Jordan Shores

04/03/2013 16:50
Jordan is a Bedouin chimera. A colonial ruling pen product. A Dead Sea riverside, a desert looking Arabia and a stony plane pointing to Mesopotamia.

Wahad Arak , Mr.?

Minfadlak, Hassan. Shukran jazilan!

It was the third one. I appreciate that kind of aniseed Ouzo, taken as an appetizer in a small glass with just an ice cube before have dinner. Hassan appreciated the tips.

Meanwhile, afternoon was languishing on the warm shadows staining the monotonous rooftops after Maghrib, the sunset call to prayer. Those were the same shadows that seemed to close the curtain in the Roman theatre on the hill of Jebel Jofeh. Temperature begun to be breathing then and people filled the streets leaving the mosque. Spiced chicken and lamb skewers spreads cumin joining cardamom coffee aromas. Moon, looks like Turkish high above the sky all over Amman.

Amman, the biblical Rabbah of the Ammonites, changed her name to Philadelphia in the Hellenistic period, as one of the cities of the Decapolis and later, along the years of the Roman province. From Byzantine days retains a pair of Christian temples, one in Sweifiyah neighbourhood and other in the Citadel. The transfer of the court from Damascus to Baghdad plunged Amman into decline. Ottoman Empire filled the city with Circassian people from the Caucasus. Finished the First World War the Emir Abdullah made it his capital.

The rest of the country has suffered the same vicissitudes. Petra, now a major tourist attraction, was an independent Nabatean kingdom even when Greece and Rome conquered the region. The first written reference goes back to 312 BC when the Nabataeans were attacked by the Seleucid king Antigonus I Monoftalmos, the one-eyed. Placed between the valley of Wadi Arabah and the Gulf of Aqaba, Petra was a successful commercial stop over for goods coming from the East. Finally Trajan annexed it to the Roman Empire. By the time of the Mamluks, disappeared to the eyes of the world.


As elsewhere in the Mediterranean Rome left its footprints: the theatre and the Temple of Hercules in Amman, the city of Pella, Gerasa or Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns. There a paved road, the Cardo Maximus, colonnaded on both sides, leads to an unusual oval square, also surrounded by pilasters. The partition of the Empire left the country under Constantinople’s hands. Two centuries later, with the emergence of Islam as new rising power land would be disputed. Only four years after Muhammad death, Christian and Muslim armies clashed in the Battle of the Yarmuk River in Mótah. Here three prominent Muslim leaders died: Zaid Ibn Harithah, Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib and Abdullah Ibn Rawahah. But they had defeated the rumis, opening the way to Damascus, where soon the Umayyad dynasty would rule.

Christians do not give up. Recover the Holy Land, Jerusalem and the establishment of the Crusader states was the main reason to start the Crusades,. Along the border rose new strengths. Crusades as Shobak or Kerak de Montréal. Muslim as Qala'at al Rabadh, Qasr al Kharanah or Ayyubid Al Azraq, the Blue one. Here an endless large basalt stones desert stretches probably farther from the horizon. Meanwhile, in the village centre, still stands Diocletian Roman fortress once Lawrence headquarters during the Arab Revolt.

Was not yet over Ottoman rule when a young Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the Nabatean city in 1812, abandoned in a peaceful oblivion and a millennial dream, only kept asleep by a few Bedouin. Traversed the long gorge known as the Siq, stage for the spectacular Indiana Jones latest crusade escape, stumbles, almost literally, with the facade of Al Khaznah, the Treasury. It is so famous that rosy hues of its facade were attributed to the whole monumental city. Actually these shades are only found here, on the porch and inside, in an incredible sandstone colourful natural formations succession. On the central dome above the Corinthian capitals, there is an urn. According to legend it was hiding an unknown pharaoh's treasure. Over the years, the Bedouin have fired unsuccessfully. Beyond a street leading to other buildings and to the core of the enclave, a theatre could seat three thousand people. Streets paved in Roman times, leads to baths and temples and to impressive buildings as the Monastery, Al Deir, or Al Madhbah, the palace of the Sacrifice.

On ninth day of the month of Shaaban 1334 after the Hegira, June 10, 1916,  Shareef Hussein Ibn Ali, ruler of the holy places of Medina and Mecca declared the start of the uprising. Conveniently supported by the Allies and particularly in the figure of Thomas Edward Lawrence, simply known as Lawrence of Arabia. The Welsh official negotiated alliances between Arab tribes against the Ottomans. In 1917 he took the only Jordanian seaport, Aqaba, after a long and epic journey through the desert, surprising the Turkish garrison. More than once Lawrence used as shelter the amazing desert valley of Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon. Lawrence, in his memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom described it: The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architecture to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination. Landscapes, in childhood's dream, were so vast and silent.

In 1920, after the end of the war, the League of Nations divided the spoils of the Turkish Empire between English and French.

Promises made to Arabs vanished as narghile smoke wiped by the wind. Both the Jordan shores and Mesopotamia came under British mandate. In 1928 independence was recognized to the protectorates: Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, while maintaining the administration until 1948. That year the Palestine partition plan sparked the first war with the creation of the state of Israel. West Bank would join the Hashemite kingdom. In 1967 Israel occupied to the Arabs, in the brief Six Day War, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, expelling Palestinian refugee flows to neighbouring countries. Amman itself doubled its population in those years while refugee camps became permanent settlements.

From Mount Nebo, in the hills of Moab, Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. A vast wilderness territory just over a sea so salty that prevents even the fish life. The Promised Land. Here he died and was buried. Also still stands the remains of an ancient chapel and a monastery. If the day is clear enough are seen the golden reflections of the Dead Sea, the Judean Hills and Canaan, even, perhaps with some help, the minarets of the mosque of the Rock, which is based on King David wall temple and from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Thrice holy Al Quds, Jerusalem.

Back in Amman the conversation seemed unavoidable:

- Wahad Arak, Mr.?

- Minfadlak, Hassan!

© J.L.Nicolas


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