The following itinerary describes daily activities which may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours and flight schedules etc. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Amman, Jordan - 6 nights
Day 1: Thursday 17 March, Arrive Amman
- Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Welcome Meeting
- Roman Theatre of Amman
- Short coach orientation tour and walk through downtown Amman
- Light Dinner at Hashem Restaurant
Participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive at Amman airport in the morning. After clearing immigration and customs we transfer by private coach to the W Hotel, a modern luxury hotel located in the heart of the Abdali district, convenient to shops, restaurants and cafés.
Following some time at leisure to relax after your flight and a short welcome meeting, we begin our program with a visit to the beautifully preserved 2nd-century AD Roman theatre of Amman, or Philadelphia, as it was known to its Roman and Greek-speaking inhabitants. Philadelphia was an integral unit of the ‘Decapolis’, an informal league of ten Greek-speaking cities of the eastern Roman Empire that were linked by geography, culture and language. Philadelphia’s theatre was constructed during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 AD), seating 6000 citizens and orientated north to protect theatregoers from the glare of the harsh desert sun.
We end our day with a short coach tour of the city, and a walk through downtown Amman, finishing at the famous Hashem Restaurant for a light dinner of falafel, hummus, Arabic bread, mint tea and Arabic sweets. (Overnight Amman) D
Day 2: Friday 18 March, Amman – Desert Fortresses – Amman
- Azraq Wetland Reserve: Bird-watching & Marsh Trail
- Qasr Azraq
- Qasr Amra
- Qasr Kharana
- Welcome Dinner at the Fakhr El-Din Restaurant
We depart early this morning for a visit to the Azraq Wetland Reserve, run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. The easy Marsh Trail boardwalks lead us through dry and wet areas to various viewing platforms overlooking the marshland where we may observe migratory birds and perhaps catch a glimpse of the water buffalo.
The remainder of the day is devoted to an exploration of lovely Umayyad fortified palaces constructed within the desert environs of Amman. These Umayyad palaces probably were inspired by Roman and Byzantine fortresses and villas, but functioned in a roughly similar way to medieval European castles, as they combined agricultural activity with the imperial domination of local Bedouin tribes. They not only functioned as agricultural and political centres but also as hunting lodges and as elegant resting places for Umayyad dignitaries travelling their domains.
We head into the desert to visit Qasr Azraq, which is constructed from the region’s black basalt. It dominates a local oasis and was watered by four strategically located, abundant springs. The fortress was probably founded during the 2nd century BC by the Romans, and was ultimately used by T.E. Lawrence as his military base during the winter of 1917-18.
After lunch we continue to Qasr Amra, a small and enigmatic foundation consisting primarily of an audience hall and a series of hamams, or bathing rooms. Qasr Amra’s audience hall is decorated with startling frescoes of hunting parties, beautiful women and contemporary rulers paying homage to the Umayyads; astronomical and astrological designs decorate a dome in a hamam.
Our final visit is to Qasr Kharana, built in the style of a small square Byzantine border fortress. Its primary purpose was probably military, but it could also have been a political and agricultural centre, a hunting lodge and a place of respite.
This evening we dine at the Fakhr El-Din Restaurant, one of the leading Lebanese restaurants in Amman, located in a house once owned by Jordan’s first Prime Minister, Mr Fawzi Al-Mulki. (Overnight Amman) BLD
Day 3: Saturday 19 March, Amman – Iraq El-Amir – Al-Salt – Amman
- Qasr Al-Abd (Hellenistic palace complex)
- Iraq El-Amir Women Cooperative Society
- Beit Abu Jaber (Historic Old Salt Museum)
- Walking tour of Al-Salt, including Souq Hammam
- Salt Archaeological Museum
The gentle hills which roll westward from Amman down to the Jordan Valley through the historic Balqa region – of which the graceful old town of Salt is capital – are laced with lush valleys and dotted with quiet, pleasant towns such as Wadi Seer and Fuheis.
