Jordan day 1: Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Machaerus, Umm Ar-Rasas, Grand Canyon of Jordan

Welcome to the stories of a magical week in Jordan where we did a road trip adventure on the King’s Highway for an unforgettable week of exploration!

Day 1: Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Machaerus, Umm Ar-Rasas, Grand Canyon of Jordan

Driving the Kings Highway . . .

Having arrived the night prior and stayed at the 1880 Hotel Madaba, we started from Madaba to eliminate one leg of driving as we began our trip down the King’s Highway of Jordan.  The morning was spent with the Archaeological Museum, mosaic restoration school, and of course famous Madaba Map mosaic in the Byzantine church of Saint George.  This map of the middle east dating from 6th century AD contains the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem. While perhaps a bit over-hyped, it’s legitimately impressive and worth a visit.  

Comment: we started in Madaba so everything was new and exciting – it’s a great place to start with a foundation for the relevant history in the area and some of the concepts you’ll see throughout the journey.  I recommend it as a starting place, as it might not be as interesting at the end!

The famous mosaic map of Madaba

 

From there, we went on to Mt. Nebo, the site from which Moses is said to have viewed the Holy Lands.  While we had overcast skies and weren’t able to see the panorama of the Holy Land or even the River Jordan and the West Bank, it was a great first view into the topography of the area and worthwhile for the significance in Biblical history.  There’s an old monastery on the site as well, including pretty impressive mosaics, which are also worthwhile to explore. The serpentine cross sculpture is also worthy.

Robb and the holy lands below from Mt. Nebo . . . really cool topography!

Presumably when Moses viewed the holy lands from this spot, he had better visibility 😉

Mt. Nebo . . . Robb was sure he could push it! 😉

 

Serpent statue at Mt. Nebo

 

More mosaics . . . Mt. Nebo . . . they were super cool initially, but the novelty definitely wore off!

Comment: definitely worth a stop – not far out of the way – valuable for historical and geographical context

Next stop: Machaerus – The once fortified palace and bath house of Herod, and site of the imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist in 32 AD.  

Comment:  a decent walk to the ruins (nice to move the legs!), great views of the Dead Sea and pretty cool steep ravines on both sides (can see how it was a good fortified position to hold!).  Lots of caves in the area – fun to imagine which was the one John the Baptist was imprisoned in. So the story goes (and there are a few versions out there), Herod took a second wife (his brother’s wife) and John the Baptist did not condone the choice.  The wife thus didn’t like him, although Herod knew he was influential and didn’t want to kill him. When his step daughter Salome danced beautifully for his guests, however, he offered her whatever gift she wanted up to half of his kingdom. Upon consulting her mother, she asked for John the. Baptist’s head on a platter, which was delivered such that Herod would stay true to his word in front of his guests.  

Dead sea from Machaerus

Machaerus

 

Robb at the Machaerus ruins

Mukawer, Machaerus . . . what’s in a name?!?

Robb at the Machaerus baths . . .

Machaerus

 

From there, we went on to the lesser known Umm Ar-Rasas.  That said, these ruins were really cool, and also a UNESCO world heritage site.  There were multiple eras of use, as is the case throughout Jordan . . . Biblical settlement, Roman military strategic garrison, later inherited by Christian and Muslim communities.  Ruins date to Roman, Byzantine, and early Muslim periods. A lot of the area remains unexcavated/buried under debris . . . cool piles of rocks with old arches peaking through – a cool perspective for sure! 

Umm al Rasas

Umm Al Rasas . . . not all excavated yet!

The mosaic on the floor of the Church of St. Stephen was made in 785 AD and is the largest perfectly preserved mosaic floor in Jordan. There are smaller mosaics throughout as well, which are cool to explore.  One particular building still had a ‘ceiling’ arch with stones intact – those are rare to see and super interesting.

Haha, more mosaics . . . Umm al Rasas

More mosaics . . . Umm Al Rasas

 

Comment: We drove on to Umm Ar-Rasas, partly because we read that Kerak castle was closed on Sundays.  In retrospect, going straight to Kerak was probably the better choice, and it doesn’t close Sundays! That said, Umm Ar-Rasas was pretty cool, kind of more-so because nobody was there and there was a lot of exploring to be had!!  Actually, I’m really glad we stopped and would recommend doing so.

 

Final stop of the day was the ‘Grand Canyon of Jordan’ from the road (Hwy 35) just south of Dhiban.  It was a cool spot to overlook and watch the sunset, but honestly not overly spectacular. Then again, it’s on the way so worth it!

Robb and Grand Canyon

We made progress south along Kings Highway in the dark, deciding to stay in Dana Village at the Tower Hotel.  We’d heard it’s cool for hiking, and it was also the best location to hit Shobuk Castle in the morning, on the way to Petra.  

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