Jordan is an elaborate mosaic of biblical history that dates back to the times of Genesis. In ancient times, the land east of the Jordan River was a designated place of refuge. Abraham, Jacob, Lot, Moses, Job, David, Ruth, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostle Paul – all had pivotal experiences here. Reminders of their biblical stories are everywhere in Jordan – from the northern forests of ancient Gilead, to the fertile valleys and wilderness of central Jordan near the Dead Sea, and beyond to the desert landscapes of the south where the Edomites once ruled. Yet it is the baptismal waters of the river that bears the country’s name that is of most significance to religious pilgrims, for it was here that Jesus came to be baptized and what became known as Christianity was born.
It is because of this religious significance that sites all around Jordan have been designated pilgrimage sites and have been visited by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and most recently Pope Francis in May 2014. This depth of biblical history, combined with the unspoiled nature of the holy sites and the variety of experiences available throughout the kingdom, are the key reasons Jordan attracts modern pilgrims. Most of the holy sites in Jordan are excavated and easily accessible to visitors. Since Jordan has been careful not to over-develop these sacred places, the holy sites retain their rustic, authentic nature – providing pilgrims a unique glimpse of Jordan’s biblical past.
Jordan values its ethnically and religiously diverse population, consequently providing for the cultural rights of all its citizens. This spirit of tolerance and appreciation is one of the central elements contributing to the stable and peaceful cultural climate flourishing within Jordan.
In the early morning, visit the Citadel of ancient Rabbath Ammon, capitol of the Ammonite Kingdom, and the simple archaeological museum that houses one of the finest collections of ancient artifacts in the Middle East. Stand atop the fortress where David sent Uriah the Hittite to his death. Stroll through the downtown souq and don’t forget to visit the new Jordan Museum that is now home to some of the Copper Dead Sea scrolls. Afterwards, enjoy a sumptuous lunch at the famous Hashem for some of the best falafel you will ever taste before heading northbound.
Venture northward from Amman to a region dotted with villages, green hills, olive groves, wildflowers and ancient ruins. In biblical times, the hills east of the Jordan Valley were known for the lush Forests of Gilead. Home to many of the Greco-Roman cities that made up the famed “Region of the Decapolis,” church tradition teaches that Jesus and his disciples traveled back and forth through this area preaching and spreading their Good News. Visit the cave in Anjara known as a resting stop for Jesus and his mother, Mary. Stroll through Ajloun Castle and visit the nearby Ajloun Baptist Conference Center. Explore the Decapolis city of Jerash (noted in the Bible as in the “region of the Garasenes”). Remarkable for its unbroken chain of human occupation since Neolithic times, Jerash is considered one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns and is referred to as the “Pompeii of the Middle East”.
A large ecclesiastical complex within the city houses a fountain where Byzantine citizens once annually celebrated Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine. Today, the “Fountain Court” within Jerash is a popular destination for modern pilgrims who want to commemorate the travels and teachings of Jesus in the most spectacular remains of a city of the Decapolis.
Head back north, and along the way, you will pass near Mahanaim (near the Jabbok River), where Jacob wrestled with the Angel and where David sought refuge during his son Absalom’s rebellion. Arrive at the ancient Decapolis city of Gadara (now known as Um Qais), location of the miracle of the Gadarene swine (Matthew 8:28-32). Stand at the junction of Syria, Israel and Jordan and enjoy the inspirational vista overlooking the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). Explore the Greco-Roman remains of this spectacular destination, where many of the structures are built with black basalt stone, giving the city a grand and unique feel.
A rare five-aisled basilica from the 4th century was recently excavated here. It had been built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb and has a view into the tomb from the interior of the church. Located alongside the old Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee, everything about this distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb at this particular place strongly indicates it was designed and built to commemorate the very spot where the Byzantine faithful believed Jesus performed his miracle.
After lunch, visit Pella, another Decapolis city and a favorite of archaeologists as it is exceptionally rich in antiquities, some of which are exceedingly old. On the way back to Amman, just thirty minutes outside of the city, visit the ancient city of As-Salt, which houses the tomb/shrine of Job, the wealthy, righteous man from the Land of Uz. It is also the location of the tomb/shrine of the prophet Jethro, who was the father-in-law of Moses, and the tombs of Jad and Asher, who were both sons of Jacob.
On one of these evenings, enjoy an evening of wine-tasting at the Zumot Winery headquarters in Amman where you will sample and learn how some of Jordan’s finest organic wine is made and an interesting history lesson on Jordan through the history of its wine.
Before leaving Amman, you will make a brief stop at King Abdullah Mosque for a guided tour. Travel southward to Bethany beyond the Jordan, located in what was the ancient wilderness just north of the Dead Sea. Experience the profound simplicity of Bethany beyond the Jordan, the area between the Jordan River and Tell el-Kharrar, where John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to preach and baptize, and where his baptism of Jesus marked the first recorded manifestation of the Trinity.
Tell el-Kharrar’s other name, Tell Mar Elias (Elijah’s Hill) is reminiscent of the Prophet Elijah, who -- according to Tradition -- ascended from here to heaven on the famed chariot of fire (and whose ministry and proclamations were parallel to John the Baptist’s, thus underscoring the close connection of the two prophets). See the remains of Byzantine churches, large baptism pools and an extensive water system -- all part of the Byzantine tradition linking this place with Jesus’ baptism.
