The annual study tour of the Department was dedicated for the first time to Jordan, our eastern neighbor, which like Israel combines extraordinary marine and desert features.
The group consisted of 25 students and staff and was headed by Ehud Spanier, Chairman of the Department, together with Yossi Tur-Caspa, administrative director of CMS. Among the accompanying members of faculty were Nadav Kashtan, Dan Kerem, Ezra Marcus, Yossi Mart, Sariel Shalev and Irit Zohar.
This year's tour had the added novelty of being conducted by Eastward Bound, an agency specializing in academic tours to Jordan, and directed by one of our former students, Roni Yalon. Roni, together with Chen Katz, conducted part of the guiding, focusing on the historical and geographical background and natural resources of Jordan. This was complemented by discussions on maritime aspects held by staff and students.
The study tour spanned eight days due to the large distances between the shores of the Red Sea and northern Jordan, and to the vast chronological scope of the program which covered Bronze Age, Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Islamic and modern sites. The following is a summary of the program:
Day 1 - Eilat-Aqaba:
After a night journey from Haifa to Eilat following the Israel Independence Day festivities, we began our study tour at the Marine Park Underwater Observatory. This provided us with an introductory 'index' to sharks, fish and coral species in aquaria, pools and open seawater. The port of Eilat and its installations were viewed and we were provided with an account of the economic difficulties and decline of the southern 'maritime gate' of Israel. From there we visited the National Center for Mariculture of the Oceanographic Institute, which specializes in fish and algae breeding.
Crossing the border to Aqaba in the last moments of daylight emphasized the normality of peace as opposed to the hardships of previous times.
Day 2 - Aqaba:
Two study dives operated directly from our hotel to depths of 10 to 20 m. A comparison was made of the flora, fauna and shipwrecks on both sides of the Red Sea.
In the afternoon we toured the medieval castle and Islamic excavation site (under work), which overlook the simple yet picturesque Aqaba seafront.
Day 3 - Aqaba - Wadi Rum:
Our road to Wadi Rum through the dramatic desert landscape took us close to the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'. Upon arrival at our destination we met with the local Bedouin tribe that has exclusive control of the entrance and transport to the wadi. After a successful negotiation in Arabic between Chen (our guide) and the notables and drivers, we acquired visas and vehicles: camels? No, convertible Toyotas in which we spent the day driving at a steady speed along the stony route. As we looked around we understood how this immense landscape had inspired the imagination of so many travelers, authors and adventurers, the most famous of whom was Lawrence of Arabia. The long day permitted us to view the rare Nabataean rock carvings lying in a setting of sweet water springs, huge sand dunes and rock formations. The night was spent in sleeping bags at the Wadi Rum tent hotel.
Day 4 - Petra:
On the way to the 'rose red' city, we stopped at the restored village of Taibat-ez-Zamman. The fine architecture and restoration work has created an impressive tourist site, with an abundance of arts and crafts, stone alleys and a hotel. Of note was a ceramic artisan working in both ancient and modern styles. The high quality of design in this aesthetically pleasing site is an example of what private initiative can achieve, under difficult climatic conditions.
A full, well-organized day was spent visiting the principal monuments of interest in Petra. For many of us it was an exciting and instructive first visit to be continued on a further occasion. A detailed account cannot be given in this report, however the Siq cleft, the royal tombs and palaces, the upper city, the theatre and evidence of the Nabataean civilization in general, all create an impression of extraordinary creativity and inspiration which have given Petra its unique place in the history of human culture and civilization.
Physical exertion in the extreme heat had become by then an inseparable part of the experience. Arriving at our brand-new marble hotel, we learned that 50 or 60 hotels have been constructed in modern Petra since the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace accords, leading to an 'invasion' of Israeli tourists. This sudden influx slowed a few years ago and as a result many hotels stand empty - monuments to changes of fortune and the risks of modern tourism.
Day 5 - Shobak Castle - Wadi Gweir - Feinan:
Shobak Castle is a Crusader fort crowning a rocky mountain rising above a rugged valley. It is an example of typical Crusader desert architecture and building techniques which were supplemented with towers and decorative inscriptions when the fort was captured by the Mamluks in the 13th century CE. The castle, with its mixture of styles reflecting the conflicts between the Crusader sovereigns, is another aspect of the complex history of Jordan, well situated in the wild Edomite landscape.
