FIU mathematics professor Ada Monserrat frequently travels on semester breaks pursuing unique experiences. Previous trips have taken Monserrat on visits to all parts of the world. She has visited CERN in Geneva, home of the Large Hadron Collider where the Higgs-Boson particle was discovered. She has explored the history of flight and space exploration at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow. She has been to Madame Marie Curie’s home in Poland and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. She has traveled to Jerusalem to meet Anne Frank’s best friend. This year, she explored the ruins of Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, one of the few buildings left standing near ground zero of the 1945 atomic bomb.
But perhaps one of her most memorable journeys was in 2014 when she traveled to the University of Cambridge for a one-on-one meeting with acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking. When Monserrat learned of his passing this year, she was in the Middle East. After having spent a few days in the city of Petra in Jordan’s southwestern desert, Monserrat cut her trip short to travel to Cambridge and pay her respects.
One by one, the pilgrims plunged under the cool, khaki-toned waters of the Jordan River, wading in from the Israeli-controlled western bank to rededicate their faith at the spot where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus.
The river here is narrow and lazy, lined with vivid green bulrushes and dotted with palm trees.
“It was freezing cold!” exclaimed Laura Ng, 58, a member of a Christian Bible study group from Singapore, as she emerged from the murky water in a purple T-shirt. “But when I got immersed, I felt cleansed all over.”
On the opposite bank, a few gentle swim strokes away, a smaller group of tourists stood on the Jordanian side and took photos on their cellphones.
In the days before Easter, Holy Land tour groups were arriving by the busload at the Israeli-run baptism site known as Qasr al-Yahud. Arabic for “the Castle of the Jews,” the name is said to be a reference to the castle-like appearance of a nearby Greek Orthodox monastery and to Jewish belief, which holds that this is where Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land.
You’re in for a surprising adventure of a lifetime
Jordan is a country that often suffers guilt by association due to its location in the Middle East. But safe and hospitable, visitors who take the time to discover this beautiful country are rewarded with stunning natural landscapes and world-renowned historical and religious sites. Here are seven reasons why you should visit this hidden gem of the Middle East.
1. FLOAT IN THE DEAD SEA
Located in the Jordan Rift Valley, bordered by Israel to the East and Jordan to the West, the Dead Sea is actually a lake, and a very salty one at that. The Dead Sea’s extreme saltiness means that once you wade in, your body instantly bobs to the surface — leaving you free to lie back, relax, and enjoy a soak at the lowest point on Earth. After your swim, you can slather yourself in Dead Sea mud, which has proven healing properties, due to its high concentration of salts and minerals.
Today is Epiphany Day which marks the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist.
The feast of the Epiphany is a Catholic celebration held on the 6th of January, or 12 days after Christmas Day. The 12th night of Christmas is said to be the moment that the Wise Men visited baby Jesus with gifts. It also commemorates his baptism.
The site where Jesus is believed to have been baptised by John the Baptist marks the foundations of one of the world’s holiest Catholic sites. The bible pinpoints ‘Bethany Beyond the Jordan’ (John 1:28) as the location where Jesus came to John, ‘to be baptised of him’ (Matthew 3:13).
Situated on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, some five miles north of the Dead Sea, the humble site marks a landmark moment in the birth of Catholicism.
In 2015, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added the archaeological complex at Al-Maghtas, Jordan—dubbed the Biblical “Bethany beyond the Jordan”—to its World Heritage List. The site has been venerated as the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus since the late Roman–early Byzantine periods, when early Christians began making pilgrimages to the area.
Archaeological work conducted from 1996 to 2002 in modern Jordan about 7 miles north of Dead Sea on the eastern shore of the Jordan River uncovered a number of Byzantine-period buildings. Near the bank of the river, archaeologists excavated a series of churches celebrating the site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. About two miles east of this church complex lies a small hill called Tell el-Kharrar or Tel Mar Elyas (“Elijah’s Hill”—early Christian tradition associated this site with the place where prophet Elijah ascended to heaven).
Journey across Jordan leads to many archaeological treasures, including the magnificent ancient city of Petra.
In Jordan’s extraordinary rose-red “Lost City” of Petra, I have just huffed up 700 zigzagging stone-carved steps to the ancient mountaintop High Place of Sacrifice with its sacred altar and goat blood drain. And now, along a dirt trail, I rest in a rug-draped souvenir stall while an octogenarian Bedouin woman — who is traditionally clad in a long embroidered madraga dress and grew up in a cave — deftly strings a fragrant necklace of dried cloves to sell me.
Way down below, camels with tasseled bridles emit rumbling, dinosaurlike roars while being led by robed Bedouin tribesmen whose eyes are rimmed in jet-black kohl liner.
October 19th the final adventure. We are leaving the remains of ancient desert nomads behind to join living nomads inhabiting the desert today. From the Nabataeans to the Bedouin. They inhabit Wadi Rum which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. A ‘Wadi’ is the valley of a dry river hence Petra is in Wadi Musa. The &Rum& part I don’t know about! Mind you, many of the men there could be family to Pirates from the Caribbean…. looking little Jack Sparrows, so who knows…….!
Our driver was funny, fast talking, good natured with a thick accent. He obliged us by making photo stops as we left Petra.
The desert landscape continues to impress and stun me. Who knew that barren land could be so varied… rock types and their formations, the colours of sand and stones, the continuing changes.
Madaba, “the City of Mosaics”, located in Central Jordan is best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, and is home to the famous 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. With two million pieces of coloured stone, the map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta.
The Madaba Mosaic Map covers the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. The church was built in 1896 AD, over the remains of a much earlier 6th century Byzantine church. The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 X 6m, 94 sq.m., only about a quarter of which is preserved.
Wadi Rum is perhaps Jordan’s most prolific movie star. Its distinctive orange sands and dramatic sandstone mountains are unmistakable in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.
But the valley’s film career did not stop there. Here are just a few features starring Rum – did you spot them all?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Its most recent role, Wadi Rum appeared in this 2016 film as Jedha – the fictional desert moon, that is, not the Saudi city!
A swooping panorama shot of the distinctive Wadi was the best bit of the whole thing for this Jordan-loving expat. But don’t tell that to millions of Star Wars fans who helped the film to bring in over a billion dollars worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing film of last year!
At Um er-Rasas, there are 16 churches, two square towers, water channels, reservoirs and a Roman military camp.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, Um er-Rasas is treasured by archaeologists for its valuable remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods and appreciated by tourists for its well-preserved mosaics.
Now, the mystical archaeological site, 60km south of Amman and traditionally overshadowed by other attractions such as Petra and Jerash, yearns for recognition as a tourist destination.
Although Um er-Rasas experienced a severe drop in the number of visitors in 2015, many see a promising future for the less famed archaeological site that had once been transformed from a Roman military camp to a bustling town.