Near Wadi Seer we visit one of the few examples of Hellenistic architecture surviving in Jordan – the impressive white palace of Qasr al-Abd. We also visit the women’s cooperative, which makes paper and practises other crafts in the nearby 19th century stone village of Iraq El-Amir.
For many centuries, Al-Salt was the only settlement of any size in Transjordan. A regional capital under the Ottomans, the town – whose name derives from the ancient Greek santos, (‘thick forest’) – came into its own in the late 19th century, when merchants from Nablus arrived to expand their trading base east of the river. Into what was then a peasant village of shacks boxed between precipitous hills, the merchants brought sophisticated architects and masons to work with the honey-coloured local limestone; buildings were put up in the ornate Nablusi style to serve both as grand residences and as merchandise centres. With open trade to and from Palestine, Salt’s boom continued into the 1920s; the new Emirate of Transjordan, precursor of the Kingdom, was formally proclaimed in 1921 in the town’s main square, but by then the railway from Damascus had reached nearby Amman and Emir Abdullah chose better-connected Amman to be his capital. As quickly as Salt had flourished, it went into decline: superseded by Amman, it was cut off by war in 1948 from its traditional trade outlet to the Mediterranean at Haifa, then again in 1967 from its Palestinian twin, Nablus.
As a consequence, Salt has seen none of the headlong modernisation that has so completely changed the capital: much of its Ottoman architecture has survived. We shall stroll up Dayr Street and through the crowded central streets to the graceful arched façade of the Abu Jaber House, one of the city’s most beautiful residences, built over 20 years from 1886 using local sandstone, Belgian stained glass, Italian marble and hand-painted Jerusalem tiles. Newly restored, it is now the home of the Historic Old Salt Museum, with interesting displays presenting local history and trade. It offers splendid views from the top-floor frescoed salon and has a fine café.
From Al-Ain square, we enter narrow Hammam Street (the eponymous hamam was razed in the 1930s for lack of customers). It is lined with buildings dating from Salt’s golden age, including a wonderful old mosque. The street has Jordan’s oldest – and, some say, best – souk (Souk Hammam), a small market selling food and household goods that is full of atmosphere, wreathed in the aroma of spices and flanked by gorgeous honey stone Ottoman architecture.
At the end of Souk Hammam we reach the Salt Archeological Museum, housing a fascinating collection that includes a working model of a Mamluk sugar mill and a representation of a Neolithic dolmen landscape. The Ottoman-era building is equally interesting. Known as Beit Touqan, it was once the stately residence of the Touqan family (King Hussein’s third wife, Queen Alia, was a Touqan). (Overnight Amman) BL
Day 4: Sunday 20 March, Amman – Irbid – Umm Qais – Pella – Amman
- Dar es-Saraya Museum, Irbid
- Umm Qais: Graeco-Roman city of Gadara
- Ancient Pella
An early morning departure takes us to Irbid (ancient Arabella or Arbela), located 70 kms north of Amman on the northern ridge of the Gilead, a mountainous region east of the Jordan River. Here we visit the Dar es-Saraya Museum which is housed in a former Ottoman administrative building. Its collection, which explores Jordan civilization, contains significant material from archaeological sites in the north.
In the mid-morning we continue to Umm Qais, located in the north-west corner of Jordan on the borders of Israel and Syria. Perched high on a plateau, it overlooks the edge of the Jordan River valley, offering a panorama of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. Umm Qais is the site of ancient Gadara, a member of the Decapolis. The city is mentioned in the New Testament as the site where Jesus cast out demons and sent them into a herd of pigs, which then ran into the sea (Matthew 8:28-34). Since excavations began in 1974, archaeologists have uncovered many impressive remains, including a colonnaded street, a theatre, a mausoleum and a Byzantine church.
