Greetings from Philadelphia, Jordan

By David Cogswell

Before Amman, Jordan, was called Amman and before Jordan was Jordan, what is now Amman was a Roman city called Philadelphia, or ďthe city of brotherly love.Ē Needless to say, that was long before the city we now call Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Of course the early Americans were enamored with the Greeks, so itís not surprising that the name was used, but itís odd that I had to travel to Jordan to learn that bit of American history. That is only one of the minor mind-blowing facts that have hit me in a steady stream on this trip around Jordan. Itís a tour arranged by the Jordan Tourist Board to follow the Jordan Travel Mart, held last week at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center on the shores of the Dead Sea. It was designed to give tour operators, travel agents and journalists a quick education, and itís working. The hundred or so people on the trip have gone giddy about Jordan.

Events have flown fast and furiously and those of us on the trip have experienced a transformation. Itís that wonderful experience of travelers through which a word like ďJordanĒ leaps off of a page and takes on a full dimensional reality. The word becomes flesh, if you can forgive the Biblical reference, but itís unavoidable here where we are surrounded by rich history in countless onion skin layers. The things we have experienced in a week are almost too numerous to begin to list, even just in their general headings without getting into the details.

Today Iím in a luxury hotel, the Hyatt in Amman, with all the amenities of luxury hotels around the world, including the Internet in the room through which I can transmit this message. But two nights ago I slept in a tent in a Bedouin camp on the desert at Wadi Rum. Our hosts cooked dinner in a device that is buried in the sand to conserve the heat, something like a modern crock pot and very effective if the quality of the eating experience is the measure. The area is called Moon Valley because of its resemblance to the lunar landscape. It was spectacular, eerily silent and somehow alien and foreboding, while at the same time stunningly beautiful. The harsh elements became congenial through the customs of the Bedouins. The mountains of red sandstone are elaborately sculptured by the elements into mysterious and bizarre shapes. The colors and shadows change constantly as the sun moves across the sky. Little bushes dot the landscape, spaced evenly from one another, sharing the scarce water, scraggly and brown, hardly recognizable as living plants, yet beautifully tenacious in their claim to life in such a barren environment.

The next day we boarded a yacht called Aladdin in the city of Aqaba and headed out onto the Red Sea, which was perhaps the deepest blue water any of us had ever seen. We ate heartily and drank exotic drinks from the deck where we were we could see Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. How many ways can oneís mind be blown? We visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus in the River Jordan a few miles from the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Whatever oneís attitude towards any religion, standing in that spot that reverberates with so much history canít help but have a powerful effect on oneís sensibilities. Just try it.

We wandered around a stone castle on top of a mountain that had been a fort for crusaders during that chapter in history. We visited Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promised Land, a place that would be breathtakingly spectacular even if it had no name and no historical significance. Nothing is simply one thing. Every spot has layers upon layers of historical significance as it passed through prehistoric, ancient, Jewish, Roman, Christian, Byzantine, Muslim periods. And then there is the current, modern moment, not a period of history but a fact of life shimmering all around, the human dramas, the faces and smiles, the delicious food that nourishes us and prepares us for the next leg of our journey.

In Jerash we saw some of the most perfectly preserved Roman ruins in the world and watched a historically researched re-enactment of the Roman Circus, with chariot races, gladiator fights and soldiers demonstrating battlefield tactics in an actual Roman hippodrome where such things really took place 2,000 years ago. And of course there is the incomparable lost city of Petra where the mysterious Nabateans carved gigantic and perfect Greek-style temple facades into sandstone cliffs and later abandoned them to be rediscovered centuries later. Itís been recently proclaimed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, ďWonderĒ with a capital W -- colossal, bewildering and beyond comprehension or description.

-- David Cogswell

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