January

It’s only the end of the first month of 2022 and there’s already so much to share about my continued adventures here in Jordan. After brining in the New Year to Amman, I’ve hit the ground running with studying and I’m now well into the second term of the academic year – it’s scary how fast time flies!

Of course, studying hasn’t been the only thing occupying my time, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been on two hikes this month. The first was a ten kilometre hike starting at Jesus Cave and ending at Pella. Jesus cave lies five kilometres west of Umm Qays, near the northern city of Irbid, and is named after Christ as local residents believe he stayed there while travelling to Umm Qais to convert the residents from Paganism. After hiking through the lush green, though sometimes muddy, terrain we reached the spectacular ruins of Pella. Known as Tabaqat Fahl in Arabic, this complex of ruins was once part of the Decapolish alliance of Hellenistic cities, though archaeological evidence suggests the stie had been inhabited many centuries prior to this. Today you can see the ruins of churches, temples, and houses.

The second hike was thirteen kilometres between Wadi Malaka and Umm Qais. This again was a very verdant hike and our guide enthusiastically described different edible plants and their supposed medicinal properties along the way. We had awesome views of the Golan Heights, their rocky slopes standing in stark contrast with the foliage around us.

It is somewhat miraculous that I’ve been able to go hiking as the weather has been rather dramatic. When people told me in November that the Jordanian winter would be cold and wet, I shrugged it off thinking that as someone who group up in the north of England I knew what a cold winter meant and that Jordan couldn’t possibly offer anything colder than that. But how wrong I was! The weather has been frightfully cold – partly because Jordanian buildings aren’t designed with the cold in mind – and we’ve even seen the highest snowfall in five years. And when it snows or rains in Amman, everything comes to a halt, as the infrastructure is not designed to handle the wet weather and commuters at the same time. Although it has been cold, the rain has been welcomed with open arms by Jordanians as Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countreis on earth. So while a good rain is something taken for granted in Macneshter, it means a lot to the people of Amman and really reminds me just how precious water is.

January 18th – 25th was the global week of prayer for Christian unity and we celebrated it with flare here in Amman. No less than 11 denominations1 joined together at Al Fadi Arab Episcopal Church to pray, sing, and reflect together on how Christians of all denominations can work together both in the region and around the world. It was a really special event and it was amazing to see so many people from different Christian denominations gathered together to focus on what unites us rather than divides us.

In what feels like a flash, January and another month in Jordan is already over. I am still having an amazing time here in Amman (despite the weather) and I can’t wait to see what adventures I go on in February!

1The denominations represented were: The Latin Church, Roman Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Maronites, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chalcedonian, Lutherans, and Anglicans.

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Hiking in Shoubak

If you love hiking, Jordan is the perfect country for you. With terrain types ranging from Mediterranean forrests to deserts and rocky mountains, there’s something for everyone in this small yet geographicaly diverse country. A few weeks ago, I … Continue reading Hiking in Shoubak

Camping in Dana Nature Reserve

Jordan is home to areas of outstanding natural beauty, and Dana is no exception. Jordan’s largest nature reserve, Dana boasts an area of 320km2 containing within it mountains and Wadis along the Great Rift Valley. Dana is one of the most biodiverse areas in Jordan, with biomes ranging from sandy deserts to snow capped mountains and flora and forna reminiscent of those found in true desert, Mediterranean forests and the dry plains of Russia. A total of 700 plant species, 190 bird species, 37 mammal species and 36 reptile species have been recorded in the Reserve, of which 25 are known to be endangered, including the Sand Cat, the Arabian Wolf, the Lesser Kestrel and the Spiny Tailed Lizard.

Not only is Dana important for its natural history, but also for its rich human history. Humans have lived in the area since around 4000 BC and has been home to Paleolithic, Egyptian, Nabatean, and Roman civilizations. Today, the area is inhabited by members of the Al Ata’ata tribe, who arrived in the Ottoman period and built the village of Dana.

