Starting in Jerash
The view from our window wasn’t much more attractive when morning came, but we were to discover, that’s how Amman looks. It’s a limestone city, built on seven hills (extraodinarily steep in places) and it has a surprisingly uniform appearance throughout the urban area. I’m not sufficiently familiar with any other cities in the region to compare it with, but for now, I feel that I’d recognise Amman immediately from a city landscape photograph.
The spectacular view to be going on with - another one will come along soon - is the flower display in the hotel lobby which is made up of individual blooms each in a test tube, arranged in a floor to (very lofty) ceiling structure. Wow.
Jordan has always been a tourist destination but we’ve noticed it featuring on several “hot” lists for 2019 and the big name hotel brands are building fast. Our hotel - the Four Seasons - is only a few months old and we notice a Ritz Carlton being built across the road and a relatively new Fairmont over the way too.
After a hearty middle-eastern flavoured breakfast (falafel, hummus, za’atar croissants!) we met driver Nabil and guide Mo and were off, heading along a modern highway out of the city and passing a variety of colourful citrus and vegetable stands along the way. Huge pomegranates were being arranged in careful structures by the side of the road too though we were passing them too fast to get a decent picture.
We were on our way to Jerash, a significant Greco-Roman city where the ruins are impressive and accessible. But it’s a Jordanian tradition to invite a new friend for coffee and so Mo and Nabil suggested we take a break along the way and stop by the roadside to enjoy the customary routine.
Cheers! It was hot, sweet and very strong - but rather delicious and after a bit of guessing Mo confirmed that yes, there was cardamom in there too. Thankfully, he also advised that it was ok to leave the inch of “mud” in the bottom of the cup just as I was wondering how far we were expected to go!
Whilst we enjoyed the view and the slight hint of sunshine that was beginning to shine, a small drama was unfolding across the road.
The driver of a small pickup truck had realised that the tailgate had come open though thankfully, the cow he was transporting hadn’t noticed and therefore had not made a bid for escape. But whilst he was busy fixing the loose catch, it was time for us to jump back in our vehicle and continue on our journey to Jerash.
Whilst Mo bought our tickets for the archaeological site, we surveyed the souvenirs. Hmmm.
The spectacle started well before the entrance gate, though, as the arch of Hadrian is situated just beside the main road to the city and it proved to be an appetiser for the main event to come.
Whilst the restoration has been ongoing for many years, there remains a great deal still to do. It’s right up my street though, because I love to see these heaps of beautifully adorned stones by the side of the footpath, fragments of a grand structure awaiting attention.
Once through the gate, we began by taking a look at the hippodrome, immediately making the comparison with another such structure we’ve visited previously.
In common with that trip, I took far too many photographs to post here and so I’ll be brief for the moment and find a better way to share the experience once I’m home.
So for now, imagine the lovely scent of this juniper hedge then. Mo said that the tonic tree was nearby too, but we think he was joking ;-)
Because over the way was a peppercorn tree!
We loved the south theatre, which had been well restored and reputedly seats 5000 people - at a squeeze, Mo added.
I don’t think an audience of any size could be seated “comfortably”, do you?
Acoustically speaking, however, this theatre was spectacular. Each of us, in turn, stood to the side of that arch-shaped stone and addressed the non-existent audience. Each of us in turn said “Hello” or similar before moving to stand on that sweet spot and say “He - WOW!” as the sound of our voice boomed around the theatre so effectively that we couldn’t believe what we heard. Thankfully, the bunch of musicians, one of whom was playing Scotland the Brave on a set of bagpipes had moved on by then!
I could go on with countless pictures of wonderfully straight lines of columns lining the main Jerash thoroughfares, of the Agora with the cute carvings that conveyed the message all these years later that this had been a butchers shop and of more heaps of beautifully carved stones arranged in regular order along a rutted stone street.
Instead, I’ll share just two pictures from the Jerash museum, the first of which is this finely carved reef knot on a stone urn. Fabulous, isn’t it?
The other is of this small collection of - new to us - lachrymatories - small Roman vessels made to capture and contain the tears of those mourning a loved one. I found the whole concept of those rather touching, or tragic perhaps?
Time to return to Amman for a late lunch then, through rather heavy traffic and with clear evidence of citrus season on the streets there.
We enjoyed lunch at Tawaheen ah Hawa where the mezze kept on coming and every plate tasted delicous, regardless of whether we knew what we were eating or not.
Before we’d finished the mezze, in came the meat: shish kebab, lamb and chicken. Delicious morsels of well cooked meat, washed down with those vivid green, but deliciously refreshing mint-lemon drinks. Jordanian food is effectively Lebanese food, so all those Ottolenghi favourites whose names we couldn’t remember were there.
At last, the table was cleared and we sighed…as a plate of sweets was brought by our smiling waiter. Of course, we couldn’t resist, but then neither could we finish them!
The temperature had dropped a few degrees by the time we reached our next stop, the Citadel. Situated high on one of Amman’s hills, a chill wind was blowing and we made hasty progress through the site towards the museum.
A shame really, but we made sure we saw the main highlights before taking refuge indoors.
The museum here was actually a rather dusty collection of antiquities and so although there were two or possibly three of the oldest man-made representations of people in the world, our attention was waning.
So my attention was drawn to this little collection of “rosette buttons” - yes, beautifully made button fastenings from the 2nd century. Why did I think the concept of button fastening didn’t occur until much later than that? (forgive the rhetorical question!)
These colourful glass and stone beads were calling me too, lit from above and further highlighted by the mirror beneath them. But we were ready to return to meet up with Mo and so we called our thanks to the museum staff, spotting him sitting behind his desk, as close as he could get to a five-bar electric fire toasting his feet!
Driving back through the city to our hotel, the weather had closed in and it was raining steadily. any plans to wander through the souk were abandoned in favour of a slightly early finish and having made plans to meet Mo and Nabil tomorrow for our journey along the Kings Highway, we waved goodbye and made our way through the extensive security operation to get back into the hotel.
I decided to make use of my extra hour in the pool, but quickly rethought my intention to swim outdoors once I saw the beautiful indoor pool.
Not quite Cotswold Leisure Centre, but I did my best…