Ahlan wa sahlan!
Jordan, officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is an Arab country at the heart of the Middle East. Famously home to two of the world’s greatest wonders – the Nabatean ‘lost’ city of Petra and the eerily calm Dead Sea – it is a mesmerising destination. It is a land of extraordinary contrasts and for visitors offers everything from sophisticated city life to nature reserves that are home to some of the world’s rarest animals. The country’s breathtaking canyons are a dream for hikers and climbers, desert and forest landscapes provide plentiful opportunities for exploration and world-class diving sites can be found off the coast. It is a country rich in history, natural beauty and charm, all of which make the Jordanians justifiably proud.
In the northern reaches of the country evergreen oak forests and rural villages blanket the countryside surrounding the spectacular remains of the Roman city of Jerash, while to the east and further south the landscape takes on the golden hue of a seemingly endless desert.
In the northern reaches of the country evergreen oak forests and rural villages blanket the countryside surrounding the spectacular remains of the Roman city of Jerash, while to the east and further south the landscape takes on the golden hue of a seemingly endless desert. In between are sites made famous in the Bible and the Quran, such as Bethany. Beyond is the Jordan, where Jesus is said to have been baptised by the prophet John the Baptist. There are also castles dating from the time of the Crusades perched high on mounds and palaces set deep in the eastern desert plains where Umayyad noblemen once relaxed in splendour.
The mighty Wadi Rum dominates the southern stretches of Jordan. © www.visitjordan.com
The mighty Wadi Rum, a land of desert dotted with canyons and sand dunes where Bedouin tribes have lived for centuries dominates the southern stretches of Jordan, while the kingdom’s only coastline is at Aqaba. This vibrant city looks out over the Gulf of Aqaba, which flows to the Red Sea and, as a result of its academically acclaimed marine work, offers a kaleidoscope of colour created by fish attracted to its offshore corals. Jordan’s capital city is Amman and it is here that visitors will find gourmet restaurants, international hotels and shiny shopping malls that sit surprisingly well with its Roman and Islamic archaeological sites and bustling souks. Amman is a hub; a multicultural metropolis with a distinctly modern edge.
But Jordan’s appeal stems as much from its people as its landscape. Inhabited by various settlers throughout history, from the Canaanites and Babylonians to the Byzantines and Ottomans, today Jordan is a progressive, stable country with a commitment to sustainable tourism. Visitors are warmly welcomed with the greeting ‘ahlan wa sahlan’. Roughly translated as ‘welcome to my home’, this phrase can be heard being spoken by the friendly and hospitable Jordanians to travellers many times a day with absolute sincerity. Its people, like Jordan itself, will leave an impression – one that could easily last a lifetime.
I had long admired Jordan from afar, and even before I visited for the first time I knew instinctively that it would make an impression on me. My imagination had already been captured by the city chic of Amman, awesome biblical sites and breathtaking natural beauty that I’d seen only in photos or read about, and I had become absorbed by the riveting history of Petra during my archaeology and architectural studies. The determined work for women’s and children’s rights by Jordan’s first lady, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, and the kingdom’s commitment to wildlife and habitat conservation, all subjects very dear to my heart, had reinforced my feelings about the country. So when my plane touched down in Amman for the very first time and I hopped in a jeep to begin exploring this fascinating country, it was a journey that would change my life. Friends would ask why I spoke so passionately about Jordan and I urged them to see it for themselves. Many did, and on their return thanked me for the motivation and advice I offered with utmost sincerity. This drove me to want to share my experiences of, and my passion for, this captivating country with others, and so the Bradt guide to Jordan was born. Along the way I met many truly inspirational people, from Yaser who gave me a true insight into the life of a Bedouin over wild mint and cinnamon tea in the Rum Desert, Ali with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Jordan’s archaeological sites, and Suleiman who taught me how to make a mean mensaf – a snapshot of so many people’s passion for this inspirational, vibrant and colourful kingdom.