Epic Roman ruins, another view of the Promised Land, and barely making a Castle visit...
13.02.2010 - 13.02.2010 20 °C
Our final day trip out of Amman was out to see the Roman ruins of Jerash and Umm Qais, and the Islamic Castle Ajloun. This time Hani took us with a chatty teacher from Brisbane and a French professor from Montpelier. We were originally headed first for Umm Qais and then Ajloun, but Hani diverted off course to take us to Jerash because the Hippodrome show (where else can you see real live chariot racing?) was only once a day, at 11am in winter. The trip was only an hour out of Amman, however we got to know Jenny and Emanuel well (especially Jenny!) by the time we arrived at the sprawling Roman ruins.
And what ruins they were! The site had been inhabited as early as the Bronze Age (some 3,000 years BC) but annexed by the Romans in 63BC and built into the huge city it is now. We were pleased to discover we were practically the only visitors to the site (in fact, that continued throughout our travels - off-season travel may be cold, but there's no fighting the crowds for photos!) We wandered through the ruins, marvelling at the huge columns, temples and artifacts - there were even chariot ruts remaining in the original Roman road.
The site was incredibly well preserved. Littering the path were huge, intricately-carved boulders that looked like they were just done yesterday (and would make a great garden table or piece, we secretly thought). It truly felt like the Romans, just like the Egyptians were merely a cleverly-executed hoax, as all their ruins and artifacts were just too good to be true... We spent a good couple of hours climbing stairs to temples, hopping on column capitals for the odd sneaky shot, and pretending we were great orators in the amphitheatre. Surprisingly, brightly-coloured yellow spring flowers were everywhere which added colour to the grey, stony sights.
We decided to have an early lunch in the ruins of the Hippodrome, in anticipation for the show. We had a soundtrack to our snack - the huge speakers in the stadium blared out the score to Gladiator (does Hollywood know this?) as we munched coriander and banana pita breads (not together, that is). The small crowd gathered as the show time neared, and then... trumpets started and a voice, an odd British/Dutch/American(?) hybrid introduced the Roman Army. We were talked through the ins and outs of Roman military strategy, while the dressed up Roman Arabs demonstrated formations and fighting techniques to Latin commands from the General. We had half expected it to be a budget, tacky affair, but it was a great show, if only reminding us a little of the Roman army in Asterix and Obelix. After the army of Caesar (the Caesarians?) showed us their might and strategy, out came some gladiators. More resembling barbarians than Russell Crowe (well, he was a Roman General), they fought it out for us and we got to choose whether the loser lived or died - thumbs up or thumbs horizontal. The last spectacle was a galloping chariot race to the blasting movie soundtrack. After the show we got to take photos with the Romans, and Jac even had a short go on the chariot.
After Jerash we headed to more Roman ruins, this time Umm Qais. Being a little ruined-out, we headed straight for the look-out, which gave us a view of the controversial Golan Heights, one of the sources of the Syrian/Israel conflict, the Sea of Galilee and Israel, Syria and Lebanon. We were a little overschedule, so it was back to the car and try make it in time to Ajloun Castle!
Ajloun Castle was a Islamic army stronghold, sitting on Jebel Auf (Mount Auf). The large fortress was built by a commander and nephew of Salah ad-Din (Saladin) in the late 12th centure and was one of the very few built to protect against Crusader attacks. Unfortunately by time we arrived the ticket office was closed, despite many a En sha' Allah along the way (but we still had five minutes to go!) but a loitering coach driver suggested we just drive up to the castle and see if we could still be let in. We raced up to the top and luckily Jenny and Emanuel sweet-talked the caretaker into letting us in. We raced around the castle, unfortunately not exploring very far and snapped like crazy until it was time to leave and the gate was locked behind us.
The drive back to Downtown Amman was about two hours, during which we chatted about ourselves, and by the end of the trip we'd exchanged emails and Chalky and I had received an offer from Emanuel to house sit his apartment in Montpelier, as he spends six months of the year in Thailand. We said goodbye to our trip companions then had one last errand to do, being our last day in Jordan. A few days ago we'd bought some magazines from Bustami bookstore and were short some small change which the shop worker waved away, but we insisted we'd bring back. We stopped at a local sweet store and bought some sticky Arab sweets to take with us, to apologise for being 3 days late in repaying him (one of the days was Friday, when everything is closed). We ended up spending three times the amount on the thank-you cakes - presented to us by the sweet shop simply on a plate with a fork - and headed to the bookshop, much to the worker's amusement and his elderly superior's confusion. We probably landed the worker in trouble for loaning out change, but at least they had a treat for the evening! We paid one last visit to our smoky 'Eco-tourism' café to say goodbye to Jordan.
Jerash Roman ruins
The Arch of Hadrian
The column making Chalky look small... or Chalky making the column look big...
Chariot ruts in the Roman road
As if it were carved yesterday...
Temple of Artemis
The old and the new
Jac showing off her non-existent ballet skills
Chalky and the bright 'spring' flowers
A big-arsed lizard
Jac giving her best recital of The Iliad
Chalky was going to do a one-man Manpower show but...
Hmmm that would look great in the back yard
The Hippodrome show!
The head chook
Shall he live or die?
Faster, faster, yeehaa
The view of Golan Heights (Israel/Palestine) and Sea of Galilee from Um Qais
Chalky tries one on for size
Us and the view