Wadi Gweir presented us with a long and somewhat tiring walk in the valley with its steep rocky walls and pebbled riverbed culminating in the beautiful scenery of the 'hanging gardens'. The slippery rocks and unavoidable jumping into the water-pools of the wadi were an unexpected wet experience.
The day ended with sunset time, in Feinan, one of the important
copper mines of the Early Bronze Age, belonging to the chain of archaeological
sites in Transjordan and Israel, related to the mining, transportation
and production of bronze.
The night was spent at the Bedouin camping center near the Dana Wildlife Reserve.
Day 6 - Wadi Mujib (Arnon), Hammam Zarqa Ma'in:
After journeying through the hills and valleys of Moab, the second of the three main Biblical regions of Jordan (Edom, Moab, Gilead), we stopped at Lot's Cave and then at Kalliroe, the small harbor and anchorage on the Dead Sea. Both sites were put into a Biblical, Greco-Roman and Byzantine context. With its clear view of the Jordan valley this is a suitable spot for an explanation of the geological history of the Syro-African Rift and the formation of the Dead Sea.
Nahal Arnon is one of the most popular Jordanian sites. It reveals the quantity and potential of Jordan's water resources and rivers, which is a surprise for any first-time visitor aware of the delicate water issue in Jordano-Israeli relations.
While walking, swimming and fighting the strong currents, we were once again astonished by the colorful canyon rocks and the rich vegetation. At sunset, before descending to the Ma'in springs hotel, we paused at the foot of Hirbet Mukawir (Machaerus), the impressive Hasmonean fortress which was destroyed by the Romans in 72 CE. This structure easily dominates its surroundings. It is reminiscent of Masada and Gamla, similar fortresses that played a dramatic role in the Jewish War against the Romans.
The cascades and hotel at Hamamat Ma'in were a good choice. The hot cascades and pools (37 - 40 degrees Celcius) refreshed us after the long days of walking trips in the desert and provided moments of real relaxation and high spirits for the group.
Day 7 - The Desert Castles, Philadelphia (Amman), Madaba:
Azraq, Qasr Amra, Qasr el-Kharanah - the castles of the desert, are surprising and less known sites of the Eastern Jordanian Plateau. The fortified buildings of the Umayyad (8th century), and the later Abbasid architectural styles, are partially covered with frescoes of exceptional interest, rare in the Islamic world. Depictions of hunting scenes, musicians, bathers and constellations of stars have a special effect in the isolated fortresses situated in the vast, open, desert leading to the Iraqi border.
In Amman, we paid a brief, though inspiring, twilight visit
to the Acropolis of Philadelphia, once a powerful member of the Roman Decapolis.
From the temple, which dominates its surroundings, we observed the huge
Roman theatre situated near the central bus station and the densely populated
quarters of the capital.
In the evening, the famous mosaic map at Madaba was opened exclusively for our viewing. This map is well known as one of the central sources of knowledge for classical times.
We then returned to the hotel for a second evening of bathing under the Ma'in hot cascades.
Day 8 - Irak-el-Amir, Gerash (Gerasa), Umm el Jimal:
A morning visit to the tombs and Hellenistic palace of the Tobiad family permitted us to view the fine stonework and Hellenistic building style of which we have only partial examples in Israel.
Gerasa is a typical large classical polis in the full meaning
of the word: cardo and decumanus, Hadrian's Gate, Oval Square, temples,
theatres and churches (Fig 1). All are beyond any dimensions one could
anticipate, even after seeing photographs. The visit to Gerasa provided
an introductory glance into the life and urban structure of the great polis.
Fig. 1. Gerasa - Hadrian's Gate (Photo: N. Kashtan)
Umm el Jimal, 'the basalt city', symbolically concluded our tour
(Fig 2). The harsh, gray, desert stone has resisted conquests and earthquakes,
while the city and its numerous churches have survived under difficult
environmental conditions: lack of water and arable land. We learned from
a local archaeologist that the city's isolation and fortification may explain
why its basalt was not robbed or transported elsewhere in later periods.
In any case, resilience under desert conditions is one of Jordan's national
traits, in both its historic and present-day civilizations. Carrying this
and many other rich experiences of our Jordanian periplus with us, we crossed
the Hussein Bridge back home.
Fig. 2. A group photo at Umm el Jimal