Our plans for the day were to visit Mont Nebo and Madaba. But, like with all plans, they were subject to change! Hasan picked us up at the hotel to head out to our first stop at Mount Nebo to visit where Moses died and was buried. As we made our final turn to head up to Mount Nebo, we were stopped by the police. The road was closed, and Mount Nebo was not open to traffic. The police told Hasan there was a tribal problem, and the police wanted to make sure that tourists were not caught in any crossfire of tribes shooting at each other.
As Hasan explained the situation it sounded like a scene out of the “Godfather” One Tribe commits a crime, and the other goes for revenge! A third tribe then becomes the arbitrator, the police stay out of it. When the arbitration is complete, the police follow up on the crime! Needless to say, we thought a change in plans was perfect!
Hasan decided if we agreed we would travel to Amman and then to Petra for the night. We would do Mount Nebo and Madaba on our last day, assuming the two tribes had settled their differences.
Amman’s Citadel – Ruins and artifacts dating to the stone age.
Amman was named Philadelphia by Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century after himself; it meant the City of Brotherly Love in Greek and was renamed Amman when it was captured by the Byzantines in the 7th century. We arrived at the Citadel around 11:30, just before the Muslim call to prayer. Our guide, Mohammad, fast-tracked the tour so he would be done in time for prayer. We were on our own! The Citadel is on the top of a hill in the center of Amman and overlooks most of the city. The Citadel is an archeological site with Roman and Ottoman ruins.
The Citadel has a long history of occupation by many great civilizations. There is evidence found on the site that it was inhabited during the Neolithic period, which was roughly 10000 to 4500 BC, and was fortified during the Bronze Age 2000 BC. The hill became the capital of the Kingdom of Amman sometime after 1200 BC. It was under many empires between the eighth century BC and the seventh century AD, including the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Romans, and Byzantines. After the Umayyads, there was a decline for many centuries, until 1878, it was in ruins, only used by the Bedouins and seasonal farmers. Despite this, the Citadel is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world.
Most of the structures still visible at the site are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods. The major remains at the site are the Temple of Hercules (Pictures Below), the Byzantine church, and the Umayyad Palace. The Byzantine church was crumbled by an earthquake, and only a small amount of mosaic flooring existsand is covered for protection. There was a huge cistern that is still visible, built between 730 and 740 AD, it could hold 48.000 gallons of water for non drinking. The water was collected from the roofs, roads, and little rain. even then they knew it was important to store water.
Since this was Friday, it is the Holy day for Muslims, and they went to the mosque for prayer, our guide ran off to prayer. There were many mosques in the area, one huge one visible from the Citadel. The “call to prayer” could be heard from many mosques on all sides of the Citadel.
We continued to explore the site; it is quite extensive and amazing. Archaeologists have been working at the site since the 1920s, including Italian, British, French, Spanish, and Jordanian projects, but a great part of the Citadel remains unexcavated. We went into the museum, and it is hard to believe the remnants of pottery material and tools from 10000 BC..Yikes!
We stood high at one end of the Citadel with a view of the Roman Theater below the Citadel. The Roman Theater was built between 138AD and 161AD and sat 6000 spectators. Sadly, when it was restored in 1957, none of the original material was used, but it still looks beautiful. Next to the Roman theater is a smaller theater called the Odeon that was built in the 2nd century for the Roman nobles and sat about 500 people; archaeologists have speculated that the Odeon was most likely covered by a temporary wooden roof that shielded the audience from the weather.
We departed the Citadel and planned on going to the Roman Theater and the city, but protests were going on and Hasan said it was not a good idea to make the stop. The Muslim Brotherhood was protesting against the laws not being restrictive enough. We heard loud chants even on the mountain of the Citadel, so we had to skip the walk through town and start our journey to Petra.
Hasan told us about the Muslim Brotherhood and how it began. He said that many years ago, a rich group of men began paying money to the Imams to help them with the poor, and of course some of it they kept. As time went on, the Immans began giving less money to the poorer people and became more powerful. If the poor did not do as they were told to spread the word in the name of Allah, the money dried up, and they would be left with nothing, so the Imams became more and more powerful. He said he and most of his friends know the Quran does not allow such behavior by Muslims but does not speak out for fear of retribution.
Shobak, The Royal Castle
We continued our journey and headed to the Shobak Castle. On the way, the views along the rocks and the old caves date back to the Stone Age, WOW!…. As we went around the edge of the hills to get to the castle, we passed a place where you could rent rooms that faced the castle. Some of the rooms were caves, but one of the rooms, according to Guinness World Records, is the tiniest hotel in the world. It is set up inside a VW Beetle covered in rugs and paint. It supposedly can host 2 guests. We did not go inside but it seems like a squeeze!
The Shobak Castle is an enchanting castle that was built in 1115 under the rule of King Baldwin I. King Baldwin built Shobak Castle as a form of defense. You can hardly see the castle as you drive around the mountains. It is so well concealed since the local rocks were used for his structure. This crusader castle was known to the crusaders as Mont Real, which means the Fortress of the Royal Mount. It stood strong in many battles until it was defeated in 1189 by Salahuddin Al-Ayyoubi, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria.
The fortress was struck by an earthquake in 1211 AD, which destroyed most of it and killed many people. The Mamluks rebuilt the castle in the 14th century, and several structures were added. The Mamluk dynasty ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, and their descendants survived in Egypt as an important political force during the Ottoman occupation. Meanwhile, starting from 1516 AD (Ottoman era) Shobak was neglected and even deliberately destroyed by an Ottoman Pasha in 1860.
As we walked around the castle, it was another one of the experiences thinking about so long ago, 10000 BC to the Ottoman era the area was inhabited. This castle was built in 1117, how brilliant they were in their building and providing water, except for the earthquakes which destroyed many cities back in those days. Here are a few pictures of the ruins
We headed back to meet Hasan to take the drive to Petra but first we would stop for supper then head the Marriott at Petra for the night to get ready for our tour of Petra in the morning. The restaurant was another favorite of Hasan called the Sandstone restaurant.
We had a special meal called Mussakhan, a Palestinian roast chicken with sumac and red onions, it was amazing! Hasan had called early to have it prepared. The owners of the Sandstone were relatives of his, hence the special service.
It was early in the evening but a long day so Hasan dropped us at the Marriott Petra for the night, lovely hotel looking out at the valley of Petra. Tomorrow we enter the city of Petra!