Monday, 30 November 2009

Castles, Mosaic Maps and The Dead Sea. The Jordan Experience Continues

The road out of the town of Wadi Musa soon joins The Kings Highway, this is a long meandering road that runs through Jordan. We very soon arrived at our first stop, Shobak Castle.
Shobak Castle is another castle in the great chain of Crusader fortresses which stretches across Jordan. This stronghold, known as Mont Realis, was constructed in 1115 CE by Baldwin the First. At its height Shobak was home to about 6000 Christians. It suffered numerous assaults by Saladin, before it finally fell to him in 1189. Shobak Castle was then restored by the Mamluks in the 14th century.
The castle is perched on top of a small hill northeast of the town of Shobak. Inside the fortress there are two churches, the first of which is to the left of the entrance and up the stairs. There are ruins of baths, cisterns and rainwater pipes, in addition to millstones for pressing olives, a few archways and other works which have stood the test of time. The caretaker can point out a shaft from which a set of stairs cut into the rock leads down to a spring below the castle. The shaft has 375 steps and is one of the deepest wells ever cut by Crusader forces. Its such fun in places such as Jordan, with few enforced Health & Safety Rules, you are left to explore on your own, and having scrambled among the ruins of the castle for an hour or so we headed to the Desert Highway to speed towards the town of Madaba, and lunch!
Madaba, a small, friendly town 30Km Southwest of Amman. Is best known for its Byzantine Mosaics, most famously the Mosaic in the Church of St George, that depicts a Mosaic Map of the Holy Land. Now! for me (and a bus load of Male tourists from San Francisco) this was defiantly a case of ‘over hype’, I was really disappointed in the map. In contrasted to my disenchantment with the map, Trolly, who had not heard of it or read any information about it, thought The Map was extraordinary! After I had lit my candle for a friends dearest wish-I do this in Churches all over the world for her, and this time I think it worked!?! Must be The Holy Land effect -We negotiated our way through the many road works of Madaba towards Mount Nebo.
Mount Nebo is reputed to be the site where, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses saw the promise land God had forbidden Moses to enter. Moses then died on the mountain. To me the ‘Promise Land’ looked a bit barren, and quite like the rest of the land around it. The view from Mount Nebo was great.You look across the Dead Sea, to the Desert of Judah, and the mountains of Judea.
The Brazen Serpent Monument, created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni.
We arrived at out Dead Sea accommodation just prior to sunset. I had pre-booked the Mujib Chalets with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature / Wild Jordan on the web site. http://www.rscn.org.jo/ the chalets are listed under Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve on the web page and in the Rough Guide. But they are located on the banks of the Dead Sea and make a refreshing alternative to staying at one the big 5* hotel chains located just up the road. They provide B&B and evening meals in the restaurant.
The Beach, if you want the mud treatments, ask the staff at reception they get the mud for you.I would recommend a stay at the Mujib Chalets, the accommodation was clean and comfortable, the staff were really helpful. Especially the chef who couldn't do enough for us, including cooking us this magnificent BBQ.
The Dead Sea -The Lowest Point on Earth-is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west. There is a quiet hush in the valley- the salt haze dampens down sound and filters out UVB sun rays- giving it an almost other worldly beauty. I have to agree with the Jordanian publicity department who say that-'It is without doubt, one of the world’s most amazing place, the Jordan Rift Valley is a dramatic, beautiful landscape, which at the Dead Sea, is over 400 metres below sea level. The lowest point on the face of the earth, this vast, stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine with some of its finest products.
The leading attraction at the Dead Sea is the warm, soothing, super salty water itself – some ten times saltier than sea water, and rich in chloride salts of magnesium, sodium, potassium, bromine and several others. The unusually warm, incredibly buoyant and mineral-rich waters have attracted visitors since ancient times, including King Herod the Great and the beautiful Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. All of whom have luxuriated in the Dead Sea’s rich, black, stimulating mud and floated effortlessly on their backs while soaking up the water's healthy minerals along with the gently diffused rays of the Jordanian sun.'
We mimicked the Royals of old as we attempted to swim in the Dead Sea, some thing that you can not do, and just enjoyed the strange sensation of bobbing about like corks on top of the brine.