is much to be excavated here.










On the left is a mosaic of the HAГІА ПωΛІС (Holy City: Jerusalem). Unfortunately, images showing people and animals were obliterated by iconoclasts.







With one exception: this figure depicting a season was hidden under the pulpit and, therefore, not destroyed. Note the destruction of the animal image top left.