Voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is without a doubt the biggest attraction in Jordan. Carved from dusky pink cliffs and dating back over 2,000 years, the ‘Rose City’ certainly is a sight to behold. But whilst no trip to the country would be complete without a visit to Petra, here are six other historic sites in Jordan that are also worth adding to your itinerary.
1. The Ruins of Jerash
Despite a history of human occupation dating back over 6,500 years, Jerash’s golden age came under Roman rule. And nowadays this city is considered one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world.
Amongst the ruins, top sights include the striking Hadrian’s Arch, built in AD 129 to honour the visit of Emperor Hadrian. Close by you’ll find the Hippodrome, which hosted athletics competitions and chariot races for up to 15,000 spectators.
The Forum is also one of Jerash’s undisputed highlights, measuring some 90 metres in length and 80 metres in width. Add to these attractions the city’s collonaded avenues, hilltop temples and impressive theatres, and it’s easy to see why Jerash is second only to Petra.
‘If you’re going to visit Jerash, which is a very popular as a day trip from Amman, you’ll be going there to explore the amazingly well preserved ruins. I would highly recommend taking part in a guided tour, or even a private tour if available, as it will make your visit so much more interesting. It’s a pretty sizeable city so prepare to walk a lot and definitely take some water with you.’
– Jan, The Crazy Tourist
2. Ajloun Castle
Built nearly 1,000 years ago, this historic castle sits on top of a hill known as Jabal Auf. It was an important link in a chain of defence and, thanks to its strategic location, commanded views over the three major wadis leading to the Jordan Valley.
Nowadays, Ajloun Castle is open to visitors to explore, with its towers offering breathtaking views over the surrounding landscape. It also contains a museum, where you can see artefacts collected from throughout its complex history.
3. The Roman Amphitheatre of Amman
Dominating the heart of Amman, the Roman Amphitheatre is one of the capital’s most famous landmarks. It’s thought to have been built in the 2nd century AD, under the reign of Roman emperor Antoninus Pius.
Consisting of three tiers, the amphitheatre’s seating would have been segregated according to wealth and status. Rulers sat closest to the action, the military in the second tier and the general public in the uppermost rows.
Some 6,000 people would have been seated in total and the amphitheatre is still filled for concerts today. Although even if you’re not there for a show, the magnificent views from the top are worth the climb.
‘Amman was a pleasant surprise. I am a huge fan of big cities, and sure enough I didn’t want to miss the chance to visit Jordan’s capital. I was happy I did. I spent four amazing days there, visiting all the most famous attractions such as the Roman Amphitheatre and the Citadel; as well as getting lost in the trendiest and quirkiest neighbourhoods, appreciating Amman’s street art and the intense cultural scene. My favourite sight is that of the Roman Amphitheatre as seen from the Citadel, at sunset. The call to prayer, the presence of friendly local families enjoying a picnic and the overall atmosphere made it a great experience. Last but not least, I truly enjoyed the food. Hashem, in the heart of downtown, was my go-to place for a quick fix of hummus and falafels.’
– Claudia, My Adventures Across the World
4. St George’s Church in Madaba
Home to some of the most impressive mosaics in existence, Madaba draws visitors from across the world to its Byzantine-era masterpieces. The most famous of which can be found northwest of the city centre, on the floor of St George’s Church.
Crafted in AD 560, this mosaic is thought to be the oldest map of the Holy Land and contains some 157 Greek captions marking all of the major biblical sites of the Middle East. Originally consisting of more than two million pieces, much of the mosaic has been lost. However, enough remains for you to be able to appreciate this treasure of early Christianity.
5. Umm Qais
Found in the hills above the Jordan Valley, Umm Qais is the modern name for the ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara. The site is particularly striking as it combines an abandoned Ottoman-era village with Roman ruins. And the impressive remains include a theatre, collonaded street, mausoleum and a Byzantine Church.
The site also boasts spectacular views overlooking three countries, Jordan, Israel and Syria, as well as the Sea of Galilee, Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights. A rooftop is best for enjoying the views, which are quite possibly the most breathtaking in the Middle East.
‘If you have time, travel north to the ancient town of Umm Qais. This once served as a key trading route and is the perfect place to see the surrounding borders and the Sea of Galilee. The old Decapolis city is made out of black basalt and is the only place that has a black and white Roman amphitheatre and church. The whole area feels so different from the rest of the country and should definitely be seen.’
– Lisa, Girl about the Globe
6. The Crusader Castle of Karak
Rising above the surrounding houses of Karak are the remnants of what was once a great crusader stronghold. In its heyday, this fortified castle was part of a long line of defences stretching from Turkey to the city of Aqaba. It was also a place of legend in the battles between the Crusaders and the Islamic armies of Saladin.
Although the castle will be the main reason for your visit, it’s worth noting the significance of the city itself. Not only was Karak a centre of power and a key player in Middle Eastern politics, but also mentioned in the Bible on more than one occasion.
Thinking of travelling Jordan? We visit Jerash, Amman and plenty more of the country’s top destinations on our group tours.