From Umm Qais we continue through the Jordan Valley to the ruins of the ancient city of Pella (Arabic: Taqabat Fahl), another of the ten cities of the Decapolis. Although not as spectacular as Jerash, Pella is particularly important to archaeologists as it reveals evidence of 6000 years of continuous settlement. In fact, it’s regarded as the most historically significant site in all Jordan. It centres on a large tell and is surrounded by fertile valleys that together comprise a rich watershed. (Overnight Amman) BL
Day 5: Monday 21 March, Amman
- Qasr Amman
- The Jordan Museum
- American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR)
We begin our day with a visit to the Umayyad Qasr Amman, or Citadel of Amman. Built on high ground at the centre of the old medieval city, the fortress constitutes a square audience hall with four iwans constructed in the Sasanian (Persian) style. Within the citadel is a small museum and from the fortress’s commanding heights we look down upon the modern city of Amman and the remnants of Roman Philadelphia.
We then drive to the Jordan Museum, recently expanded and modernised, with a collection covering 1.5 million years of human activity. The museum visit is designed to illustrate and contextualise the many cultural and archaeological sites we shall visit on our exploration of this fascinating country and includes some of the priceless Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered by a Palestinian shepherd in 1947.
We enjoy lunch in Amman before heading to the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), one of the most active archaeological and historical research bodies in the Middle East. Part of our private tour includes an examination of the famous Petra Scrolls, dated ca. 537 to 594 AD. The Petra scrolls vary in size from a single sheet listing stolen goods (P. Petra 6, L. 28 cm), to the exceptionally long P. Petra 2 (L. 8.5 m), an agreement concerned with inherited property. The cache of scrolls deals with real-estate transactions, legal disputes, contracts, division of property, marriages, dowries, and inheritance. The central figures of the archive are Theodoros, son of Obodianos, who was deacon and later archdeacon in Petra’s church, his extended family and social peers. The language of the scrolls indicates that the people of Petra at this time were speaking an early form of Arabic. (Overnight Amman) BL
Day 6: Tuesday 22 March, Amman – Jerash – Ajlun – Amman
- Graeco-Roman city of Jerash
- Ajlun Castle and Mosque
This morning we drive 40 kilometres north from Amman to another Graeco-Roman city of the Decapolis: Jerash was founded by the Seleucid Hellenistic Kings who took power in the Middle East and Central Asia after the death of Alexander the Great. It was incorporated into the expanding Roman Empire and with the other nine Greek-speaking cities of the Decapolis formed a buffer zone between Roman imperial dominions, the Nabataean Arab kingdom to the south, and the Parthians (Persians) to the east. After Trajan subjugated the Greek-speaking cities of the Middle East, and conquered the rebellious Jewish Kingdom and the wealthy mercantile Nabataean state, in the 2nd century AD, Jerash was made capital of the phenomenally wealthy Roman province of Syria.
The city’s famed prosperity developed from international trade based on exploitation of its local agricultural base and its role as centre of Imperial Roman government. The Emperor Hadrian resided in the city for a period and a great deal of construction was undertaken during his reign. Unlike Palmyra or Petra, Jerash did not preserve its pre-Roman character; the city plan is exclusively Roman, making Jerash one of the purest and most complete extant examples of Roman urban planning. Its most important architectural remains include a large triumphal arch dedicated to Hadrian’s visit in 129/130 AD, a large hippodrome, a colonnaded cardo (main street), an almost unique colonnaded oval forum and grand temples dedicated to Zeus and Artemis.
Following lunch in Jerash we drive further north to explore Ajlun Castle and Mosque. Izz al-Din Usama, a commander and nephew of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin), constructed Ajlun castle (1184-1185). He built it in response to attacks by crusaders from the Latin Kingdom of Transjordan who were based in the castles of Kerak and Belvoir. Ajlun Castle successfully dominated much of the Jordan Valley for the Ayyubid dynasty, controlling three key trade routes leading into the valley (Wadi Kufranjah, Wadi Rajeb and Wadi al-Yabes) and vital communication links between Damascus and Ayyubid dominions in the south. The citadel also protected rich iron mines at Ajlun, vital for the production of famed Damascene steel swords. The original square keep with walls protected by four corner towers and a fosse was extended by the Mamluk governor Aibak ibn Abdullah in 1214-15, but the citadel lost strategic importance with the eviction of crusader knights from the castle of Kerak. Like so many fortifications in the Middle East, Ajlun was partly destroyed by a Mongol assault (1260), but was repaired and rebuilt. The fortifications then continued in use as an Ottoman stronghold until the successful Arab revolt led by T.E. Lawrence in 1918.