There are breathtaking views across the reserve, and I highly recommend hiking at sunset and sunrise for the best lighting and atmosphere.

Sadly, Dana is under threat as corporations seek to reduce the size of the reserve to allow copper mining to take place. Let’s hope the area can be protected so that this place of natural beauty can be preserved for future generations.

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January

It’s only the end of the first month of 2022 and there’s already so much to share about my continued adventures here in Jordan. After brining in the New Year to Amman, I’ve hit the ground running with studying … Continue reading January

Ajloun Castle

! مرحباً As I mentioned in my blog about Amman citadel, Jordan is a country filled with historical monuments that offer a glimpse into the region’s rich history, and today’s trip was a prime example of this. About 45 … Continue reading Ajloun Castle

Hiking in Shoubak

If you love hiking, Jordan is the perfect country for you. With terrain types ranging from Mediterranean forrests to deserts and rocky mountains, there’s something for everyone in this small yet geographicaly diverse country.

A few weeks ago, I joined JO Navigators on a trip to Shoubak. Shoubak is a rocky area south of Amman in the Ma’an Governorate north of Aqaba. It’s mostly known for its Crusader castle and cold winters. It’s also a beautiful place to go hiking!

Shoubak in Jordan

Our day began early in Amman where we met our bus driver for the day, who was dressed very dapper for a day hiking!

Our bus and driver for the day. Photo by Ramzi Hanafieh.

When we arrived in Shoubak, we met our guide for the day, who has been walking in the hills of Shoubak for over 30 years. We began our hike and were immediately met with stunning views over the canyons and valleys, most of which are millions of years old.

About half way through our hike, our guide announced that we would stop for a tea break. I was a bit confused as we were in the middle of nowhere, far away from any tea making facilities. But I was not as creative as our guide. He promptly pulled a cast iron tea pot from his bag and went to collect dry sticks. After lighting a fire, he added water, tea leaves, and sugar to the pot and boiled it over the fire. It was genuinely a lovely cup of tea (the Jordanian word for tasty is zaaki)!

We continued hiking and towards the end found what looked like abandoned houses. It was so interesting and slightly eerie to see the remains of a community on the hillside. We also found a fresh water stream at the end of the hike – very refreshing after walking in the heat!

After our hike, we were treated to lunch at our guide’s home. On the menu was maqluba, a traditional Jordanian dish made with meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot which is flipped upside down when served – it was so tasty! We sat in a majlis, a private place where guests are received and entertained.

Hiking in Shoubak was an amazing experience. It was great to meet young Jordanians and chat to them about life in Amman and practice my Arabic. I hope to go back to the area soon to explore more of what Shoubak has to offer.

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The Cave of the Seven Sleepers

In the Amman suburb of Abu Alanda is a special cave. It is believed that this is the location of the legend of the ‘seven sleepers’, in which seven Christian boys who were persecuted by the Roman Emperor Trajan escaped to this cave and slept there for 309 years. I went to visit one afternoon and find out more about this intriguing story.

The story of the Seven Sleepers is told in both Christian and Muslim traditions. The earliest version of this story comes from the Syrian bishop Jacob of Serugh (c. 450–521), and the story can also be found in the writings of Gregory of Tours (538–594) and in History of the Lombards of Paul the Deacon (720–799). The best-known Western version of the story appears in Jacobus da Varagine’s Golden Legend (1259–1266). Versions of this story have been found in nine medieval languages and preserved in over 200 manuscripts, dating to between the 9th and 13th centuries. These include manuscripts in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Ge’ez, Coptic, Armenian, Middle Irish, and Old English. Translations are availible in Sogdian, Persian, Kyrgz, and Tatar, and the 13th Century poet Chardri composed an Old French version. The Islamic account of the story is found in Surah 18:9-26 of the Quran.

Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The story says that there was a group seven young men accused of being Christians under the reign of Emperor Trajan Decius. After refusing to abandon their faith, they fled the city of Ephesus, gave their belongings away to the poor and went to a mountain cave to pray, where they fell asleep. The emperor sealed the entrance to the cave. After 300 years, during the reign of Theodosius II (408–450), a landowner opened the cave and found the seven young men sleeping. They awoke and believed they had only been asleep for a day.

Decius orders the walling in of the Seven sleepers, from a 14th-century manuscript. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This site is revered by Christians and Muslims alike, and the dresscode reflects this. Women must wear an abaya and men can’t wear shorts or show their shoulders. Once properly dressed, you can enter the site and see inside the cave where the sleepers rested. Also on the site are the remains of two mosques and a Byzantine cemetery.

Recently, a new mosque was built next to the cave. It has a really beautiful exterior which makes for a very peaceful atmosphere.

If you have some spare time in Amman, this cave is well worth a visit. It takes around half an hour to see it all, leaving the rest of your day free for other activities and adventures. Ask your taxi driver to wait for you while you look around, and they’ll usually be happy to oblige!

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Street Art in Amman

Something I’ve noticed recently is that Amman is covered in street art. You can find a lot of it around Jabal Amman and Rainbow Street. Keep checking back here as I’ll update it regularly with art that I find out and about!

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Ajloun Castle

! مرحباً

As I mentioned in my blog about Amman citadel, Jordan is a country filled with historical monuments that offer a glimpse into the region’s rich history, and today’s trip was a prime example of this. About 45 km north west of Amman, Ajloun Castle sits atop Jabal ‘Auf. Before the castle was built in the 12th century, the mountain was the site of a Byzantine monastery and the name Ajloun is traced back to a monk who lived there. Some archaeological remains of the original monestery survive to this day, including a mosaic depicting the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.

Some archaeological remains of the original monestery survive to this day, including a mosaic depicting the story of Jesus feeding the 5000

The castle was built in 1184 under the orders of Izz al-Din Usama, a general in the army of the first Ayyubid sultan Saladin. The castle was strategic for a number of reasons. Firstly, the castle could control the road connecting Damascus with Egypt. Secondly, the castle was built to defend against Crusaders, who had a camp at nearby Belvoir Castle. It’s high altitiude meant it was a very strategic building to be in control of.

Archers would use arrow slits to defend the castle

After the death of Usama, the castle was enlarged under the Mamluk governor Aibak ibn Abdullah in CE 1214–15 with the addition of a new tower in the southeast corner and the gate. In the mid 1300s, the castle was conceded to the King of Aleppo and Damascus Yousef ibn Ayoub, who restored the northeastern tower and used the castle as an administrative center. In 1260 CE during the Mongol invasion of Syria, sections of the castle including its battlements were destroyed. The castle was restored by Sultan ad-Dhaher Baibars after the Mamluk victory over the Mongols at Ain Jalut in September of the same year. The castle was then used to store crops and provisions. The castle was renovated uner the governorship of Izz ad-Din Aibak, which is attested to in an inscription found in the castle’s south-western tower.

One of the castle towers

The caste was also used in the Ottoman period, and in the 1700s prince Fakhr ad-Din al-Ma’ni II used it during his fight against Ahmad ibn Tarbay, supplying the castle with a contingent and providing provisions and ammunition. In 1812, the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt found the castle inhabited by around forty people. The castle was damaed by two major destructive earthquakes in 1837 and 1927. Recently, the Department of Antiquities of Jordan has sponsored a program of restoration and consolidation of the walls and has rebuilt the bridge over the fosse.

A view from the top. The green mountains are Gilead Mountains, the birthplace of the Prophet Elijah

The views from the top of the castle are breathtaking and give a persepective of the importance of the land around it. You can see the green Gilead Mountains, said to be the birthplace of the prophet Elijah. On a clear day you are also able to see Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. It’s worth heading to the top to get a view of the landscape!