Depart the baptism site for Madaba, known throughout the world as the City of Mosaics (mentioned in the Bible as the Moabite town of Medeba). Visit the contemporary Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which features the masterpiece sixth-century Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land.
Afterward, enjoy a brief walking tour of the town on the way to lunch at Haret Jdoudna (meaning house of my grandfather), in the heart of the city. There you will enjoy a hearty meal prepared with herbs picked fresh from the garden, and also have time to browse through the shops filled with exquisite ceramics, Dead Sea health and beauty products, clothing made from the finest fabrics and various handicrafts.
After lunch, enjoy a short drive to Mount Nebo, where Moses arrived after his long Exodus journey and viewed the Promised Land he would never enter (the Bible says Moses is buried near Mount Nebo, in an unknown place). Sixty years of excavation on the hilltop have revealed a basilica and one of the most magnificent mosaic floors in the world. From the platform nearby the church, you will have a breathtaking view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea to the rooftops of Bethlehem and, on a clear day, Jerusalem.
After Mount Nebo, drive along the Kings Highway heading south to Petra and make a quick stop along the way at Karak, dominated by the castle built by Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1142 AD, and enjoy exploring this maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. Make sure to bring a flash light with you.
Hopefully, if you arrive in Petra on a night that it is available the Petra by night tour is a must! Tours start at 8.30pm and finish at 10.00pm every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The Nabataeans were an industrious Arab people who settled the area more than 2,000 years ago. Petra was widely admired for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels. It served as a crossroad for trade and commerce. Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Enjoy a full day at Petra, this magnificent “rose-red city, half as old as time”, as you explore its rich history and impressive remains. Jordan abounds in archaeological riches, but few places in the world can rival this city carved from the rose-red rock by the Nabataeans, who controlled the ancient trade routes in this area. This UNESCO world heritage site, featured in Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” is connected to the Scriptural Exodus journey. Moses and the Israelites are said to have passed through the Petra area in ancient Edom.
Enjoy lunch at the Basin Restaurant followed by a hike to the Monastery, the largest of Petra’s monuments and certainly worth the climb up to it. This evening, head to the Petra Kitchen for a relaxed, informal atmosphere where you will gather to prepare an evening meal, working alongside local women and men under the supervision of a local chef offering an evening of learning, fun and a very special dining experience, with each dish bearing the special flavor of a reward well-earned.
Before you depart Petra for Wadi Rum, drive for 10 minutes down the Wadi “Valley” to Little Petra historically known as “Al Beidha”. It may not be quite as monumental as the main site but it was an important suburb of Petra and there is still much to see here.
No trip to Jordan is complete without a visit to the infamous UNESCO world heritage site, Wadi Rum. This extraordinary desert landscape is where Lawrence of Arabia operated throughout 1917 and launched the strike on Aqaba. It provided David Lean with his most memorable movie locations.
“Vast, echoing and God-Like” is the way Lawrence described Wadi Rum, where you will enjoy this largest and most magnificent of Jordan’s desert landscapes. Your experience in Wadi Rum can begin with a visit to the museum, craft shops and a sumptuous lunch at the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s center is also where all vehicle tours operate from and where you must register and pay the entrance fees to enter the protected area.
After lunch, venture off the beaten path in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to explore the desert and see up close the “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” about which Lawrence wrote, Lawrence’s spring and what’s left of the house in which he resided. Wadi Rum is indeed a foreign world, so make sure to take in the stars at night as you lay by a camp fire outside your Bedouin tent, but only after tasting the best cuisine of Wadi Rum, Zarb, which is cooked in the ground! Oooh and tea at sunset in the middle of the desert is really a MUST!
After exploring Lawrence's path in the desert, head to Aqaba, a year-round attraction and sea resort for everyone. The Red Sea and its surrounding pink mountains is truly one of nature’s most breathtaking sites. The city has a great religious history as well: The first site in southern Jordan mentioned in the Exodus is Eziongeber (Number 33-35). Eziongeber and Elath (or Eloth) were port towns located at or near the Red Sea port/resort of Aqaba. They are best known for their roles during the Iron Age, a few hundred years after the time of the Exodus. You can explore Aqaba’s most recent discovery, what is believed to be the oldest purpose-built church in the world.
Depart Aqaba and head towards the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth at 400m (1,312 ft.) below sea level and one of the most dramatic places on earth, with its stunning natural environment equally matched by its powerful spiritual symbolism.
The infamous Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities of the Dead Sea plain, or (Cities of the Valley) were the subjects of some of the most dramatic and enduring Old Testament stories, including that of Lot, whose wife was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying God’s will. Visit Lot’s cave and the site believed to be Lot’s wife along the way to the Dead Sea.
The curative properties of the Dead Sea have been recognized since the days of Herod the Great and Queen Cleopatra. A series of good roads, excellent hotels with spa and fitness facilities, as well as archaeological and spiritual discoveries make this region as enticing to today’s international visitors as it was to kings, emperors, traders, prophets and pilgrims in antiquity. Enjoy a relaxing day and treat yourselves to a soothing massage, or try the renowned healing powers of the minerals right from the sea’s muddy floor.
Enjoy a beautiful sunset dinner at the Dead Sea Panorama Complex that sports an indoor dining area and an outdoor dining terrace where you will enjoy the dazzling views of the Dead Sea and the surrounding mountains at every turn.