In the late afternoon we return to Amman, where the evening is at leisure. (Overnight Amman) BL
Petra - 3 nights
Day 7: Wednesday 23 March, Amman – Mount Nebo – Madaba – Petra
- The Monastery of Sygha, Mount Nebo
- Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art & Restoration (MIMAR)
- Madaba Archaeological Park
- Mosaic Map, Greek Orthodox Church of St George
This morning we depart Amman to visit Mount Nebo and explore Madaba, a centre of early Christianity that now shelters a large Palestinian population. Madaba was home to a very substantial Christian community and today is the seat of an Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan. Behind Madaba rises Mount Nebo, with commanding views over the Dead Sea with Palestine and Israel beyond. Mount Nebo is also known as Jabal Musa (‘Moses’ Mountain’), because, according to legend, God granted Moses his dying wish to see the Promised Land by transporting him to its summit. To commemorate this legend, a 4th-century chapel was erected at Sygha on Mount Nebo’s highest crest, which was further extended during the 6th century AD. A later Byzantine monastery was constructed around the chapel and decorated with a series of detailed mosaic floors, including a vine of life and a cornucopia of animal life.
During 20th century building work in Madaba, a number of Roman and Byzantine churches were unearthed, all of which were brightly decorated with fabulous mosaics. These churches often incorporated the architecture of earlier Roman palatial structures and one of these, the so-called Hippolytus Hall, the vestibule of the Church of the Virgin, was built above the hall of a 6th-century AD Madaba mansion. A mosaic with a border of acanthus scrolls depicting hunting and pastoral scenes is framed by images of the four seasons at its corners. All of the early churches have been successfully preserved in the Madaba archaeological park.
Without doubt, the most famous mosaic in Madaba covers the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St George. This is an extraordinary 6th-century AD mosaic map of Palestine, vividly depicting the holy city of Jerusalem at its centre. Comprising two million individual pieces of brightly-coloured local stone, the mosaic also depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns, as far away as the Nile Delta.
While in Madaba we also visit MIMAR, the Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration. Originally set up as a school in 1992, its primary aim is to train Jordanian artists in the production and restoration of mosaics.
From Madaba we drive south along ancient trade routes to the ancient city of Petra, which with modern Maidan Salah in Saudi Arabia, was the joint capital of the Nabataean Kingdom. The Nabataeans were Semitic Arabic-speaking nomads who settled in towns during the 4th century BC and quickly developed a powerful mercantile kingdom controlling the phenomenally lucrative trade in frankincense and myrrh vital for religious practice in temples from the western Mediterranean to the highlands of modern Afghanistan. The Nabataeans combined commercial acumen with a remarkable understanding of hydraulic technology, enabling them to develop agriculture in a hostile landscape and make the desert bloom. At its height, the Nabataean state stretched as far north as Damascus but Roman expansion gradually eroded Nabataean borders until Petra itself was annexed to the Empire and went into decline. (Overnight Petra) BLD
Day 8: Thursday 24 March, Petra
Petra is located in a narrow valley flanked by spectacular cliffs that widens out to a broad desert floor. The streaked cliffs range in hue from sand through pink and rose to blood red. The city itself is nestled in this valley, but the Nabataeans carved a multitude of tomb chambers with monumental façades from the glowing rose cliffs above it. The spectacular beauty of these façades and their apparent antiquity led 19th-century Europeans to see Petra as a very ancient, mythic centre of civilisation, although its actual peak was reached during the Hellenistic period.
