Time Out heads to Jordan for a taste of the real Middle East
Around three and a half hours’ flight from Dubai, Jordan is the Middle East your parents think you live in. Here, Bedouin is an actual way of life, rather than a pottery range. Souks outnumber superstores and history courses through the country’s veins. That said, the Jordanian capital, Amman, has a refreshingly juvenile streak, with lively bars soundtracked by everything from house to hip hop.
While Amman won’t be taking home any town planning prizes, this chaotic jumble of traffic-jammed main roads and obscure side streets is a welcome break from Dubai’s spread-out vastness. Houses, ranging from simple bunkers of rough breezeblock to ultra-modern apartment blocks, match the warm colours of the land, and Athenian hills greet every turn of the head.
Downtown Amman is a bustling metropolis where you’ll find cheap hotels, banks and the bulk of the city’s sights, including the restored Roman theatre. Cut into the side of a hill and set in its own attractive grounds, the theatre was built in the second century AD and seats 6,000.
North of these ruins, on its own hill, lies the citadel. Most of the buildings were reduced to rubble by the giant earthquake of 747 AD, but you can still see examples of Roman, Byzantine and Muslim architecture, and the views across the sprawling city are guaranteed to take your breath away. The National Archaeological Museum is also based on the site and houses artefacts from prehistoric to Roman times, including a slice of the infamous Dead Sea Scrolls.
Beyond the city limits lies a cultural oasis packed with sights to knock you sideways. Petra is the most obvious attraction, but there are thousands of years of history to explore – from the Roman remains at Jerash, with its fantastic chariot race enactments, to crusader castles such as Karak and the traditional stone village of Dana – all a stone’s throw from the capital. Unlike its British glamour-model namesake, Jordan also has many natural attractions: the breathtaking desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, dive haven Aqaba and seas both Red and Dead. Throw in the fact that temperatures may also be a little cooler than what you’re used to in Dubai, and you’ve got the gateway to the perfect getaway.
Lawrence of Arabia On a trip to Wadi Rum, discover the iconic dunes, rich landscapes and the famous rock formation named the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, after British Army officer Thomas Edward Lawrence’s book of the same name. The autobiography documents his famous mission over the desert. His journey was interpreted in the epic 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia, in which he meets local Bedouin tribes and goes on a lengthy journey that even locals thought was impossible. During the trek he encounters quicksand and hostiles, forcing him to fight for his survival, and is later dubbed a hero for his actions.
Lawrence was described by Winston Churchill as ‘one of the greatest beings of our time’, but the film and Lawrence himself have been picked over by countless commentators since and lionised both in print and on screen. Many portrayed him as a liar or even a spy. During World War I he was a British Army liaison officer to the Arab forces, fighting with Prince Faysal, the son of Emir Hussein, in the Great Arab Revolt. But it was American journalist Lowell Thomas who created the legend, with a short film on Lawrence’s exploits that toured the world. Despite this, the image of virile heroism portrayed in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia is the one that has remained throughout the years.
Don’t miss The Citadel, Umayyad Palace, the National Archaeological Museum, the Roman theatre and the Royal Automobile Museum.
Need to know
Get there Gulf Air offers daily flights from Dubai to Amman via Bahrain. Early-bird bookings go for as little as Dhs450 return. www.gulfair.com
Where to stay Crowne Plaza Amman: In a central convenient location, close to shopping areas and near the airport, this is a great base from which to explore the area. All rooms are air-conditioned, clean and come with high-speed internet access. Plus, enjoy a Turkish bath or massage at the spa. Expect to pay about Dhs550 per night. www.amman.crowneplaza.com (06 551 0001)
What to see The Roman city of Jerash: With rich architecture, including the Roman Oval Piazza in Jerash, the Forum Cardo and temples, the history in the area will take your breath away. Open 24 hours. Free
Wadi Rum, Aqaba: This incredible desert and mountainous vista, located on the Red Sea, is accessible by bus, car and taxi. It offers an abundance of walks, treks and natural beauty. Open 24 hours. Free
Mount Nebo: Enjoy stunning views of the Holy Land from 817 metres above the Dead Sea. The area is embedded in religious mystery and tales. Open 24 hours. Free
Baptism site on the River Jordan: One of the most spiritual sites in the world, it is where a number of biblical events are believed to have occurred. Open daily 8am-4pm. Dhs5. firstname.lastname@example.org (+962 77 760 7036)
• The city became the Ammonite capital, Rabbath Ammon, around 1200 BC. It was then conquered by the Assyrians, the Persians and then the Greeks.
• The city was renamed Philadelphia around 300 BC, after an Egyptian king. Seleucid and Nabatean rule followed, then Roman. It was renamed Amman during the Ghassanian era, around 635 AD.