More castles, a miracle, and Petra at night

Jordan desert on the way south.
Guess what store this is? {answer at bottom}
Shops in a small town along the way.
Many beautiful mosques.

We left Amman today and headed south. In no time we had left the greener hills of the north and saw instead wide, flat vistas of dry desert rock. It looked as though the land was farmed, because a lot of it was plowed. We couldn’t see anything growing, however, and Nashat wasn’t sure what they planted. I looked it up and see that in the first place we stopped, Karak, the main agricultural product in the region is cereals. Average rainfall in Jordan ranges from 16 inches in the north to 4 inches in the south. By comparison, the average rainfall at my home in Rainier is 54 inches. 

After two hours we arrived at Karak. The name comes from the Aramaic word “karka” which means walled city. It was fun to watch Nashat navigate the narrow streets up the hill. Margaret and I keep thinking how grateful we are that we have a driver and head strategist handling everything for us. The Karak Castle complex was huge and impressive. I was astonished at how the fortress towered above the valley far below (960 meters/ 3149 feet above sea level).

Narrow, steep streets of Karak.
Would you like to do some shopping here? The choices are black, or black.

Karak castle was built by the king of the Moabites as a temple for their god in 850 BCE. Later, Fulk, King of Jerusalem built a fortress on top of the Moabite temple ruins. It is one of the largest crusader castles in the area. This was a strategic location to control trade and caravan routes. Renaud de Chatillion occupied the castle and began harassing the locals, and drew attention. Salah ad-Din-al-Ayyubi held the castle under siege for nearly a year. I can’t imagine how they survived up there for that long. Maybe they had stored enough food, but water? Eventually Ayyubi killed Chatillion, and subjugated the castle in 1187. Later it was under the Mamluks and then the Baybars. The Ottomans controlled it in 1893. Nashat told us about an incident in 2016 when terrorists were holed up in the city for some reason, but got turned in for suspicious behavior. The terrorists fled to Karak Castle where it turns out they had stashed weapons. There was a battle on the mountain, in which the police were assisted by local people with their personal guns. 14 people were killed and 34 injured, but the terrorists were overcome.

View of the valley from Karak Castle. Look how far below it is!
An exceptional view
Karak Castle complex
Tunnels inside look so intriguing with the light and shadows.
Medieval construction.
I love the tunnels partly because it gives a sense of how large the place is.
Karak Castle
View of the other side of the complex.
Part of the city on top of a nearby hill of Karak.
Karak had some wonderful arches. I have been in love with arches for years.
These were my favourites. How incredible is this? So beautiful. So artistic. This style was all over Karak too.

Our next stop was another mountaintop fortress, Qal’at ash Shawbak. There was a very nice but desolate information center at the base of the hill. I decided to make a purchase out here in nowhere land, in order to support the local people. I bought a scarf and a strange doily-thing that I may add to clothing, or maybe hang on the wall. Nashat was not ready to climb the mountain with us, but was happy to wait at the bottom of the hill while we climbed it.

Shawbak Castle was again another large complex on the top of a hill. This one was in the worst condition of any we had seen so far. It was neat to see, even though we didn’t know anything about the site. I found a room with a bunch of collected stone items of interest. Some were packed in boxes as though they were about to be shipped somewhere. A sign up there indicated that the largest known Crusader church in Jordan was at this site. There were two churches actually, and a school, and other things that I can’t remember. Today it’s hard to imagine all that stuff, but it’s clearly a large complex. And an undeniably great strategic location.

Continuing south from Karak.
Shawbak Castle as we approached it.
This intriguing hill and rock formations made me wish I had Tara with me. Tara is getting a degree in geology.
An excellent example of writing on stone, packed as though for shipping.
One room inside the castle had collections of stone artifacts of some kind.
Shawbak complex
Looking down onto the valley below.
Looking uphill at the partially round tower at Shawbak.

Our next stop was a miracle. Well, more accurately, the site of a miracle. When we arrived at the outskirts of Petra, Nashat asked if we knew the story of Moses in the desert. When their people had wandered and not found any water and they were suffering, Moses and Aaron prayed to God to send them water. God told Moses to speak to a stone, but Moses struck the stone instead. When he did, the rock split open and water poured forth. {Numbers 20:11} Of course I knew this story. Nashat said “That happened right here!” He parked the car and I eagerly hopped out to check out the situation. Inside a simple building with an open doorway is a spring bubbling through an open hole in the floor. Lo and behold, the rock is there too. We were game to hop down and touch the water. I scooped it up and drank the water. A real Bible miracle, right in front of me. It reminded me of when I saw the house of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the hills above Ephesus. I was with a tour guide at that time, and someone asked her, “Come on, is this really Mary’s house?” Nesligul said to her, “I have no proof, of course. But Muslims, Jews, and Christians have been making pilgrimages to this site for as long as records of the area have been kept. They all have believed it is the house of Mary. The story has been passed down the generations for thousands of years. It is enough for me.” Anyway, I’m sure there is no proof that a tribe of lost Israelites drank from this spring over two thousand years ago. But…the story has been told so many times that the place has been protected. That’s enough for me.

