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There’s a fantastic selection of Historic Sites in Jordan and you can plan some great things to see on your trips by browsing our selection. Once you’ve explored the Historic Sites in Jordan you can use our itinerary planner tool to plan out your trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook.
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Abila is an ancient town in Jordan and one of the Decapolis, a federation of 10 Greco-Roman cities providing a defence of the eastern front of the Roman Empire.
Along with Philadelphia, Gerasa, Pella, Gadara, Kanatha, Dion, Scythopolis and Damascus, Abila made up part of the Decapolis, a ten-city Greco-Roman federation southeast of the Sea of Galilee in Jordan providing a strategic defence post protecting the eastern front of the Roman Empire.
It was occupied in the Bronze Age around 6,000 years ago to approximately 1500 AD (although an earthquake in 747AD turned much of the thriving city into rubble) and even though the site fell to ruin, there have been some spectacular discoveries. Archaeologists have painstakingly uncovered Byzantine churches, a monastic complex from the early Islamic period, Roman baths, a theatre, temples used to worship Herakles, Tyche and Athena, miles of subterranean water tunnels, aqueducts, megalithic columns, tombs, city gates and various municipal buildings.
Abila has been excavated extensively for almost 40 years but it remains one of the most exciting sites in the region for two reasons. Firstly so much is yet to be excavated and secondly much of what the resident archaeologists want to dig up is already visible from the surface, teasing them. It is close to the village of Quwayliba and on the bus from Irbid - the nearest sizable town - ask the driver to drop you off at the ruins.
A grand medieval castle commissioned by Saladin, Ajlun Castle is an excellent example of Ayyubid-era fortifications which is now a tourist attraction and museum.
A grand medieval castle commissioned by Saladin and built by his nephew Izz al-Din Usama, Ajlun Castle was a fortress designed to strike fear in the heart of the Franks.
While the crusaders in Levant played cat and mouse with the great Saladin, his generals were preparing for warfare on their own terms – a war that would see the Franks destroyed at the battle of Hattin several years later in 1187. Arab military fortifications were strengthened as the years went by and Saladin worked hard to unite the Muslim forces.
An imposing stronghold, complete with moat, drawbridge and towers, Ajlun, itself, was built in 1184 but lost much of its military significance after the fall of Karak – a crusader strong hold in the South of Jordan. However, the castle continued to guard important trade routes into Syria and was consequently never allowed to fall into disuse – serving primarily as an administrative centre under Ayyubid and later Mamluk control.
Ajlun would even feature heavily during the wars between the Mongols and the Mamluk empire. The castle was occupied and severely damaged by the Mongol invaders before being reclaimed by the Mameluk Sultan Baibars after the Mongol defeat at the iconic battle of Ayn Jalut; where the remarkable Mongol advance would finally be turned back.
Later, after the Ottomans established their rule in the area, Ajlun Castle would continue its administrative role which lasted right up until the 19th century, when severe damage from an earthquake led to its abandonment.
Today, a visit to Ajlun Castle will immerse visitors into the culture of siege warfare and take them back in time to one of the most destructive periods in the region’s history. The site also holds the remarkable Ajlun Archeological Museum, housed inside the castle, offering fine examples of pottery and ceramics as well as other displays and artefacts from the region.
While spectacular views of Jordan are a feature of your visit, visitors can also experience the local wildlife in the nearby Ajlun Nature Reserve.
Contributed by Rebecca Lewis
Cut into the hillside, the 6,000-seat Roman theatre in Amman, Jordan is one of the world's finest examples of Roman amphitheatre architecture.
Built during the reign of Antonius Pius around 140 AD (some sources claim it was during the reign of Marcus Aurelius played by Richard Harris in Gladiator) in the Roman city of Philadelphia - now Amman, Jordan - the 6,000-seat Roman theatre is one of the world's best surviving examples of classic Roman amphitheatre architecture.
The south-facing stage is bathed in sunlight for most of the day while the audience seating is shaded and the acoustics, as they are in virtually all remaining Roman theatre complexes, are excellent.
