On Saturday we got up early and rushed to make one touristic stop in Nazareth before boarding a bus to cross the border into Jordan. We wanted to see the interior of the Church of the Annunciation, built on the spot where the angel is supposed to have come to Mary bearing tidings of the birth of Christ. It had been closed both of the previous evenings by the time we go into town, so we took 10 minutes between the time that it opened at 8 am and the time we had to be to our bus at 8:15 to see it.
VIEW OF NAZARETH WITH THE TOWER OF THE BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION
It is a really interesting church. Very modern, but with some elements of old architecture in it. A smaller chapel behind the main church is constructed over what is supposed to be the site of Joseph's carpenter shop. In my opinion, at a certain point all of these associations become a bit ridiculous. How could we possibly know where Joseph's shop was? But there is something to making a pilgrimage to a spot and saying "This is where it happened," and knowing that thousands and thousands of other people thought the same thing on the same spot. I guess that's really the point.
INTERIOR OF THE DOME OF THE BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION
Anyway, we made it to the bus, which was bigger than we expected, and full of Arabs making the border crossing. The border is very close to Nazareth, and we were there in about 30 minutes. It did not take too terribly long to cross, but of course we had to go through security and passport control twice: once to leave Israel, and once to enter Jordan. Plus we had to pay an exit and entry tax for each of the countries. We had purchased our Jordanian visas ahead of time, so we didn't have to mess with that line. The process was a pretty smooth one, and the most interesting part about it was watching the "pit crew" come out and change the license plates on all the buses over from Israeli to Jordanian. They just stack them on top of each other, and pull whichever one they need to the front when they hit the border. I suppose that's legal! We did have to wait about 30-45 minutes on the Israeli side, but we think it was because our bus driver was doing some duty-free shopping. At any rate, we got through without incident, and were able to convince the agents on both sides not to stamp our passports, since either an Israeli stamp or a Jordanian land border stamp would indicate we had been in Israel, and we would be denied entry to some other Arab countries in the future. We had already convinced the passport control gal at the airport not to stamp them, but they are never happy about it. They want to know why, where else you want to go, and what business you have there. It makes for a lot longer and more thorough questioning, but is potentially worth it.
One interesting border note: On the Jordanian side, a member of the Tourist Police boarded the bus and talked to us, then rode the 2 hours or so on into Amman with us, where he made sure we got a reliable taxi to the rental car service. They really really want to make sure that tourists are not treated badly because tourism is the only real source of income they have! (we thought they might have some oil, but we were told that is not the case).
Amman is big and dirty, dirty, dirty. Oh, and did I mention it is an absolute catastrophe in terms of driving? I don't think many tourists take the plunge. I'm basing this on the fact that the rental car place actually had my name written on their wall calendar for that day! We did make it through and out of the city alive, but I don't think Peter's heart will ever quite be the same. Just to illustrate what it was like, here is a sequence of events that took place within a minute of each other. First, an old man stepped into the road directly in front of Peter, who was already trying to negotiate three invisible lanes of traffic. He slammed on the brakes, swerved a little, and went on. Seconds later, some kids did the same thing! Again, the brakes, a swerve, luckily no sideswiping of another vehicle, and another sigh of relief. But literally 30 seconds later, a woman WITH A BABY stepped out! Unbelievable! My job as Navigator was anything but easy, but Peter definitely had the hard job.
YOU DO NOT WANT TO MESS WITH THE JORDANIAN PARKING POLICE!
Seeing the city, we were SO glad we had decided not to stay there in a hotel. Really, it just seemed pretty gross. But we did want to see some of the ancient ruins before heading out, so we drove to the center of town (again, big points for Peter) and miraculously found a parking spot directly in front of the famous Roman theater.
Then we climbed to the ancient acropolis (now called the Citadel). We had a bit of a hard time finding it, winding our way up through some pretty dismal back alleys and climbing stairs covered in broken glass and other trash. But finally we made it.
Amman was the capital of the Ammonite people (hence the name), but he most impressive ruins are, as usual, Roman and later. The massive Temple of Hercules towers over the city.
SOME RANDOM GUY IN THE TEMPLE OF HERCULES
SOME NOT-SO-RANDOM GUY IN THE TEMPLE OF HERCULES
VIEW OF MODERN AMMAN FROM THE ANCIENT ACROPOLIS
Also well worth seeing is the Umayyad palace (built in 750 AD and only used for 30 years!). The Umayyads were a Muslim dynasty, the second Arab Caliphate established after the death of Mohammad, for those of you who do not know -- and trust me, I didn't know until I moved to Turkey and started living in a building full of historians! It was an important empire though, the fifth largest ever in the history of the world in terms of land size and the percentage of the population of the world that it ruled over. The remains of impressive Umayyad buildings are dotted all over the Middle East, and this is a fine example.
We also planned to visit the Jordan Archaeological Museum on the acropolis. Inside we could have seen some Nabatean artifacts from Petra, among other things. Unfortunately, when we got there we discovered that the reason it had been so difficult to find the Citadel was that we had come in through an illegal back way and so had not purchased a ticket, so we could not get into the Museum. It was only 15 minutes to closing time, too late to go buy a ticket and come back, so we missed out on that.
But we were able to rush out of town (very slowly, in traffic), and make it to Madaba, a small town to the south of Amman.
SUNSET ON THE ROAD FROM AMMAN TO MADABA
Our goal was to get to town before the Church of St. George closed. The Church is built over the ruins of a much earlier church, from the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (ca 527 AD). The main attraction is a mosaic map which shows the area of the Holy Land, including Jerusalem in detail, as it was at that time. We did not in fact get there before the church closed for services, but I pleaded with the caretaker and he let us in for a few short minutes, and rolled back the rug so we could see the map and take photos. It is interesting, but not incredibly impressive. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that it was altered later by Muslims. Because the Koran includes a rule against representing living beings in art, medieval Muslims would sometimes alter antique mosaics by rearranging the tesserae so that the figures now appear "pixellated." That way, the beautiful decoration of the floor was retained, but the human and animal forms were no longer present. There are some very good examples of that work here. The guidebook we have says merely that the figures were "gouged out by later iconoclasts" which is clearly not true, and unfortunately glosses over the interesting reasons for the reworking of the art:
THE MOST FAMOUS SECTION OF THE "MADABA MAP": JERUSALEM
THE TWO FISHERMEN ON THE SEA OF GALILEE WHO WERE REWORKED IN THE "MADABA MAP"
Madaba is an interesting town that became somewhat important in the 19th century. It was at this time that a fairly large community of Arab Christians were forced out of nearby Kerak by the greater number of Muslims, and settled here. Today it is a mixed community of Muslims and Christians, but there is certainly a large number of churches for such a small town! The woman and her son who own the hotel we stayed in (The Black Iris, which is actually their family home converted for use as a small hotel) were apparently Christian. We guess this because she did not have her head covered, and because there were several crucifixes hanging on the walls, as well as a Christian fish symbol. The place was a bit drab, but they were incredibly friendly and helpful, and her homemade hummus for breakfast in the mornings was wonderful!
Madaba is a small town, but it is under construction everywhere, and is full of confusing roundabouts and one-way streets. In the two nights we spent there, we never ever really understood how to navigate it. We would set off, map in hand, to find some simple marked destination, and end up completely lost. Very frustrating. But it was still much better than Amman, and we had probably the best meal of the entire trip (cheap too!) in a restaurant there. Traditional middle eastern food, served on low couches in front of a crackling fire. Wonderful!