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A living museum: Mt. Nemo, Bethany, Madaba and the Roman city of Jerash

© By Mike Keenan

  Jordan is a living museum, ten days there, an incredible learning experience. We visited Bethany beyond the Jordan were Jesus was baptized by John who existed on wild honey and locusts, the site maintained in a relatively simple state and where Tony Blair recently baptized his son. A few metres across the river, sits an Israeli checkpoint.
     We climbed Mount Nemo where Moses, the great Hebrew prophet, viewed the Promised Land just beyond the Jordan River then succumbed to death without realizing his goal. Pope John Paul II preached here over a panorama that encompassed the Jordan River Valley, Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem. A serpentine cross symbolizes the brass serpent that God commanded Moses to fashion to help cure his followers from their afflictions, a symbol that medicine probably co-opted.
     We passed by reputed caves where Lot escaped the "fire and brimstone" that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and at the Dead Sea, I merrily floated on the water and viewed pillars of salt, one of which might have been Lot's wife.
     At Madaba, I viewed the oldest Byzantine mosaic map of the Middle East on the floor of St. George's Greek Orthodox Church.
     We visited the Muslim and Crusader castles of Ajloun and Kerak with their stone-vaulted halls and intricate passageways some filled with huge round rocks thrust from catapults; however, most castles were destroyed by the Turks prior to the British taking over during WWII. On the King's Highway, I observed camel crossing signs and at Aqaba, I swam in the Red Sea and enjoyed remarkable coral formations through a glass-bottomed boat.
     And then there was spectacular Jerash, a well-preserved Roman city north of Amman, where William Wyler could easily have filmed his 1959 movie, Ben- Hur. Complete with paved and colonnaded streets, grand temples and Byzantine mosaic-floored churches, the first monument I notice is Hadrian's Arch and then the Hippodrome, 244 metres long, scene of ancient sporting festivals that seats 15,000, now where they produce RACE, the Roman Army and Chariots Experience.
     I sit in the stands as a toga-clad "emperor" (with a British accent) describes the events before us. We are treated to several robust gladiatorial contests involving the complete range of weaponry and allowed to turn thumbs up or down for the final kill. There are chariot races around a long wooden divider but not as thrilling as that conducted between Charlton Heston and his arch rival, Messala, played by Stephen Boyd. A Roman legion marches into formation in front of us, and at the completion, we are encouraged to climb down from the stands for pictures. Of course, I oblige and in the spirit of the moment, engage a few gladiators, employing my trusty cane. They let me win, and I'm off to see the rest of the ruins.
     At the South Theatre seating 3,000, I notice that the seats and sections are actually marked with Greek symbols and here, we encounter a strange sight and sound, Arabs playing bagpipes and drums. Scots won't like this, but Arabs claim that the 'pipes' originated here.
     One could spend an entire day here, every angle a photo opportunity. The huge cobblestones are remarkable for one can clearly make out ruts, worn down from countless chariot wheels.
     Would I return to Jordan? You bet. It's safe; the people are incredibly friendly, so much so that one imagines he is in Newfoundland. And as for western ladies, the business about clothes is a myth. Ibrahim, my guide, maintains that ladies should wear their western clothes without fear of offence. In fact, you observe a complete array of fashion tastes here from total coverage to shorts and t-shirts. At hotels, the bikinis are skimpy. And when you enter markets or stores, a universal "welcome" greets you, sometimes with spontaneous offers of tea.
     The key word to memorize here is "shukran" or thank you.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan: Mt. Nemo cross, Madaba mosaic map, Kerak, a Crusader castle, RACE - bugler, chariots and legion, bagpiper, colonnaded street with chariot wheel ruts.

If you go
This Destination
as seen on
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/tourism1.html
King Abdullah II: http://www.kingabdullah.jo/homepage.php
RACE: roman Army & Chariot Experience: http://www.jerashchariots.com/
Royal Jordanian Airlines: http://www.rja.com.jo/default.aspx
Visit Jordan: http://www.visitjordan.com
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerash,_Jordan
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Jerash

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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