At the top of the castle!

Ajloun Castle is well worth the trip if you want to see an example of a building that has remained throughout history. It’s a site that tells myriad stories of the empires and civilisations that have risen in Jordan and it’s amazing to imagine the diverse people that would have passed through the corridors of this beautiful castle. The icecream here is also really cheap!

It was a hot day so I had an ice cream. It only cost me 1 JOD (about £1.02)!

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Archaeology in Amman: Visiting the Citadel and Roman Theatre

!مرحباً

Amman is an ancient city with a host of archaeological sites, where you can find the traces of different civilisations spanning thousands of years. In many ways, parts of the city feel like a time capsule, offering a glimpse back to civilisations long gone but not forgotten.

The Citadel

The Citadel is located atop of Jabal Al Qala’a in the downtown area of Amman. Sat 850m above sea level, it overlooks the old city and you get a good picture of what the city skyline looks like. You get a great view of the Raghadan Flagpole. Once the world’s tallest free-standing flagpole, it towers 126.8 metres (416 ft) over the city. It flies a 60-by-30-metre (200 by 100 ft) flag. On a good day, it’s visible from 20 kilometres (12 miles) away!

A view of Amman from the Citadel. The Raghadan Flagpole is visible in the top left.
Map of the Kingdom of Ammon and surrounding kingdoms. Source: wikimedia.


The Citadel is home to a number of historic landmarks, including a 1700 meter wall that dates back to the Bronze Age, the iconic Temple of Hercules, and the Umayyad Palace.

Its original name was “Rabbath Ammon” and was the royal city of the ancient Ammonites, an Iron Age nation who lived around modern Amman. The Citadel itself is older than this and dates back to the Bronze Age, though due to the number of consturctions and reconstructions, very little of the original Bronze Age citadel remains today.

The Temple of Hercules

The temple of Hercules, Amman Citadel

Arguably the most well-known structure in the Citadel, the Temple of Hercules is a remnant from the Roman occupation. An inscription dates the temple to the reign of Geminius Marcianus as governor of the Province of Arabia (AD 162-166). The temple is about 30 by 24 m (98 by 79 ft) with an outer sanctum of 121 by 72 m (397 by 236 ft). The portico has six columns, each around 10 m (33 ft) tall. There are also the remains of a statue of Hercules; today, only the hand has survived.

In Roman mythology, Hercules is the son of Zeus, ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus and all the mortals on earth, and Alcmene, the granddaughter of the hero Perseus. He was tasked to perform 12 heroic labours as pennance for murdering his wife and two children. The hand that remains is a symbol of Hercules’ heroic strength.

Other remains of the temple include two complete pillars along with the ruins of four other pillars.

Byzantine Church

You probably wouldn’t know it at first glance, but the Citadel is also home to a 6th century Byzantine church. Not much is known about it, but it’s captiviating to imagine the worship and prayer that happened here around 1600 years ago.

Ayyubid Watchtower

The Ayyubid Watchtower

One of the first structure that you come across as you walk around is the Ayyubid watchtower. Perfectly placed to overlook the city, the tower had a room 9.45 by 7.55 m with single arrow-slits on three sides.

The Ayyubids were the founding dynasty of the medieval Sultanate of Egypt established by Saladin in 1174 after abolishing the Fatimid Caliphate. They ruled Egypt, Syria-Palestine, parts of northern Mesopotamia (the Jazira) and Yemen between 1169 and 1260.

Map of the Ayyubid Sultanate CE 1193. Attribution: Ro4444, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Umayyad Palace

Umayyad reception hall

The best preserved section of the Citadel is by far the Umayyad palace complex. The most striking of the buildings is the reception hall. Its beautiful domed roof was degined to impress visitors. Other Umayyad structures include remains of a mosque, the cistern used to transport water, and residential buildings.