We enter Petra through a narrow winding canyon (Siq) with soaring sides that leads into the valley. The first tomb façade that we shall encounter is the sublime Khazna Fara’un, the Pharaoh’s Treasury, which suddenly appears after the final twist of the Siq. As we continue down into the valley we pass countless tomb chambers to reach the Romano-Nabataean city itself. Here we visit the amphitheatre, several royal Nabataean tombs and the mausoleum of Sextus Florentinus.
We also walk down the colonnaded main axis of Petra, visiting along the way the marketplace, the nymphaeum, the temple of Dushara, the principal Nabataean deity, the temple of the Winged Lions, and a Byzantine church with fine floor mosaics. (Overnight Petra) BLD
Day 9: Friday 25 March, Petra
- Optional climb to the rock-cut façade, Ad Deir (the Monastery)
- Little Petra (Siq al Barid)
- Neolithic site of Beidah
- Optional evening excursion: ‘Petra by night’
This morning there will be an optional walk up the wadi or narrow valley leading to the tomb chamber and façade known as ad-Deir (the Monastery). The ad-Deir is one of Petra’s most spectacular sites and commands a tremendous view across east Jordan. The climb involves over 900 steps and takes about 45 minutes each way.
In the afternoon we drive a short distance from the main archaeological site to ‘Little Petra’. Nabataean Little Petra, also known as Siq al-Barid (the ‘cold canyon’), is located north of Petra in the arid desert 1040 metres above sea level. Much smaller than Petra, it consists of three open areas connected by a narrow 450m long canyon. It was developed during the height of Nabataean power (1st c. AD) as a suburb of Petra and possibly also to accommodate wealthy visiting merchants. After Petra’s decline, it became a Bedouin camp for centuries. Little Petra remained known only to local Bedouin until the 1950s, when British archaeologist Diana Kirkbridge surveyed it.
Nearby we also visit the extremely important Neolithic site of Beidah. Archaeologists detected three periods of occupation here: the Natufian period in the 11th millennium BC, a Pre-Pottery Neolithic B village with masonry construction in the 7th millennium BC and a Nabataean period dating to the 1st or 2nd century BC.
In the evening there will be an optional walk (cost is approx. $25.00 USD pp), following a candle-lit path, through the Siq to the Khazna Fara’un, which may be viewed by the light of 1800 candles. (Overnight Petra) BLD
Wadi Rum - 1 night
Day 10: Saturday 26 March, Petra – Shobak Castle – Wadi Rum
- Da’ajaniya Roman Fort
- Shobak Castle
- Wadi Rum: Sunset Jeep Tour
The Limes Arabicus was a desert frontier of the Roman Empire, mostly in the province of Arabia Petraea. It ran northeast from the Gulf of Aqaba for about 1500 km, at its greatest extent, reaching northern Syria and forming part of the wider Roman limes system. It had several forts and watchtowers which served to protect the frontier against Arab raids and commercial lines from robbers. This morning we visit the Da’ajaniya Roman Fort which includes the remains of single-storeyed living quarters for troops and a great deal of stabling. Interestingly, many of the rooms still have their mangers surviving, possibly for horses, mules or donkeys, or even camels.
We then continue by coach to Shobak Castle, an early 12th-century crusader castle isolated in barren surroundings. It is perched on the side of a rocky, conical mountain at 1300m above sea level, looking down over plantations of fruit trees. Although it is not so well-preserved as Kerak Castle, its isolation creates a special atmosphere. Built in 1115, Shobak was originally called Krak de Montreal or Mons Regalis. It was the first of many fortifications constructed by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem to guard the road from Egypt to Damascus. It successfully resisted a number of sieges before it fell to Saladin’s troops in 1189.
