Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 4 Shobak Castle and Um Rassas

Day 4 – Thursday, November 1, 2012
This morning we will depart from Petra back toward Amman. Along the way, we will stop to see the Shobak Castle which was originally called Krak de Montreal o Mons Regalis, and was the first Crusader outpost beyond the Jordan River. It was built by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem to guard the road from Egypt to Damascus. It resisted many sieges, but in 1189, it fell to Saladin's troops. The towers and walls are well preserved and decorated with carved inscriptions dating from 14th. From Shobak we will continue to the deserted Byzantine camp-settlement of Um Rassas, with the remains of an important monastic complex where probably the only surviving column of some ascetic (stylite) still stands. Our last stop of the day will be Mukawir – site of Herod’s palace, where the sorrowful events of the end days of St. John the Baptist most likely took place. We will arrive in Amman for dinner and overnight.

Shobak Castle:
Approaching Karak de Montreal o Mons Regalis, originally called Shobak Castle from the  ancient Kings Highway to the east or from the Dead Sea to the west, the striking presence of this fortified town and castle show it to be the key fortress that it was.
An ancient Crusader stronghold, Karak sits 900m above sea level and lies inside the walls of the old city. It was a major fortress on the ancient road that ran from Damascus to Egypt.  The city today is home to around 170,000 people and continues to boast a number of restored 19th century Ottoman buildings, restaurants and places to stay.  But Karak Castle is the most startling attraction.
The town is built on a triangular plateau, with the castle at the southern end. The castle is approximately 220m long, 125m wide at the north end, and 40m wide at the southern end where a narrow valley further deepened by a ditch separates it from an adjoining higher hill.  It was once Saladin's key artillery position. Throughout the castle, dark and roughly-shaped Crusader masonry contrasts with the more finely-crafted blocks of limestone used in later Arab work.
While the castle dates back to the 12th century, Karak has been a fortress since biblical times. The Bible relates how the King of Israel and his allies from Judah and Edom ravaged Moab and besieged its king Mesha in the fortress of Kir Heres, as Shobak was then known.
Onto this location the Crusaders erected a vast castle. After 20 years of construction it was finished in 1161and became the residence of the Lord of Transjordan, and the most important fief of the Crusader kingdom, rich in produce and tax revenues. After withstanding several sieges in the early 1170s, Karak came under the rule of Reynald of Chatillon, who became known for his recklessness and barbarism. Breaking all treaties, he began looting merchant caravans and Mecca-bound pilgrims, attacking Islam – the Hijaz – and raiding Arabian ports on the Red Sea, even threatening Mecca itself. Saladin, the ruler of Syria and Egypt was quick to respond and took the town of Karak by force, burning it down and attempting to storm the castle.
The Crusader army was defeated at the Battle of Hattin. Saladin spared most of the captives except Reynald, who he executed himself. The defenders of Karak held out for eight months in a prolonged siege before surrendering to the Muslims who allowed them to walk free. There is an interesting Swedish film  Arn – The Knight Templar that recounts this story.
Under the Ayyubids and early Mameluk sultans, the castle was substantially renovated and the town’s fortifications strengthened with massive towers but seemingly no gates – access to the town was through subterranean passages with entrances still visible today.
Umm Ar-Rasas:
Umm Ar-Rasas is home to some of the finest Byzantine church mosaics, including a large mosaic carpet depicting Old and New Testament cities on both the east and west banks of the Jordan River. 

This city is mentioned in both Old and New Testaments of the Bible. It was fortified by the Romans and records remain of local Christians creating Byzantine-style mosaics in their places of worship well over 100 years after the start of the Muslim Umayyad rule.

A recently unearthed Church ( Saint Stephen) lies just outside the city walls. Within it is also a remarkable mosaic floor, the largest of its kind to be discovered in Jordan and second only to the world famous mosaic map at that we will have seen at Madaba. There also is one of the few remaining Stylite columns.

Driving back towards Amman we will also see  the fortress of Mukawir located atop a high hill near the Dead Sea. It is the site of one of Herod's palaces, and has the tradition of being where Salome danced and St. John the Baptist was beheaded. From the top of this mountain it is possible to see Herod's two other mountain-top palaces, Herodium near Bethlehem and Alexandrium near Jericho. On a clear day it is possible to see the towers of Jerusalem.  Large cisterns carved out of the side of the mountain provided water for this remote mountain-top fortress.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 3 Petra

Day 3 – Wednesday, October 31, 2011
Petra is a most intriguing Nabatean city carved in rock cliffs. This is a historical monument really “one of its kind anywhere in the world.”  We will spend most of the day exploring ancient ruins and temples, fortifications, theaters and other buildings carved in the rock. Prior to the visit of the main site, we will drive to the site knows as Little Petra. Located just some miles away from its more famous “neighbor” it is not any less intriguing and perhaps even more enchanted. For Dinner and overnight we will remain in Petra.


Day 3 – Wednesday, October 31, 2011
Petra is a most intriguing Nabatean city carved in rock cliffs. This is a historical monument really “one of its kind anywhere in the world.”  We will spend most of the day exploring ancient ruins and temples, fortifications, theaters and other buildings carved in the rock. Prior to the visit of the main site, we will drive to the site knows as Little Petra. Located just some miles away from its more famous “neighbor” it is not any less intriguing and perhaps even more enchanted. For Dinner and overnight we will remain in Petra.


Petra  (stone GR); is a historic and long hidden archaeological city in Jordan that is one of the world's most famous sites, where ancient eastern traditions combine with Hellenistic architecture leaving monumental buildings sculpted out of solid red sandstone. The city was established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, a nomadic people with their “home” hidden from the world in this world of carved stone. Lying on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin in the mountains,(Wadi Musa) this large valley extends from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was publicized by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. UNESCO has described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage". Petra was also chosen by the BBC as one of "the 40 places you have to see before you die".

