Jordan's desert vastness and ancient cities

Photo by G. Fox, 4 January 2013
As you see, it was quite a journey to the great desert canyon of Wadi Rum, where caravans have passed and Bedouins have trekked, warred and trafficked for ages, and where T. E. Lawrence based his operations during part of the guerrilla war against the Ottomans, 1917-18. And where much of the movie about him, "Lawrence of Arabia," was filmed more than 50 years ago. 

We had three priority destinations in Jordan. First, the mosaic map in Madaba; next and more important, the ancient city, or cemetery, or whatever it was, of Petra, and finally, this amazing canyon, Wadi Rum. 

The mosaic floor map in Madaba, 25 km southwest of Amman, was originally composed of over two million tesserae by Greek-speaking Christians between 1540 and 1570. The map disappeared under the rubble of the razed church in the Persian conquest of 1614, until the surviving central portion was "rediscovered in 1884, during the construction of a new Greek Orthodox church on the site of its ancient predecessor." (Wikipedia: Madaba Map). Check out another site, Sacred Destinations, for more images, especially of the central portion showing the major buildings of Jerusalem at that time. At the top you can read (in Greek letters) "HAGIAPOLISIEROUSA…", i.e., "Holy City Jerusa…," all run together as one word and missing the last tessarae, which must have been LEM. It's the oldest surviving map of the city, and its scale and depictions are amazingly accurate for 6th century cartography.

Al Khazneh or The Treasury at Petra
Not much more to see in Madaba, at least for us non-Arabic speakers, so we moved on quickly to Petra. This city in a desert canyon had been settled by 1550 BCE, was built up with elaborate temples and a controlled water supply by the Nabateans beginning around 312 BCE, was further developed by Greek and then Roman conquerors, some of whom left great tombs for themselves, and was not abandoned until a major earthquake destroyed many buildings and its water system in 363 CE ("Common Era," what Christians call "AD").   We trudged all over — the site is immense — and climbed to some impossible heights to stand on ancient altars, got rooked by some charming, thieving Bedouin children (we foolishly exchanged their euros for dinars, confused by their smiles into thinking the bills were of equivalent value). After a few hours we were too exhausted to face the trek back to the entrance, and took the "desert taxis" — a Bedouin-guided horse for Susana, a donkey for me. Here is my photo of "the Treasury," just to prove I was there — you'll find many better images on the 'net, if you haven't been there yet.

For me, though, the high point of our Jordan visit was not a city but a building-free desert canyon of shifting sands, great craggy rocks, changing colors and more Bedouins — especially our young adult hosts and guide. This will be for my next note. The intersection of geology and humanity made a deep impact on me, as it had on Col. Lawrence and on almost everyone else who has seen Wadi Rum. 

Thanks to Eva Borsody for pointing me to Guy Delisle's illustrated narrative, Chronicles of the Holy City.  This review by Rupert Christiansen will give you some idea — from the sample and description, it looks great. Delisles lived there for moret han a year and knows the city much better than we could, but his amazement and perplexity at the enormous contradictions were much like our own. I'll get to our Jerusalem experience in a future note — after Wadi Rum.

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