Monday 12th October
Lovely breakfast in hotel this morning before Raed our driver collected us at 8.30am. Our itinerary today is to drive to the north of Amman near the second biggest city of Irbid to Umm Qais, the ruins of a number of civilizations up to the Greco Roman era.
The buildings here differ slightly to the normal buildings in the area as the area contains basalt and a lot of the buildings are constructed in this blackish stone. There are the remains of a fairly large Greco Roman theatre with the scenae (buildings in front for the actors to enter and exit off the stage area). Although not nearly as well preserved as a lot of ancient sites in Jordan, you can still see what remains of a reasonably sized city or town.
One amazing thing at Umm Qais are the enormous stone doors. They would be near impossible to open and close as they are so heavy. They have a pivot stone carved both top and bottom on the hinging side and a corresponding hole top and bottom frame. One would assume they had to apply animal fat or oil to move them at all.
There are a number of the gates just leaning up against a wall and one which is still in the door frame and would work, if you were strong enough to move it.
There were quite a few marble statue remains still on site and they have now finished off a vaulted room where these are displayed.
From Umm Qais, you have the most magnificent view over the Golan Heights, Syria, Jordan and Israel including a great view of Lake Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee. It is so sad that there are so few tourists at these sites now. There were only a handful at the time we were there.
Our next stop was the ruins of Ancient Jerash. This was an enormous city, one of the Roman Decopolis, or ten major cities along the trading route of the Silk Road from China to Egypt and Africa.
A lot of work has been done on Jerash since our visit 10 years ago. Hadrians triumphal arch is of course at the very entrance to the city, then you enter through the normal city arches. A short walk and you come a large oval area of columns and plinths to what was called the Forum last visit but they now believe it was the site of religious ceremonies. We met our Jordanian guide Dogan who would lead us around the city. As we left the oval area, we walked along a massively long colonnade of columns and some plinths still. You can still see shell shaped topped niches where oil lamps would have sat for lighting at night. You can still see an animal trough and the water system and a little further on a huge nyphaeum or water fountain which would have had massive statues in each of the niches with water falling into successive structures until it came out of carved lions heads into a final receptacle and was recycled back to the top.
There are still the remains of some of the shops which lined the colonnade and at half way point you come to the tetrapylon or the crossroads with another colonnaded road. At the tetrapylan, there are 4 structures which would have held statues and also marked the cardinal points. Just past the tetrapylon is the Temple of Artemis which runs uphill in three levels, with the altar right at the back of the top level. There would have been a huge statue of Artemis and you can see the holes in the walls where it would have been anchored. This is the area where the people would have taken their sacrifices and pray to Artemis.
One of the most curious things you see at Jerash is how the columns are made. They are all freestanding with no mortar etc. and are designed to move with the wind and earth movements.If you place a spoon handle (or a key as Dogan did) you will see the object move up and down as the column sways slightly. This was also a means of detecting earthquakes as the plinths above the columns were designed to fall with any great tremor. If the plinths started tumbling, the people knew to get the heck out of town if possible.
Walking further along we came to the Damascus Gate and one of the two hammams or bathhouses which were built in the typical Roman style with the frigidarium with cold water, tepidarium with warm water and then the caldarium with hot water and steam. This bathhouse and the other much larger one are still pretty much in ruin as there has been no restoration work done on them.
Now we walked into a couple of domed entry ways and came out in the magnificent north theatre built in the usual roman style/ This theatre would have been used to hold town or city meetings and a lot of the stone seats have the names of the districts whose leaders were entitled to vote at such meetings. It is now used for concerts etc.
We continued walking around the top of the site where we could see columns with their tops maybe only a couple of feet out of the ground and other tumbled columns poking out of the mound. Only about 35% pf the city has been excavated to date.
On the hill overlooking the colonnade, we stopped for a look at St. Georges Byzantine church which had a marvellous mosaic floor which can be seen almost in its entirety. The smaller church next door only had small fragments of its floor exposed.
As you walked around the hill area, you just kick over shards of pottery as you walk along the paths. It would be fantastic if some very wealthy benefactor would donate a few billion to do some more work on Jerash. It is the most entire ancient Roman ruin in the world.
The last two spots to visit were the larger theatre where we saw the Bedouin guards playing the Scottish bagpipes. This is a leftover from the British occupation from 1948 when the Jordanians took a like to the instrument and learned to play it.
Our last site was the massive three levelled Temple of Zues which once again is only a few columns left but you are clearly able to see the three floor levels where it once stood.
Maureen was so impressed by the site and thinks it is magnificent.
Couple of hours drive now to get back to Amman and the hotel. Our son in law Basem will be ringing us later to organise meeting up. His mum is still in hospital and CT scans revealed that she had suffered a very small stroke during the operation to remove abdominal fluid and she is now on blood thinners until her oxygen levels return to normal.
Finally got back into Amman and our hotel and spoke with Basem. He was waiting for brother in law Yusef to get the car from Basem’s sister Diana so he could come pick us up at the hotel.
We decided to have a snack downstairs in the hotel as it would be too late for John to eat otherwise. Had just received our food when Basem and Yusef turned up and joined us for a cup of tea while we ate. We then drove to the Cancer hospital where Umm Basem is admitted and it was great seeing her again. She was thrilled to see us and to meet Maureen. It was weird because her oxygen levels immediately went up while we were there and she seemed so happy. She didn’t even feel her blood thinning injection when they gave it to her. Lina and Basem both seem to spark up a little while we were there as well. Basem says he now feels like a stranger in his home city as he has now been in Australia for 10 years. John and Maureen almost got us kicked out for laughing so loud in the shared room. Those two just cant keep a lid on the laughing loudly.
We stayed for perhaps an hour with mainly me talking with Um Basem and telling her she must come to Australia to visit when she is better. She promised that she would. She was getting very tired by the time we left and Yusef dropped us off at our hotel. We will catch up with them again on Wednesday afternoon when we return from Petra.
The hospital is incredible. So modern, spotlessly clean and Lina says the staff and doctors are so caring. Basem had to make a petition to the King to have Um Basem admitted to this hospital as it is one of the top cancer hospitals in the Middle East. Her treatment will be completely free including any operations and ongoing treatment she needs. Basem will get back the results of the biopsy on Thursday and hopefully it is good news.
Very tired after a long day of driving and we head to Petra tomorrow at 8 am so need to sleep.
Goodnight Al l