Moses, mosaics, marine and moats
07.02.2010 - 07.02.2010 15 °C
The first of three day trips we took out of Amman was to see north and east of the capital. We were joined by a fellow Palace Hotel guest, Doug, a quiet but affable Canadian guy in his 50s, and set off early with our driver.
About an hour’s drive through countryside took us to our first stop, Mount Nebo. This was where Moses was said to have looked over the Promised Land for his people and but told by God that he would never go there, and it‘s where he later died. The mountain itself is not as rugged and bare as expected, and was more of a big hill, than say Mount Sinai. There were carved stone rocks with Latin, English and Arabic which were both memorials to Moses and a declaration that this was a Christian holy place, and a huge, rolling stone that was once a fortified door of a Byzantine Monastery. The main sight was a huge, partially-restored 500-year old mosaic floor that was unearthed in a nearby church and housed on the mountain in a big outdoor tent. The mosaic depicted hunting scenes, with gazelles and peacocks among the many animals. Beautifully well-preserved Greek columns and mosaics were inside a small museum, as well as a map showing the Christian pilgrimage routes in the Middle East to Mount Nebo. Also on the mountain was a lookout, allowing us to see the valley below, with River Jordan on the right, the Dead Sea on our left and ahead across the valley, Israel with Bethlehem and Jerusalem pointed out on the viewing platform.
Not far from Mount Nebo was the mosaic town of Madaba, which had several small ruins, which had mosaic floors being dug out. At one sight, the Burnt Church, one of the workers took us to a muddy patch, bent down and started scooping off the dirt with his hands, and slowly uncovered part a mosaic floor. It is very rare these days to see something ancient being unearthed right in front of you! The main highlight was St George’s Church, where builders found a huge 6th century mosaic map of religious sites in the Middle East, which digging the foundations of the church. It was fascinating seeing parts which were the Nile, Egypt, and also Jericho, Bethlehem and other Christian places. The church itself was also vividly painted and had modern mosaics of biblical scenes adorning the walls.
On the way to Karak Castle, we descended down to the Dead Sea, which took some time getting to, as it’s 408m below sea level. As our Lonely Planet pointed out, the world’s fish were all swimming above us! Unfortunately it was an icy, windy day and access to the beaches were only via resorts, the cheapest of which charged NZ$30 each so we decided not to experience the floaty saltiness. Besides we also realised… we forgot our togs. We stopped at a lay-by to view the salt crystals on the rocks and also Israel across the water. It was odd however, seeing a body of water that had no bushes or plants growing on its shores, nor birdlife flying over the water.
The last stop was Karak Castle, a Crusader castle that, like many of them, had seen many battles for control by the Christians and Muslims. It was everything out of children’s book - narrow arrow slits for defence, turrets to climb and dark, dripping cavernous rooms in the belly of the castle. The Castle was apparently occupied by a sadistic French Crusader King, who enjoyed torturing the prisoners in the nine spooky rooms off a dark hallway deep within the castle, and also would fling prisoners down the sheer drop over the castle walls - but he would put a wooden box around their heads so they wouldn’t lose consciousness when they hit the ground. Also across the valley you could see a hilly village, which once was purportedly Sodom and Gomorrah.
After a long day seeing these Christian sights, we returned back to Downtown Amman and farewelled Doug, who was headed south to Petra.
Chalky and the Rolling Stone
The mosaic at Mt Nebo
Ancient Greek inscription
"For the salvation and offering of Matrona"
Ancient Greek inscription
At the top of Mt Nebo - directions to Bethlehem , Jericho and the Dead Sea
More mosaics among the ruins
St George's Church - contains the 6th century map of all major biblical sites
Inside St George's
A mosaic of a biblical scene
The mosaic map
The Red Sea!
Frothy and salty
The scenery on the way to Karak
The view over the valley below
A glimpse of what was supposedly Sodom and Gomorrah
The wall from where prisoners were flung