Much archeological dating of Petra was done through its tombs, buildings and water conduits that remain in carved sandstone dating from Nabataean, Roman and Greco origins.  Its beauty is further enhanced by Mosaic work and a remarkable 2,000-year-old Hellenistic-style wall painting which was cleaned recently by British conservation specialists.

Christianity found its way to Petra in the 4th century AD, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade center. Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra (Antioch. 10) named Asterius. At least one of the tombs (the "tomb with the urn") was used as a church. An inscription in red paint records its consecration "in the time of the most holy bishop Jason" (447). After the Islamic conquest of 629–632 Christianity in Petra, as of most of Arabia, gave way to Islam.
 During the First Crusade Petra was occupied by Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and formed the second fief of the barony of Al Karak with the title Château de la Valée de Moyse or Sela. It remained in the hands of the Franks until 1189.

Little Petra, Al Beidha, is also in the Wadi Musa area. This site is only a few kilometers from Petra and easily accessible by taxi or rented car. It is literally hidden away in the center of a mountain and filled with remarkable treasures of architectural importance also documenting the life of the Nabataean culture.
Visiting Petra will be a remarkable once in a lifetime experience with much to see in this unique location.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 2 - Bethany beyond Jordan

Our first stop will be at the site that recently was identified as the most probable place of “Bethany beyond Jordan” – the place of our Lord’s baptism. Not far from here, there is the hill from where according to tradition St. Prophet Elias ascended to Heaven in a fiery chariot. The area is historically very significant and marked with many Byzantine ruins. The vicinity of the site is also closely associated with the Venerable Mary of Egypt and her cult is very prominent among local Christians. Our next stop all be at the summit of Mt. Nebo. The law-giver Moses observed the Promised Land from this mountain and this is the closest he ever got to the place where he desired to be so much. Then we will visit Madaba – a little village housing Byzantine Churches with very important mosaics, among them, one depicting the map of the Holy Land. This will be our last stop before our transfer to Petra.

An  Overview-

Twenty minutes from Amman is St. George Orthodox Church in Madaba, home of a mozaic map of the Holy land.  The town of Madaba is noted for a great number of mozaics that compose the floors of this town.  Some have been excavated some have not.

Bethany Beyond Jordan is a 45 minute drive from Amman and north of the Dead Sea. The Jordanian Department of Antiquities has surveyed and partially' excavated a string  of ancient sites that collectively represent one of the most important archaeological discoveries in modem Jordan — the settlement and region of Bethany (or Beth abra), was where John the Baptist lived and carried out his ministry.

 The Bethany area sites make up early Christian pilgrimage routes between Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and Mt. Nebo. 

The area is also associated with the biblical account of the ascent of the Prophet Elijah (Mar Elias in Arabic) to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire, after having parted the waters of the Jordan River and walking across it with his anointed successor the Prophet Elisha. It is also the area in which St. Mary of Egypt lived out her life.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Day 1- A little about Amman, Jordan

Fr. Ilya has found a good group flight, traveling from Los Angeles to Istanbul to Amman Jordan and then home through Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Los Angeles.

After that amazing flight (Imagine the distance covered!),  we start our pilgrimage here in Amman, Jordan and overnight there.

Day 1 – Monday, October 29, 2012
Arrival to Amman in the afternoon. Transfer to the hotel. Refreshment, dinner, overnight.

An  Overview-

Ammon, Jordan is the country's political, cultural and commercial center and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The Greater Amman area has a population of 2,842,629 as of 2010.[2] The population of Amman is expected to jump from 2.8 million to almost 6.5 million by 2025 due to constant and rapid immigration.

From a historic perspective the settlement mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath Ammon was the capital of the Ammonites, which later fell to the Assyrians. It was dominated briefly by the Nabataeans before it became a great Roman trade center and was renamed Philadelphia. After the Islamic conquests, Amman became part of the Muslim empire, until the Ottomans were forced out by the Allies, with the help of the Hashimites, who formed a monarchy that continues to rule until the present.

Amman is among the most popular locations for multinational corporations to set up their regional offices, alongside Doha and Dubai.

Amman is considered to be one of the most "westernized" and cosmopolitan cities in the Arab World. Amman has become one of the most popular destinations for "Western" expats and college students who seek to live, study, or work in the Middle East or the Arab World in general. The city's culinary scene has expanded from its shwarma stands and falafel joints to embrace many popular American restaurants and fast-food outlets

The city's largest airport, Queen Alia International Airport, situated about 30 km (18.64 mi) south of Amman, is the majorinternational airport in Jordan and the hub for Royal Jordanian Airlines. The airport has three terminals, two passenger and one cargo, and in 2010 handled between 5.8 million passengers despite the airport's capacity to only handle 3.5 million visitors. The airport is undergoing expansion, including a new terminal costing $700M, that will allow the airport to handle over 12 million passengers.

Due to its stability and openness, Jordan—especially Amman—is home to many different artists, writers, and musicians, many of whom are expatriates from troubled areas like Iraq or the Palestinian territories.

Amman is home to many diverse religious sects making up the two primary religions of Jordan, Islam and Christianity.

The city is generally well-appointed for the traveler, reasonably well-organized, and the people are very friendly.

The steep terrain and heavy traffic remains challenging for pedestrians and for the rare cyclist. New resorts and hotels dot the city and there are many things for the traveler to see and do. Amman is used as a staging point for travels to nearby cities and settlements in Jordan.