Today commenced the first part of my travels around various archaeological sites inJordan. This was supposed to begin yesterday, but due to complications with renting a car here (another reason to rely more heavily on taxi services…) and complications with the Department of Antiquities, which was paving our way to view these sites, we spent another day yesterday sitting around.
As a result, it was all the more exciting to load ourselves and our cameras into the car and leave the city. The city ofAmman, as my friend and I were discussing, is actually very beautiful. While neither of us has any prior experience in a major Middle Eastern city (or any Middle Eastern city, for that matter), it’s very striking how lovelyAmmanis. The architecture in many parts of the city is nothing particularly special – much development has been occurring in the past twenty or so years, and as the city is expanding, it’s clear that everyone is using the cheapest building material available (not to suggest that it’s unsafe, but simply to say that many of the buildings are very uniform in appearance). The city is very hilly, and contrary to the stereotypical image of Middle Eastern cities as being barren, there are a number of trees and beautiful plants here. Nonetheless, there was still a noticeable difference in the landscape as we left the city. I think I, at least, was somewhat despairing about what the countryside might look like here (having only seenAmmanand the desert). As we drove north, however, the scenery devolved into something very similar to eastern Oregon and Washington in the fall – dry agricultural areas dotted with small forests of trees.
There has been a movement in areas outside of Amman to restore forests – as Gary explained to me, when King Hussein I took the throne, he made a concerted effort to promote reforestation efforts north of Amman. The forests that had grown on the land originally had been cut down by people who used the wood to fire ceramics, as well as by Bedouin who needed the fuel for their fires. Now that the forests are on their way to being reestablished, it is illegal to harvest wood from the forests, although it still happens. These forests are now very beautiful, although still somewhat small; nonetheless, it was an incredible relief to see a forest, and to smell air that was scented with pine trees and woodsmoke.
The town of Jerash is relatively unassuming – it looks largely like a smaller version of Amman (similar architecture, similar crazy driving). However, upon cresting one of the hills in Jerash, you see for the first time the magnificent architecture of the Roman city ofJerash, and it literally took my breath away. I have visited very few historic sites, and certainly none have been as old as this. The first thing you enter is Hadrian’s arch, which is a beautiful construction. You then head to the hippodrome, where there were chariot and horse races. Keep walking, and you reach the remains of Zeus’s temple, and the theatre, which has its own incredible architecture.
Jerash is a mix of Roman and Byzantine architecture (as Gary described it, the Byzantine period is Roman, but with Christianity added in), and as a result, there are a variety of religious structures. There is a beautiful Byzantine temple/church, with a marvelously tiled floor. There is also the Temple of Artemis/Diana (always a favorite of mine in Greek mythology), which had some of the only pillars that withstood the multiple earthquakes that wracked the area. The pillars were built on bedrock, and as a result, the tremors affected them less so than the pillars at the Temple of Zeus. Artemis was considered the patron goddess of Jerash, and I feel like it bodes well that her temple was the least damaged in those earthquakes.
After taking hundreds of pictures (Gary made fun of me for taking so many pictures of the pillars at the Temple of Artemis), we departed from the site of Jerash to go to an incredible restaurant. If you happen to be in Jerash and need a place to eat, I can highly recommend Lebanese House (unfortunately, they do not have a website, but google them for more details). The three of us shared the mezza plate, which is generally served for one person; however, the three of us could barely finish all of it. Their flat bread is absolutely to die-for – as soon as a tore off a piece, the steam wafted the amazing smells to my nose, and my toes literally curled in delight. It was the first meal in a while where I felt not only completely satiated, but utterly thrilled with what I had just eaten.