After breakfast on the patio of our luxurious surroundings overlooking the mountains, we said goodbye to our oasis by the sea and boarded the bus for more culture overload.
We drove into what seemed like a no man’s land. Parched. Bare. Bedouin shanties cobbled together on patches of arid land dotted the landscape, some with a car, dog, donkey, horse, or camel. Trash and debris were everywhere along the well-maintained highway! Where the landscape permitted, we passed sheep with their herders, fields, produce stands, and wind turbines. We had Wifi on the bus, so it was fun to use a map app to see where we were at all time.
I loved our first stop, Bethany, situated on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, five and a half miles north of the Dead Sea. In the middle on nowhere, it is universally accepted as the site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Stunning, modern pilgrimage churches are starting to sprout up in the area, but not so many that the mood and solitude are spoiled. The river has receded many yards in the last 2,000 years so the site believed to be where the actual baptism took place is totally dry. Ruins of a small pilgrimage chapel and mosaics commemorate the site as well as the Pope’s visit. We walked down to the river and were surprised to find an armed guard whose job it was to see that people on the Israeli side of the river, literally yards away, do not enter Jordan illegally. Steps on both sides of the river make getting into the water easy, but we came unprepared not to mention short on time, so we had to make due with dipping our hands in the River Jordan.
Next stop: Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the promised landed for the first time and where he spent the last days of his life. The site had expansive views of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. Three things were memorable about the stop. The first was an ultra-modern, sleek church housing mosaics uncovered from archaeological digs dating back to the 6th century AD. The main mosaic illustrates the process of winemaking and has images of hunters and animals. Outside there is a modern metal sculpture of the Serpentine Cross, a symbolic combination of the bronze serpent created by Moses winding its way up Jesus’ cross. Its effect is dramatic because its location on the mountain top allows a huge expanse of sky as a backdrop. Lastly there is a new stone monument with a profile of Moses near the entrance. At a glance it looks like a large piece of rock, but then his profile comes into focus.
In preparation for our last stop, we took a quick tour of a mosaic workshop / handicraft center where the ancient art is being taught and practiced. It was instantly clear that it’s no cakewalk to make one, especially a large one. Surprise: they are created upside down. We also saw the process for making faux-mosaic pieces out of clay, now quite popular, and we were introduced to the idea of decorating ostrich eggs with microdots of color. I was determined to choose a small mosaic and an egg but I ran out of time and left empty handed.
The Madaba Map, also known as the Madaba Mosaic Map, was the highlight of our last stop of the day. It’s part of a floor mosaic in Madaba’s Byzantine church, Saint George’s. Crafted in 560 AD, the map has 157 Greek captions depicting all the major biblical sites from Egypt to Palestine. It originally contained more than two million pieces and was somewhere between 49 and 82 feet long and 20 feet wide. Although much of the mosaic has been lost, enough remains to sense the complexity of the ancient floor. Part of it contains the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem.
The sun, low on the horizon, created a stunning red and yellow sunset as we headed to our hotel in Petra.
… SO WHAT …
$1.00 = .71 Jordanian Dinar (JOD or JD) / 1 JOD = $1.41
Jordan’s national animal is the Arabian ibex. (We did not see any.)
The national bird is the Sinai rose finch. (We did not see any.)
Arabic is read right to left unlike English which is read left to right.
Unlike Israel, there is separation of church and state in Jordan.