Instead of getting on a fast bus from Amman to Petra, I decided to go slowly along the King’s Highway to visit some cities and castles on the way.
King’s Highway was an ancient road from Damascus to Egypt. I those days it was the world’s oldest continuously used trading route connecting Amman with Aqaba.
It is a pretty spectacular road trip lined with antiquities, the mosaics of Madaba and Mount Nebo. The imposing castles of Karak and Shobak are merely the most famous on the way to the Rose City of Petra, which later winds its way to Wadi Rum and Aqaba.
This is a great way to combine sight seeing with observing everyday life while pulling over at a local shop to buy bread or for a coffee at a roadside stall.
Although nothing will surpass my two-month road trip in the West Coast, I have to admit that the King’s Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the world, Gently rolling and wiggling through agricultural land, sleepy rural villages, rugged mountains and canyons.
Madaba is an easy-going town best known for its extraordinary Byzantine-era mosaic of extreme historical significance. The ‘Madaba Map’ can be seen in the Greek Orthodox St. George’s Church and it is a stunningly beautiful fourteenth century old map of Palestine.
Madaba is the biggest Christian city in Jordan and an outstanding example of religious tolerance. Another thing worth visiting here is the Archaeological Park and Museum.
Locally known as Siyagha, Mount Nebo is one of Jordan’s most important Christian holy sites and the highest point in this part of the ancient kingdom of Moab.
It is believed that this hilltop is the place where Moses first saw the Promised Land which God forbade him to enter. It is said he died and was buried here as well.
Excavation have uncovered a cluster of monastic buildings surrounding a 6th-century basilica. Works are being continued on the sight constantly.
The most known symbol of Mount Nebo is a Biblical brazen serpent, today more known as the symbol of pharmacies. On a clear day the panoramic views of the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem visible on the skyline are magnificent. Next, after the Madaba sight representing religious tolerance and peace, is the olive tree planted by Jan Paul II on one of his visits and Midnight Christmas Mass held here both in English and Arabic.
The King’s Highway winds through the picturesque Wadiwala Valley, then plunges into Wadi Mujib and continues to the Karak and Shobak Castles.
Before the Crusaders built their castle here, Karak had been home to the Nabateans, Romans and Byzantines. The fortified castle was one of a long line of castles built by the Crusaders stretching from Aqaba to Turkey.
Karak replaced its older brother Shobak as the centre of the Transjordan, thus becoming the most important fortress between Aqaba and Jerusalem.
The Crusaders had an outstanding system of security, all of the castles were a day’s journey apart and had a beacon to inform Jerusalem it was safe.
Karak is a perfect example of the Crusaders’ architecture, with Romanesque-style vaults, numerous corridors and a strong doorway.
The original parts of the castle can be recognised by their dark volcanic tufa, while later additions by the Mamluks are in white limestone.
The upper courtyard combines the remains of the Crusaders’ chapel with excellent views of the Dead Sea.
Shobak is an early 12th-century Crusader castle perched on the side of a rocky, conical mountain where it stands as a lonely reminder of former Crusader glory. Much of what remains of the castle today are reconstructions and additions from the Mamluk period, but there are numerous original Crusader features still to be seen.
The Fortress of the Royal Mount‘s exterior is impressive, with a forbidding gate and encircling walls three layers thick. The walls and projecting towers are still reasonably intact, but inside the castle consists mainly of tumbled stones, with a few walls and arches. The most fascinating remains are a well-shaft, two churches and what is claimed to be Saladin’s throne.
If you are not in a rush, the King’s Highway is a striking way to get from Amman to Petra.
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