The standard three tier layout meant the rulers sat on the bottom, closest to the action, the military and assorted dignitaries took the middle tier and the general public had to squint from the top. Even today, theatrical and musical performances and other cultural activities are held in the theatre.
The forum in front of the theatre was added by Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator) although the only physical remains are a long Corinthian colonnade and some Roman paving stones. Visitors can also see the restored Odeon on the east side of the forum which could accommodate around 500 spectators and the Nymphaeum, an ornamental fountain dedicated to the water nymphs built in 191 AD.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan is said to be the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan (al-Maghtas) is considered one of the holiest of Christian sites, it being the officially recognised site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It is also where Elijah is believed to have ascended to heaven and where Mary the Egyptian is believed to have lived as well as the place through which the Israelites are thought to have crossed into the Holy Land for the first time.
Archaeologists began to properly excavate Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 1994 after a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. Through studies of locations mentioned in the Bible, medieval travellers’ descriptions, and local knowledge about the place of dipping, archaeologists unearthed this sacred spot.
The sites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan include many ancient baptism pools, churches, caves and wells, mostly dating to the fifth and sixth centuries AD and the remains of which can be toured today. Visitors can enter the baptism waters of the River Jordan, see Elijah’s Hill and explore the Visitor Centre.
Oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history located in Saint George church of Madaba, depicting the Holy Land.
This early Byzantine church in Madaba, Jordan holds the famous Madaba Map of the Middle East; a floor mosaic dating back to the 6th century AD depicting an area from Lebanon to the Nile Delta, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Eastern Desert. It is the oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history.
Most probably made by the Christian community of Madaba, it contains cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem which is the largest and most detailed part in the center of the map. It faces east towards the altar which coincides with the actual compass directions of locations.
After conquests and earthquakes, the mosaic was rediscovered in 1884, during the construction of a new Greek Orthodox church and underwent restoration by the Volkswagen Foundation in the 1960s.
In 1967, excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem revealed the Nea Church and the Cardo Maximus in the exact locations depicted by the Madaba Map. In 2010, the discovery of a road running through the center of Jerusalem as shown on the map again proved its accuracy and priceless value for the archaeologists.
Jerash in Jordan was once a thriving Roman city and is one of the world’s best preserved and most impressive set of Roman ruins.
Jerash or Jarash, is one of the world’s best preserved ancient Roman sites. Once known as Gerasa, Jerash is believed to have been inhabited since the Neolithic Era. However, it is the impressive Roman city built in Jerash which has left its greatest mark on the area, becoming Jordan’s second most popular tourist site after Petra.
Jerash formed part of the Roman province of Syria following General Pompey’s conquest of the region in 64 BC. It later became one of the ten cities of the Decapolis league, flourishing and growing wealthier over two centuries of Roman rule. During this time, Jerash underwent several rounds of reconstruction, much of it occurring in the first century AD. One such occasion was in 129 AD, following a visit by the Emperor Hadrian. It was after this visit that Hadrian's Arch or the ‘Triumphal Arch’ was built, the ruins of which can still be seen in the southern part of Jerash outside the archeological park itself.
By the third century AD, Jerash had reached its peak as a thriving centre of trade with a population of up to 20,000 people. In fact, Jerash was even awarded the status of being a colony. However, this success was soon followed by Jerash’s slow downfall.
Several events over the next centuries, including the destruction of Palmyra in 273 AD, pillaging of its temples to build Christian churches under the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and the Muslim conquest of the region in the seventh century all contributed to the decline of Jerash. This was further exacerbated by an earthquake in 747 AD. In fact, notwithstanding a brief twelfth century occupation by Crusaders, Jerash had fallen and lay deserted by the thirteenth century.
Today, tourists flock to see Jerash’s extensive and impressive ruins, including the Temple of Artemis and the Forum with its large ionic columns. Jerash’s original main street, the Cardo, runs through the centre of the site and, with its visible chariot marks and underground drainage system, is fascinating in its own right.
