More Jordan links
The Madaba Plateau is probably the oldest settled part of Jordan. It is very fertile as you can see, and was a centre of Christianity for hundreds of years. There are many churches and ruins of churches in the region, and a number of them had relics or mosaics, some of which have been moved to the Museum at Madaba.
This is the "Moab" of the Bible, where Ruth went with her mother in law Naomi, after the death of her husband. You can imagine her gleaning in the fields there. It was, and still is, a rich agricultural area.
The sights here are relatively minor, but if you have the time some are very interesting . If you are without a car, most of them require a fair bit of walking or hitch-hiking unless you are prepared to pay for a taxi. Since most people spend only a week or less in Jordan, they would really not have the time to linger. But if you are one of the lucky ones who can, here are a few notes on what there is. Most of these sites can at least be approached by buses from Madaba.
The spa of the Janna resort lies about 30 kms south of Madaba not far from the Kings' Highway. This is a very attractive spot for bathing in the hot springs, or just rambling around in the shady countryside. The bathing possibilities range from splashing under the waterfalls, to soaking in hot springs or less hot springs. The larger pools are popular, but there are small or even tiny ones if you wander around a bit. There is also a swimming pool. Se their website at http://www.jannaspa.com/
The spa has been completely done over, and is now very attractive. It has a new name : Janna Paradise. Entrance costs normally 10JD, and you get a soft drink and sandwich thrown in. This is a very popular place for a family outing on Fridays, better to avoid it then if you want to be quiet. Buses run to the village of Ma'in from Madaba, which is over 20kms short of the spa; you pretty well have to take a taxi to get there.
This is a new complex of restaurant and geological museum, high above the Dead Sea and between Hammamet Ma'in and Madaba. The museum is run by the RSCN, and has some fascinating information about the geology and the geological history of the surrounding area. As the name suggests it has a magnificent view of the Dead Sea and the hills beyond it. Watching the sunset from here is a wonderful experience, even if you just sit on a wall nearby. The restaurant is not cheap, but it is a very good place to treat yourself to coffee and/or an ice cream if you have a car. Be sure to reserve a table if you are planning to dine there: even if it seems empty during the day, it is often crowded in the evening and can be completely booked out on Fridays.
No public transport goes anywhere near it, but it is possible to include it in an excursion to the Dead Sea itself: a new road has been built to give access from the Highway below, with a connecting spur to the road on the crest to Madaba and Hammamet Ma'in.
To my great regret I found it impossible to get a good photo of the view. Every time I have been there the hills opposite the Dead Sea have been wrapped in haze and the Dead Sea - almost vertically below, it seems - never comes out properly. I haven't given up!
Mukawir is the ancient Machaerus, the citadel of Herod the Great, and the place of execution of John the Baptist. During the Jewish Revolt of 66AD, the rebels seized the fortress from the Romans and held it for seven years. This was during the same revolt that saw the mass suicide of the defenders of Masada. In Machaerus, the Romans applied their standard operating practice against rebels, and massacred or enslaved the population, razed all buildings and laid waste to the agricultural land to discourage any attempt at resettlement.
Today it is a marvellous, if challenging, trek to climb to the ruins of the citadel; few tourists go there and the view from the top is magnificent. The oldest mosaic discovered in Jordan was found in the baths there and is now displayed in Madaba Museum. You can still see the columns of the remains of Herod's palace.
It is also the centre of the Bani Hamida weaving project (see Bedouin Weaving) and the workshops are open to visitors, even if you are "just looking".
Mukawir is some 30 kms south and west of Madaba, overlooking the Dead Sea. Buses run from Madaba to the village, the citadel is some 2kms further on.
Um Al Rasas (pronounced "Um Ar Rasas" and often spelt this way) has been identified as the site of a Roman garrison town called Kastron Mefaa, which subsequently became a prosperous city during the Byzantine/Omayed period. A very important mosaic was discovered in the Church of St Stephen there, which dates to 785AD or well after the Moslem religion was established in the Middle East. The mosaic depicts beautiful scenes of hunting, agricultural and pastoral life surrounded by a geographical border showing cities of Jordan, Palestine and of Egypt. Sadly much of the centre of the mosaic was destroyed during the iconoclastic period, but the cities remain. This mosaic remains under cover in the remains of the church.
The names of the "benefactors" (the people who paid for this mosaic) are given; they all seem to be local people, which again argues for a highly prosperous region. A work of art like this one doesn't come cheap!
Besides the church of St Stephen, this site also includes a whole village and a number of other churches. Until recently it was largely occupied by the Army, but has now been released and will be opened to the public in its entirely some time in 2008.
Um Ar Rasas is now a small village, tucked away between the Kings' Highway and the Desert Highway. A few buses run there from Madaba, the ruins and the mosaic are off the main road, you can walk there on a track running from the village. The remains of a square tower are to be seen there, it is believed that this was used by an ascetic retiring from the world. Presumably the access will be improved, possibly the transport situation will be also, but I'm not holding my breath!
Don't confuse this with the "Desert Highway" which is the main north-south highway nowadays in Jordan. The Kings' Highway is a very spectacular route which was the original north-south road from Biblical times until recently; today it is largely unused by through traffic which takes the Desert Highway. The Kings' Highway is neither cost nor time friendly for traffic, and unsurprisingly, there is no public transport that runs for all of its length; even the half dozen successive local buses that cover it now have a gap at Wadi Mujib. There have been many improvements to it over the last few years, and although it remains a twisting mountainous road, the surface is better and it is a little bit wider.
If you want to drive it, and it is well worth the effort, then you must use a rental car or the bus that runs fairly regularly in season from Madaba (qv). Hitching is also a possibility, but you should be prepared to ride in several cars. If you do drive it, allow a whole day, especially if you stop to visit the various sites on the way : Hamamet Ma'in, the castle at Kerak, Wadi Mujib and Wadi Hasa and Dana. This is quite a difficult drive; if you cannot share the driving, try to schedule a less arduous day afterwards. Note that in bad weather, high winds, rain or snow, the Kings' Highway becomes dangerous, and is usually closed.
Many of the canyons of the Kings' Highway can be visited by canyoning enthusiasts - see the web page on "Canyoning in Jordan". In particular Wadi Mujib is one of the Nature Reserves of Jordan with a highly organised (and popular) trekking programme.
The top entrance to the Nature Reserve of Wadi Mujib lies just off the Kings' Highway at Faq'a. Turn to the right (west) after Ariha, that is after you have passed the canyon shown above, at a village called Al Qasr. In theory you are about 70lkms from Madaba at this point and perhaps 10/12kms from Kerak. The other entrance to the Reserve is on the Dead Sea Highway.
There are some more photos of Wadi Mujib on the Photo Gallery pages.