The rock believed to have been struck by Moses, and the delicious clear rushing stream of fresh water pouring from this source.
I was not going to pass up the opportunity to touch and drink the water.
The valley of the city of Petra, as we approached late in the day.

As the sun lowered to the horizon, we crested a hill and saw the valley of Petra. Margaret had heard of some kind of nighttime thing that happened in the old Petra site, and asked Nashat to get us tickets. He dropped us off at the hotel, where we freshened up a little. He called to say he had the tickets and would be picking us up at 7:30pm. Margaret took a nap, and I blogged as much as I could, because the hotel had a little bit better Internet than the previous day in Amman.

We stood in line in the dark, and paid our fee, still having no idea what we were going to see. A crowd of people rushed forward when the gates were opened, and we kept up with them. We walked into the desert along a path that was lit by lumineres – brown paper bags around light bulbs on the ground. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we saw that we were walking through a narrow canyon and in some places we saw carvings in the walls. So it turns out we were walking into the old Nabatean city of Petra at night! Finally after about a mile walk in the dark we saw the famous Treasury building so recognizable from all the Jordan tourism photos. We arrived early and found a bench to sit on, which was great because I could use the bench to hold my camera still and get some nighttime photos. We waited a very long time as more and more people arrived. I took photos of the stars and was amazed it worked without a tripod! We were served tea. Finally a man asked the group of about 300 to be quiet and then coloured lights began shining on the face of the treasury. A man played a song with a flute that I assume is a traditional instrument. Then another man sang to a stringed instrument. We heard a final flute song, then the show was over and we walked back to the gate in the dark.

The Treasury of Petra at night, lit up by bulbs inside of brown paper bags.
Look! We could see the stars too!
When the program began, the facade of the Treasury was bathed in changing, multicoloured lights.
We heard two songs from this flautist.

Back at the hotel, Margaret was not ready for the night to be over and we went up to the rooftop bar to have our first alcohol in this Muslim country. The “bar” was a counter with two choices of beer: Petra and Amstel. I asked for two cans of Petra because we were in Petra! She took my 10 JD (that’s about $7 per can), and then sadly reported that they didn’t have any Petra beer left, so we accepted the Amstel. I had better Internet, so I posted another day’s adventures and then slept.

{The store at the top is IKEA!!}

8 thoughts on “More castles, a miracle, and Petra at night

    1. I know, your knees sometimes hold you hostage I think. My time will come. Until then, I’ll crouch for both of us! I recognized IKEA immediately, ha ha. I guess they’ve done their branding well and it imprinted on me.

  1. Laughed about you drinking the water, Crystal. Not sure that I would have. The miracle may be that you avoided a tummy ache. 🙂 Let’s hear it for Moses. Impressive photo of Petra. I don’t think I have ever seen it light up at night. And I was curious about the artifacts. Packed to got to a museum or to be sold? Looks like you are having a great trip. I’m curious about how you obtain your guides. –Curt

    1. I wasn’t worried about the water. It bubbles up right there, so no one doing their wash (or anything else) in it farther upstream. Also it looked sparklingly clean. AND most of all, our driver Nashat assured me that it was safe and I trust him. 🙂 I, too, was interested to know why the stone was packed in boxes, but there was no one around to ask, and no information signs or brouchures anywhere.

      We haven’t used guides for most of this trip. We have a driver, Nashat, who knows how to get us around, and has made all the reservations for us wherever we need to go. He also will change plans along the way to accommodate our special requests. There are guides at many stops, that we can hire on the spot. We did hire a guide at one of the castles. We also had a guide in Wadi Rum (My next post). Margaret knows Nashat’s aunt, who lives in California, and that’s how we found him. If you want to go to Jordan sometime, I can enthusiastically recommend Nashat as a driver.

      1. Laughing about the water, Crystal. I’ll catch up on your posts later when Peggy and I get off our own tour here in the Southwest. And I will definitely keep Nashat in mind! –Curt

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