Other must-see aspects of Jerash include its still-functioning 3,000 seat South Theatre built between 90-92AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian, its second century AD North Theatre and its Nymphaeum fountain. Visitors can also see many of the artifacts found during the excavation of this site at the Jerash Archeological Museum.
An impressive 12th century Crusader castle in Jordan, the remains of the fortification of Kerak are an awesome and slightly forbidding sight even today.
Kerak Castle is an impressive 12th century Crusader-era fortification located to the south of Amman, Jordan, on the ancient King's Highway. Today the castle operates as a visitor attraction and contains a maze of corridors and chambers within the imposing fortifications.
Described by a contemporary adventurer as "the most marvellous, most inaccessible and most celebrated of castles", the site of Kerak is mentioned in the Bible, where it was said to have been besieged by the King of Israel.
The structure which is visible today took on its current guise during the Crusades in the 12th century. Initially a Crusader stronghold, the castle is situated within the city walls of Karak and was located in an area of great strategic importance, nine-hundred metres above sea level.
The construction of Kerak began in 1142 and it took approximately twenty years to complete. There was already a fortified town of some considerable importance on the site, which served as an administrative centre during the Roman and Byzantine eras, as well as the early Islamic period. The castle soon became the most important centre of control in the Transjordan region.
One of the most notorious figures of the period, Reynald of Chatillon, ruled Kerak from the early 1170s. Reynald was infamous among contemporaries for acts of barbarism, which included breaking treaties, and looting the caravans of worshippers bound for Mecca. One of the favourite pastimes of Reynald was said to have been throwing prisoners from the castle walls onto the rocks below.
In 1177, after one particularly notorious attack made on such a caravan during peacetime, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin, launched an attack on the crusader kingdom, which resulted in the defeat of Reynald's forces at the Battle of Hattin. Saladin, noted for his restraint shown towards his enemies during his lifetime, spared elements of the Crusader army but personally executed Reynald himself.
After the battle, Kerak Castle also fell to Saladin after a long siege, and it would remain in Muslim hands from this point on. During the period of Muslim rule, the castle would undergo further significant alteration and restoration as well as often being involved in the mainly-internal conflicts of the following centuries. Indeed, the castle held the dubious honour of being the first target of modern gunpowder artillery to be used in the Middle East.
Today, a visit to Kerak Castle affords the unique opportunity to thoroughly explore a well preserved Crusader fortification. There are seven different levels within the castle and visitors can wander through vaulted passageways and dungeons. Bringing a torch can help with navigating some of the smaller and darker passageways. The castle kitchens contain an olive press and ovens, and there is also a partially ruined chapel to be seen.
There is a museum located on a lower floor of the castle, and one route leads onto the keep, which provides spectacular views. Visitors can look across the Dead Sea and out to the Mount of Olives, bordering on Jerusalem, on clearer days.
Contributed by Chris Reid
Petra is a famous UNESCO-listed ancient Nabataean city which later formed part of the Roman Empire.
Petra is an iconic ancient site in southern Jordan. A secret to all but the Bedouins until 1812, Petra’s incredible monuments are now considered to be one of the wonders of the world.
Petra was established by the once nomadic Kingdom of the Nabataeans. Carving a city out of the sandstone rocks and cliffs, the Nabataeans settled and made Petra into their capital. The Nabataeans chose this site carefully, selecting a place which was located along the paths of numerous strategic caravan trails.
It is unknown when Petra was first founded, but it was inhabited from prehistoric times and fully established by the fourth century BC, by which time it had achieved fame as an incredible feat of architecture. In 312 BC, Petra was attacked in by Antigonus I Monophthalmos, who had once been a general of Alexander the Great, although he failed to capture it.
Petra continued to thrive under the Nabataeans, growing into a centre of trade with around 300,000 citizens and becoming extremely prosperous. It managed to resist numerous invasions and conquests, including by the Hasmonean Jewish Commonwealth and by the Romans. However, in 106 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan, Petra lost its independence as it was absorbed into the Roman Arabian territory.
Petra maintained its status as an important trading centre throughout its time under the Roman Empire. It was only as the empire fell and following a series of earthquakes that Petra declined, at one point being a Crusader stronghold, but eventually forgotten.
