The third country in our Middle Eastern Adventure Triumvirate was Jordan, a country with an ancient history but only recognized as a state under British supervision in 1922 by the League of Nations (and known as Transjordan until 1949). It was given independent status by the United Nations in 1946. For a good timeline of subsequent events in Jordan's history, go here.
We arrived at the Queen Alia International Airport several hours ahead of our tour group. Although the airport has been around since 1983, this beautiful terminal is just two years old.
Jordan is slightly smaller in area than the state of Indiana and has a similar population. I'm always shocked by the relatively tiny size of these countries that seem to play such a critical part in world affairs. It was a little scary to visit a country that borders Syria and Iraq, not the most docile places in the world right now. In fact, while we were there--March 2015--Jordan was participating with their neighbor Saudi Arabia in airstrikes on Yemen. However, Jordan itself seemed very peaceful. One thing that helped us feel comfortable was that Bob had hired a local private guide named Isam who took good care of us.
Our first destination was the town of Madaba (population 60,000), located about 20 miles south of the capital city of Amman. It was definitely a tourist town:
Jordan is about 92% Sunni Muslim, so it was interesting to see this partially dismantled Christmas tree in the town center. Note also the name of the Hotel: "Moab Land." No, not Utah's Moab. The Biblical land of Moab--the original Moab--was located in Jordan.
- Almost all Muslims in Jordan are Sunnis, and almost all Muslims in Iraq are Shi'a. "Shi-ites are not Muslim," he said. The Kurds are Sunni.
- Assad, the leader of Syria, is Shi'a.
- Sunnis are liberal, so covering the face is against the law. Someone with a covered face, for example, is not allowed to enter a bank.
- They have no imam. They follow God. "Islam" means "surrender self to God" (not to man or a leader).
- Their practice of wearing head coverings comes from Christianity.
As we were walking through town, Isam (far left and wearing a white shirt in the photo below) stopped to buy us a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Note the store in the background: Frankfurter (Wir sprechen Deutsch--"We speak English"). There are lots of German tourists in Jordan.
We weren't the only ones having a snack:
Paintings of the saints and apostles cover the columns:
Hey, it looks like I chose my shirt to match the church!
here. There is a 500-year-old painting of the event inside:
The birth of Christ, complete with the swaddled Christ Child, Mary and Joseph (both with halos), a cave with animals, angels, shepherds, and the wise men:
Mother and Child:
The Presentation in the Temple on the left and Teaching in the Temple on the right:
The raising of Lazarus:
Christ raising the dead in Paradise:
The final ascension:
There are other portrait-style mosaics sprinkled around the nave, including Christ Pantocrator and Saint Mark the Evangelist:
Not only does the map give historians their best view of Jerusalem, but it has also led to new discoveries, for if it is on the map, it must be there, right? Five years ago archaeologists uncovered an unknown road buried four meters below the present street near the Jaffa Gate that is shown on this map.
As a follow-up to our experience with the Madaba Mosaic Map, Isam took us to the Madaba Arts and Handicraft Center and Mosaic Workshop. He told us that Madaba is the capital mosaic city in the world, and that Jordan's current leader, King Abdullah, controls the mosaic business. His current wife (#4), Queen Rania, is a big advocate of education and women's rights, making Jordan #1 in the Middle East for women. This Handicraft Center is one of her pet projects. The women who work here are all handicapped.
We were given a tour of the workshop, which was a small area at the front of the shop. Five or six women were chipping tiny pieces of stone and gluing them onto a cloth on which a design had been drawn or transferred:
It is tiresome, exacting work
Once the stone was in place, the gaps were filled with a sandy substance, and then water was added to make a kind of grout.
Her pink cell phone seems just a bit out of place, don't you think?
I really like that cityscape hanging on the wall behind this woman's head. We should have bought that one, Bob:
This is one of the most common designs, a tree of life with a lion killing a deer on the left and two young deer on the right--war and peace:
Here is a finer version, larger and made with smaller pieces and no doubt costing thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars:
. . . and an intricately painted ostrich egg:
Next up: Will the Real Mount Nebo Please Step Forward?