The Time We Went to Ajloun and Jerash and I Almost Broke an Ankle.

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I’m fine. Calm down, Mom.

Yesterday we went to the Ajloun Castle and the ancient city of Jerash. First: Ajloun, which is about 2 1/2 hours away from Amman. It was a fortress built by Izz al-Din Usama, the nephew of Saladin in AD 1184-1185. It was built to protect the country against Crusader attacks and protected the communication between south Jordan and Syria. It was also built to protect the iro mines of Ajloun. In 1837 and 1927, major earthquakes destroyed large sections of the castle. Programs in Jordan have sought to sponsor restorations for the walls and bridge.

BAM. CASTLE.
BAM. CASTLE.

Inside the castle is a maze of brick and traps. If you managed to get past the walls and guards hidden in the windows, you were subject to hidden soldiers ready to throw boiling oil on you through these secret gaps in front of the doorways:

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I know that a lot of my pictures tend to look the same, and you might get tired of me saying how a picture can’t do a site justice. But it’s so true. When I entered a new room in the castle I was struck by the tiniest details and the stories behind each new edition. The prisons which had no light and no ventilation except for a tiny slot on the ceiling, the incredibly steep staircases worn down by millions of feet walking up and down, the miles and miles and miles of desert that stretched out in front of us and faded into the sky.We kept marveling at how men managed to built such an elaborate and strong fortress over 1,000 years ago, all through sheer man-power.

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After lunch and 30 more minutes of driving, we reached the city of Jerash, which was my favorite of the two. The current, modern city of Jerash has a population of about 31,000. But underneath the modern city is a whole other world stretching back to 350 AD! And what we saw was only about 50% of the city. Archeologists beleive that most of the ancient city still lives underneath the modern city. What you can see of the ancient city now includes the Corinthium column, Hadrian’s Arch, the Hippodrome, the Temples of Zeus and Artemis, the oval Forum surrounded by a colonnade, the long pedestrian street, two theaters, two baths and smaller temples, and city walls.

The original mosaics reside in most of the city. Unfortunately, the city experiences the problem of robbers that come at night to take the priceless artworks and sell them in the black market.
The original mosaics reside in most of the city. Unfortunately, the city experiences the problem of robbers that come at night to take the priceless artworks and sell them in the black market.

 

The Temple of Artemis was my favorite mostly because I have always loved the story of Artemis and also because the columns were the most impressive. Because Artemis was the patron of Jerash, the temple was built on one of the highest points and dominated the city. Out of 12 columns originally built, 11 are still standing. The Temple is also known for having “moving columns.” The columns are made of blocks of limestone and in between each block is a sheet of lead that allow the column flexibility. If you put your hand in the spaces…

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You can feel the column move!

It’s the details of the city that are so inspiring. How can these tiny additions be maintained through thousands and thousands of years?

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Details at the top of the columns at the Temple of Artemis.
Details at the top of the columns at the Temple of Artemis.

In the back of this picture, you can see the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, which was the god preferred by the Semitic part of the population (the Hellenistic population were the ones that preferred Artemis). This is the view you have coming out of the city after you’ve seen the Nymphaeum, the massive fountain and water system for the entire city, and have walked the long pedestrian street to the forum. It’s a bit of a dangerous path because you have to make sure you don’t step into a broken stone or slip on the slippery surface.

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It was a 2 1/2 hour tour, with lots of walking and lots of dust. And our tour guide had to convince the police to let us stay past closing. But it was worth it.

 

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