Today, visitors to Petra cannot help but be inspired by its incredible remains. Intricate temples and tombs emerge from rocks and cliffs together with later additions from the Roman era and even a Byzantine church resplendent with mosaics. Other Roman remains include the tomb of the Roman governor Sextius Florentinus, the remains of a Roman palace and the remains of the main colonnaded road.
However, it is Petra’s most impressive and well-preserved monument, The Treasury, which is the first site to greet most visitors. Comprised of an elaborate façade hewn into the rock, The Treasury is thought to date back to the first century BC although its actual purpose is unknown (it may have been a temple, perhaps a tomb).
If the façade of Petra’s Treasury looks familiar, this might be because of its prominent appearance in the film ’Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. Sadly, the inside of this monument does not meet the expectations created by its exterior – it is in fact remarkably bare.
There are several other sites to see along the way including Petra’s theatre and an array of rock-carved tombs. Petra is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is well served by the Jordanian tourist industry.
Qasr Amra is a UNESCO-listed eighth century desert castle in Jordan.
Qasr Amra (Qusair Fortress) is an eighth century desert castle in the Jordanian desert. Listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, the square-shaped Qasr Amra is mostly gone, but its country house is extremely well preserved, with many of its walls and even ceilings intact.
It is not entirely clear who built the Qasr Amra. It is widely thought that it was constructed during the reign of Walid I (705-715 AD) of the Umayyad Caliphate, but some evidence points to it having been built later, perhaps between 743 and 744AD, during the reign of Walid II.
The remains of Qasr Amra’s country house include a reception room and bath house or “hammam” adorned with murals, which have been restored. Mythology, history and philosophy all play a part in these murals, with depictions of various events and figures, both real and imaginary.
With regard to Qasr Amra itself, visitors can see its foundations. Qasr Amra would have been used both as a garrisoned fortress and as a retreat for the Umayyad caliphs.
Qasr Bashir (Q’Sar Bashir) is an exceptionally well preserved fourth Century Roman fortress that lies in the Jordanian desert.
Qasr Bashir (aka Q’Sar Bashir or Qasr Al Bashir), is an extremely well preserved Roman fortress that lies in the Jordanian desert. Unlike many Roman remains, Qasr Bashir is exceptionally well preserved, having never been re-built by later civilisations.
Built at the beginning of the fourth Century AD and known as Mobene, the walls of Qasr Bashir still stand intact, at a height of up to 20 feet in places, while the main entrance remains to this day. The huge corner towers still rise up two stories from the ground.
It is likely that Qasr Bashir was originally home to an auxiliary cavalry unit, charged with defending the Roman frontier and keeping the peace in the surrounding area. For lovers of well-preserved Roman architecture Qasr Bashir is certainly a hidden gem. Standing within the solid walls of Qasr Bashir, you will certainly be able to feel the living history of life on the edge of the Roman Empire.
Fans of Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series may be interested to note that Qasr Bashir (described as Q’Sar Bashir in the author's comments) was the setting for his novel, The Eagle in the Sand.
Umm Qais, also spelt Umm Qays, houses the remains of Gadara, one of the Decapolis cities.
Present day Umm Qais has within it the remains of one of the ancient Decapolis cities, the Greco-Roman settlement of Gadara.
Probably established by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, Gadara was taken by the Seleucids and, in 63BC, by the Romans led by Pompey. It would later fall under the remit of King Herod. At its peak, Gadara was a creative and intellectual hub, home to famous poets, mathematicians, philosophers and poets.
For Christians, Gadara is also said to be the site where Jesus performed the Gadarene swine miracle.
Today, Umm Qais still has remnants of Gadara including a theater, churches, shops, a nymphaeum, baths, and paved roads. One interesting part of the sites in Umm Qais is that many of the structures, such as the theater, were made out of black basalt. There are also Byzantine-era elements built atop the original Roman ruins.
With the rolling hills of Jordan, Syria, and Israel and Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) enclosing the area, Umm Qais is also very picturesque.