Much of what remains of Shobak Castle consists of Mamluk additions, but there are also numerous original Crusader elements. At the northeast corner of the enceinte there is a keep inscribed with Quaranic verses in Kufic script, possibly dating to the time of Saladin. There are two churches within Shobak Castle’s walls. The first, near the entrance, consists of an apse, two smaller niches, and a baptistery. The second church, near the southeast corner of the enceinte (next to a Mamluk watchtower with more Kufic script), has a crusader cross carved in its east wall. Beneath this church are catacombs that contain Islamic tablets, Christian carvings, large round rocks used by catapults, and what is claimed to be Saladin’s throne.
From Shobak we drive to the extraordinary landscapes of Wadi Rum, a desert valley frequented by Lawrence of Arabia and later made famous through the glorious cinematography of David Lean’s 1962 film. Following a brief orientation at the Visitors Centre, 4WD jeeps drive us to our Wadi Rum camp.
We end our day with a sunset jeep tour to explore hidden valleys, red dunes, and petroglyphs scattered throughout the desert. At our luxury camp we will be treated to a Bedouin feast for dinner. (Overnight Wadi Rum Camp) BLD
Aqaba - 2 nights
Day 11: Sunday 27 March, Wadi Rum – Aqaba
- Wadi Rum: Desert Trekking
- Camel Riding, Wadi Rum
- Orientation tour of Aqaba, and Aqaba Region Archaeological Museum (subject to reopening in 2022)
This morning we make a desert trek through the Wadi Rum to view its beautiful rose sandstone mountains (jebels). Camels continue to be an important part of Bedouin life, there will be an optional 1-hour camel ride before we continue in T. E. Lawrence’s footsteps and drive to the port city of Aqaba on the Red Sea.
Following a leisurely lunch at the famous Royal Aqaba Yacht Club, we take a short orientation tour of the city. Famously captured by T. E. Lawrence and his Arab allies in a lightening raid on 6th July 1917, the defeat of Aqaba’s Ottoman garrison with virtually no losses energised Lawrence’s Arab allies and is the foundation stone in the edifice of the myth of “Lawrence of Arabia” in the West. We shall also visit the Aqaba Archaeological Museum, adjacent to the fort, that houses the collection of material uncovered at the nearby Bronze Age Tall Hujarat al-Ghuzlan settlement, as well as a collection of artefacts dating from the 7th to the early 12th centuries. (Overnight Aqaba) BL
Day 12: Monday 28 March, Aqaba – Pharaoh’s Island – Aqaba
- Cruise of the Red Sea: Snorkelling amongst the Coral Reefs & Saladin’s Citadel on Pharaoh’s Island
- Time at leisure
Today we enjoy a six-hour cruise of the Red Sea during which we visit the Aqaba Marine Park and the Crusader castle of Saladin located on Pharaoh’s Island, Egypt. Aqaba’s greatest asset is the Red Sea with fringing reef stretching for over 25km right down to the Saudi Arabian border. The Red Sea Marine Peace Park is known to be one of the most beautiful diving areas of the world due to the amazing combination of sea life, corals, water transparency and nice weather it offers year round. There are approximately 127 coral species found in the Gulf of Aqaba. During our relaxing cruise we visit the Aqaba Marine Park where we will have time to snorkel or swim amongst the coral. Interestingly, there are a number of Australians scientists undertaking research in this area to understand why, in contrast to the Great Barrier Reef, the coral species of the Gulf of Aqaba are particularly resilient to high temperatures.
During our cruise we also visit Saladin’s citadel on Pharaoh’s Island which is located in the northern Gulf of Aqaba approximately 200 metres east off the shore of Egypt’s eastern Sinai Peninsula. Although the site contains remnants of Byzantine-era buildings, Crusaders are believed to have built the original fort in the early 12th century during the reign of Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, to aid in defending one of the major routes between Cairo and Damascus. The Arab general and Islamic dynasty founder, Saladin, conquered the island and surrounding area in 1170-1171. Saladin ordered the Crusader fort to be consolidated and redeveloped; he left a garrison of men there. For about 150 years, it served an important strategic and symbolic role, until the nearby Crusades ended and the Mamluk governor of Aqaba moved his residence to the city on the shore. From the top of the citadel it is possible to see the countries of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list in 2003.
