The Original Philadelphia

Trip Start Dec 09, 2005
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Trip End Jan 01, 2006


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Flag of Jordan  , Amman,
Thursday, December 29, 2005

December 28, 2005: Off on another day of exploration, our day began with a stop at the Jordanian Archaeological Museum in Amman. A small place, it offered a wealth of historical information from the Neolithic Age through the Byzantine Period. From ancient pottery and carvings to coins, jewelry, sculptures and glass, the museum featured an incredible collection. It was amazing to see how the ancient civilizations progressed in their creation of necessary items such as tools, water pots, ornaments and other items. But the most impressive and memorable pieces for me were the remnants of the Dead Sea Scrolls, pieces of linen paper said to be found in caves in the town of Qumran, northwest of the Dead Sea. I could have spent hours in that museum, but there was so much more to discover so we had to move on.

On the same site as the museum stood several ruins - stone pillars and structures left standing after centuries of decay amid the ancient city of Philadelphia. You see, the city of Amman became the city of Philadelphia between 63 - 106 AD when the Roman Empire took over. You Bible scholars will recall the mention of the church at Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation. Well, this is that very same Philadelphia. It was one of the largest Roman cities in the east in the time of Jesus. The name was later changed back to Amman.

Built on 8 hills, the ancient city of Philadelphia is the site of the temple of the Greek god Hercules, dated to the Greco-Roman period. An earthquake in 749 AD destroyed many of the structures, but some remnants still remain atop the city's acropolis (upper city), where several temples were built. I was speechless as we walked the rocky grounds and stood like ants amid the tall stone pillars and massive wall structures that were once gathering places and worship sites. It looked so much like what I imagine Athens, Greece is like. And just walking around that place made me all the more anxious to visit Greece, a place I have wanted to visit since I was a child.


From there we traveled 45 minutes to the city of Jerash, another breathtaking site, formerly known as a hot spot for Greco-Roman trade and interaction, and just one area of the ancient Decapolis (the ten big Roman cities of the East). Jerash has been called the Pompeii of the East for its unique state of preservation. Atop the acropolis (high city) here, we saw the temple of Zeus (as known to the Greeks) or Apollos (as known to the Romans). Nearby, the South Theatre is a huge stadium-like theatre, with steep seating reaching high into the sky for viewing the performances on the stage below. We were treated to a lively performance by a Jordanian bagpipe group, marching the area in their traditional garb (much different from the Irish kilts we've become accustomed to seeing). The sound of the bagpipes echoed throughout the stadium as they played familiar tunes such as "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Someone must have told them that there were Americans in the audience.

Michael commented that the group was so good that perhaps the origin of bagpipes might not have come from Ireland, as we have been told. And believe it or not, we later learned that he was right. Our tour guide advised us that, in fact, bagpipes were invented by the Sumarians 3,500 years ago. Egyptians learned the music from them 500 years later, and then the Greeks and Romans picked up on the art and passed it on. That was an interesting little side note for us.

Continuing our tour of Jerash, we walked through ruins of the temple of Diana (as known to the Greeks) or Artemus (as known to the Romans). In Greek mythology, she was the daughter of Zeus, and was the goddess of fertility and fruit worshipped by the farmers of the day. This temple was enormous and stretched a large area, much larger than the temple of Zeus. Trekking down the stone steps of the temple, we found ourselves on an uneven rocky "road", which we were told was a colonnade or ancient street on which chariots traveled. The guide even pointed out indentations in the stone that were made by the wheels of the primeval vehicles.

At what was once a major intersection of the colonnade, I noticed that some of the pillars were made of granite that looked curiously like that of the rose granite we saw in Aswan. When I asked the guide, he confirmed that it was indeed granite imported from Aswan, Egypt, and that some of the pillars in the Temple of Zeus were made of Italian marble. This is a testament to the vast trading that occurred in ancient times, and the sophistication of the people. They appreciated the natural resources found in other areas of the world and were somehow able to transport large pieces of stone from one distant land to their own. How in the world did they do that, and how long must it have taken? No one really knows.

After lunch at the Jerash Rest House, we proceeded by bus to the Saracen castle at Ajlun (Aj loon). This 12th Century castle is nestled on top of a hill surrounded by a large dry moat overlooking thousands of olive trees. It is said to be an outstanding example of Arab/Islamic military architecture, and features dozens of cavern-like rooms hidden inside the cold, stone structure. Tall ceilings and small "windows" give way to arched entryways and dome-like ceilings, which made the place cold and kind of spooky. It didn't help that Michael was walking behind me making ghost noises that echoed off the walls. As we climbed the 165 stairs to the top of the castle, we stopped midway to walk through the small museum, which contained several artifacts of pottery, coins and jewelry uncovered on the site. An incredible view of the city below greeted us once we reached the top, but the cold winds made our rooftop visit brief. But it was definitely worth the climb.

After a long day of discovery, we were treated to a fantastic dinner at Kan Zaman Restaurant. This place used to be the village of Kan Zaman, an Ottoman settlement enclose by a huge stone wall. It was transformed into a replica of an old Jordanian village, affording its clientele the experience of the way of life in such a village. With little shops selling handmade products made onsite in the little studios, the village also features a remarkable restaurant, previously the village's horse stables. They did a great job of transforming that area into a restaurant. The stone walls reminded me of the castle we visited earlier today, and I could just imagine a bunch of horses being housed in the large area.

The buffet dinner featured Arabic food, of course, including an assortment of over 15 different salads and appetizers, a delicious lentil soup that tasted like black bean soup, and a variety of main dishes such as chicken stuffed with spinach, lamb with bell peppers and gravy, rosemary potatoes, chicken and beef kabob, ginger pumpkin, pita bread, and yummy little pastries with cream cheese and oregano. Everything was absolutely delicious. And to add to the charm, a trio played light Jordanian music while we dined. The entire experience was enough to make me forget that we were actually dining in what used to be home to several horses. It was a fabulous experience.

And now that this day has ended, we're back at the hotel for our last night in Jordan. Time to repack our things - that's always the hard part. Nothing ever seems to fit as well as it did in the beginning. Could it be that we're bringing back much more than we came with? The answer to that is a definitive "yes". But not necessarily in terms of tangible goods. No doubt we've done our share of gift shopping. But the value of our experiences in Jordan far exceed the cost of anything we purchased.

I would like to come back here someday, perhaps to visit Gadera, the place near the Sea of Galilee mentioned in the Bible where Jesus cast out the demons from the man who was living in the caves. Or maybe Jesus' baptism site, now known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. There are so many other sites to see, but unfortunately our time here has ended. Back to Cairo tomorrow to prepare for reentry to the U.S.
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