The Umayyads were the first Muslim dynasty, established in 661 in Damascus and succeeding the leadership of the first four caliphs—Abū Bakr, ʿUmar I, ʿUthmān, and ʿAlī. It was established by Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān, a native of Mecca and a contemporary of the Prophet Muḥammad.

The Roman Theatre

The Roman Theatre

Located at the foot of Jabal Al-Joufah, the theatre was probably built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138–61). There are three tiers of seats with a total capacity of 6000: the rulers sat on the first, military leaders in the middle, and the general public sat at the top. Accoring to Lonely Planet, “theatres often had religious significance, and the small shrine above the top row of seats once housed a statue of the goddess Athena, which is now in the Jordan Museum, who was prominent in the religious life of the city.”

Restoration of the theatre began in 1957 and non-original materials were used, meaning the restoration is partly inaccurate. Nevertheless, the theatre is stunning and there are great views from the top!

The Nymphaeum

The Nymphaeum. Fountains like this were very popular in Ancient Greece and Rome.

The Nymphaeum is a partially preserved Roman public fountain built in the 2nd century CE, during the same period as the nearby theatre and odeon. This nymphaeum is believed to have contained a 600 square meters pool which was three meters deep and was continuously refilled with water.

When I visited, it wasn’t open to tourists – perhaps because it is currently being restored by students from the University of Jordan, Petra University and the Hashemite University as well as professional technicians, funded by the U.S embassy.

The exterior of the Nymphaeum

There are so many historical sites to see in Amman! In the space of a few hours, you can travel through thousands of years of history and discover the remnants of legendary empires that were once present in the city. If you travel to Amman, it’s well worth taking a day to explore the Citadel and Roman ruins in the city.

Tomorrow, I’m visiting Ajloun Castle – another historic site in Jordan, this time an hour and a half north of Amman. Come back to find out more about that trip!

! مع السلامة

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New Beginnings, First Impressions

! مرحبا

Hello from Jordan! It is currently 33oC and the sun is shining – it feels like midsummer and September is only days away. As I write, I can hear the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) piercing through the sounds of traffic and commuting. This is my first time in the Middle East so everythhing feels very new and unfamiliar to me – I guess that’s a key part of the adventure!

I am living in Amman to study Arabic at the Qasid Institute as part of my year abroad for my BA Arabic and Persian degree at SOAS. I will be studying four hours a day, Sunday to Thursday and so will have to get used to a new work week. My accomodation and the language school are both quite far from the centre of Amman, but both a manageable distance by bus or taxi. I’ll have to get used to a new transport system too!

Some facts about Amman. Amman is the capital and largest city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With a population of just over 4 million people, it is also the largest city in the Levant. Amman is an ancient city, with the earliest evidence of settlement dating back to 7000 BC. Throughout the ages, various empires have left behind traces of their civilizations, namely the Ammonites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Rashiduns, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, and British. Over the last 10 years, Amman has undergone an economic, cultural, and urban boom and is now a popular tourist destination.

The Citadel in Amman. Photo by Shashank Kumar on Unsplash.

There will be plenty of time for me to explore and see what Jordan has to offer, but today was a chance to settle and get my bearings. So I went to the supermaket. I was pleased that the small hypermarket had everything I could ever want or need. As you go round the supermaket, a recorded voice reads out on repeat the prices of various items that day. Spices are sold behind a counter and to specific quantities, resulting in a quick google translate search to work out the words for corriander (kuzbara) and turmeric (kurkum). I was capitvated by the section of fruit and veg, mainly because the aubergines and onions were huge compared to what we buy in Britain! It is clear that shape and asthetic of the vegetables are not valued here, but rather the quality and flavour are important.

I spent the remainder of the day resting and snoozing. The next few months are going to be full on, but after a year of staying in, I’m read for an adventure and to be immersed in Jordanian culture. I’ll be writing updates when I can, so do check back regularly to see what I’ve been up to!

! مع السلامة

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