Following our cruise there will be some time at leisure to enjoy the facilities of our hotel. (Overnight Aqaba) BL
Dead Sea - 3 nights
Day 13: Tuesday 29 March, Aqaba – Kerak – Dead Sea
- Crusader Castle of Kerak
- Time at leisure
This morning we journey to the famous 12th-century crusader castle at Kerak. Initially constructed by Pagan, the butler of Fulk of Jerusalem during the 1140s to protect the eastern flanks of the Christian Kingdom of Outremer, Crac des Moabites (‘Karak in Moab’) is one of the largest of all the crusader castles in the Middle East, rivaling Crac des Chevaliers in Syria, for the strength, size and the completeness of its surviving architecture. The castle, which dominates the surrounding landscape, was expanded through the 12th and 13th century by local crusader ‘Lords of Oultrejordain’ (Lords of Transjordan). Besieged by Saladin after the Battle of Hattin in 1187, the castle held out for two long years before falling in 1189. Further expanded by Mamluk Sultans in the 13th century, it was only during the 19th century that Kerak finally lost its position as the dominant fortification in the region. As with Ajlun, Kerak was used by Ottoman forces until their expulsion in 1918.
In the afternoon we travel north to the Dead Sea where we check in to our luxury 5-star hotel. Situated on the edge of this famous salt lake, the hotel provides uninterrupted views across the sea towards the West Bank. There will be some time at leisure to enjoy a dip in the Dead Sea’s therapeutic saline waters. (Overnight Dead Sea) BLD
Day 14: Wednesday 30 March, Dead Sea – Umm ar-Rasas – Mukawir – Bani Hamida – Dead Sea
- Archaeological site of Umm ar-Rasas
- Mukawir (Machaerus)
- Bani Hamida Showroom
We depart the Dead Sea and drive east once more to the gloriously atmospheric and little visited archaeological site of Umm ar-Rasas. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004, most of the site, which began life as a Roman military camp and developed as a major provincial town in the 5th century AD, has not yet been excavated. Umm ar-Rasas contains remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties (3rd to 9th centuries AD). The old town has sixteen churches, most with well-preserved mosaic floors. Particularly noteworthy is the mosaic floor of the Church of Saint Stephen depicting a pictorial map of Roman and Byzantine towns in the region. Two square towers at Umm ar-Rasas are almost certainly the only remnants of stylite pillars, of ascetic monks who spent time in isolation atop a column or tower. Simeon Stylites of Antioch is probably the most famous practitioner of this once widespread Christian tradition in the Middle East.
From Um ar-Rasas we continue to the site of Mukawir (Machaerus), which we explore after a picnic lunch. Machaerus is a fortified hilltop palace located southeast of the mouth of the Jordan River on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. The Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer Flavius Josephus believed it to be where John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed. The fortress was originally built by a Hasmonean king, Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC) in around 90 BC. Its high, rocky location was difficult to access and invaders from the east could easily be spotted from its heights. It was also in line of sight of other Hasmonean (and later Herodian) citadels, so other fortresses could be signaled if danger appeared on the horizon. It was, however, destroyed by Pompey’s general Gabinius in 57 BC. Herod the Great rebuilt it in 30 BC as a military base to safeguard his territories east of the Jordan River. It was under his son, Herod Antipas (c. 4 BC-39 AD) that John the Baptist was purportedly imprisoned and beheaded here. It eventually came under Roman control, but Jewish rebels took it during the First Jewish Revolt (66 AD). The Roman legate Lucilius Bassus besieged and retook it in 72 AD. The fortress was torn down, leaving only its foundations intact.
