Jordan – archeology at a glance

3, July 2013 · People and Places

In June 2013 I travelled through the archaeological sites of Jordan. The trip was organized by staff members of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Our group was primarily made up of “experts” who had travelled to Jordan many times. We covered practically the entire country with the exception of its southernmost part.

The greater part of Jordan is comprised of desert, which is located fairly high above sea level (700 m on average). Therefore, the temperature is significantly lower than in the desert of Judea and Negev.
The places we visited are well-known; I would like to make note of only those that made the strongest impressions on me.

Qusayr Amra (700 – 715 AD). According to one version, the owner of this fortress was Al-Walid I, an Umayyad caliph, who ruled from 705 to 715.
The inner walls and vaulted ceiling are adorned with magnificent frescoes, depicting “surreal” images of animals and people. Presumably, the artists were Byzantine masters. One of the bathhouse rooms has a mythological theme with depictions of nude female figures (!) We were told that it would likely be necessary to plaster over the fresco in order to prevent its destruction by Muslim fanatics. It is all the more remarkable to encounter such art from the period of early Islam, when all imagery of people and animals was prohibited. However, considering the fact that the castle was intended for receiving foreign guests, it is probable that the frescoes were created to suit their tastes. The dome of the last room displays a map of the sky with zodiac signs; something similar can be found in later alchemical images of medieval Europe.

Jerash is an antique city that has been wonderfully conserved. Its excavations seemed bigger in area than the Roman Forum or the Ephesus in Turkey. It turns out that the largest ancient city of the Middle East is Beit She’an (Israel), but its greater part lies beneath the modern city and is not excavated.

Umm ar-Rasas (700 AD) is a territory with an abundance of early churches, most of which have not been excavated. The main points of interest are two churches with the largest mosaics found in Jordan (and the largest I have seen). As in the majority of mosaics in the territories of the Muslim world, figures of animals and people have been destroyed. In spite of this, the mosaics are amazing in their accuracy of composition and skill of execution.

In addition, I would like to mention the pedestrian trail along the Wadi Al Hasa – this is the largest of the five wadies in Jordan; the river’s water comes from warm springs, and its temperature is probably 36-38 degrees.

According to Jordanian rules, we were accompanied throughout the entirety of our trip by an armed police officer guarding us against possible incidents.
We were also assigned a tour guide; over the course of our travels he conducted “lessons of political propaganda” of doubtful content with us. I even got into an argument with one of my colleagues about whether he did this by his own initiative or in accordance with “party directives.”

Photos and text: Leonid Zeiger, July 2013
Translation from Russian: Anna Shevelyova.

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