Before returning to the Dead Sea, we visit the Bani Hamida Show Room. The Jordan River Foundation was founded by Queen Nour Al-Hussein, wife of the late King Talal. Queen Rania then took over this nonprofit organisation that aims to empower women and children and to improve the quality of life of all Jordanians. The Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project is one of the projects hosted by the Foundation. Based in Mukawir, the project works to promote bedouin handicrafts and to improve economic and social wellbeing of bedouin women and children. Bani Hamida handicrafts are displayed in its showroom. The Wadi Al Rayan Project is also hosted by the Jordan River Foundation. A group of 165 women involved in the project make baskets, mats, and furniture from local banana leaves and cattail reeds.
This evening is free for you to dine at leisure. Your hotel offers a number of different dining options. (Overnight Dead Sea) BL
Day 15: Thursday 31 March, Dead Sea – Mujib Reserve – Ghwar As-Safi – Dead Sea
- Optional visit to the Mujib Reserve: Ibex trail (3-4hrs, rated moderate)
- Lot’s Cave & Museum, Ghwar as-Safi
- Tawahin as-Sukkar (Sugar Mill), Ghwar as-Safi
- Farewell Dinner
Early this morning (8.30m) we begin with an optional walk along the Ibex trail in the Mujib Reserve. At 410 metres below sea level, the Mujib Nature Reserve is the lowest nature reserve on Earth. Its rugged and spectacular mountains border the Dead Sea coast and are dissected by several river-cut canyons. Mujib’s complex river system and all-year round water flow enable it to support a rich biodiversity. To date, over 300 species of plants, 10 species of carnivores and numerous species of resident and migratory birds have been recorded. Some of the mountain and valley areas are difficult to reach and offer safe havens for rare species of cats, mountain goats (Ibex) and other mountain animals.
The Ibex trail begins at the Visitor Center and follows the Dead Sea Highway before ascending into the Reserve. Diverging to the south, the trail runs parallel to the Dead Sea, which provides a startlingly blue backdrop for the entire hike. The hike then continues along a number of dry wadis to the Raddas Ranger Station, where you may see Nubian Ibex. It is also where the famous rock “statue” of Lot’s wife can be seen. After resting at the Station, the trail continues along a road for about one hour until reaching the Reserve entrance near the Visitor Centre.
Following lunch we visit Lot’s Cave and Museum near Ghwar as-Safi. The cave purportedly sheltered Lot and his daughters after they fled from the ill-fated cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A Byzantine monastery was built there, and recently a magnificent new museum. In addition to exploring the unique environmental and geological conditions that make the Dead Sea the lowest elevation on earth, the museum showcases the rich archaeological and cultural heritage of the diverse populations that have inhabited the shores of the Dead Sea over millennia. The collection includes 4500-year-old pottery excavated from the sites of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, thought by some to be the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
We also visit the ancient Tawahin as-Sukkar or sugar mill. Sugar production dominated the area’s economy from the 11th to the 15th century, an industry that demanded tremendous technology and tools. The historic stone mill gives great insight into the technology of the time, revealing an elaborate system of extracting, purifying, and storing sugar from sugar canes. As recently as 2016, archaeologists discovered the complex gear system used to channel water from the Wadi Hasa across the surrounding sugar fields and the mill. The site shows that Ghawr as-Safi was the centre of the sugar industry, and that sugar was then sold across the entire Mediterranean region.
This evening we enjoy a farewell meal at the hotel. (Overnight Dead Sea) BLD
Day 16: Friday 1 April, Dead Sea – Amman Airport; Tour Ends
- Morning at leisure
- Transfer to Amman Airport for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends with a morning at leisure. In addition to outdoor pools, the hotel has 20 beautifully designed treatment rooms with private shower facilities, six outdoor individual treatment and relaxation areas, hydro-facilities with a steam room, sauna, and whirlpool, Tepidarium heated lounges, the Dead Sea pool and the largest hydro-pool on the Dead Sea.
Participants departing Amman on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will take a private transfer to Amman Airport in the early afternoon. B