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5 October 2015. We drive south from Amman, a whole day on the road with several stops, passing through the countryside, and in and out of towns.

From the bus window: we drive through a parched desert land dotted with olive groves

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until we come to the town of Madaba:

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where we stop to see the ancient mosaic map of the Holy Land.

A little further on we stop at Mount Nebo, the place where Moses was granted a view of the Holy Land. To quote LovelyLittleTravel, a Tripadvisor reviewer: [There’s] “not much to see. You basically just stand there and look towards Israel and then you can be on your way”.

I am far more interested in what I can see from the bus window heading towards Kerak: more vignettes of the landscape and glimpses of Jordanian life.

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From time to time along the way, I see several ragged camps. I wonder about them. Where did they come from? Who are they? How do they live? How do they get food? And where does their water come from?

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I ask our guide about them and he says they’re Syrian refugees. He says that if they were to go to a town the government of Jordan would provide them with everything they need. It’s true to a point. The reality is a little harsher. Jordan is overwhelmed with Syrian refugees. Because Greece and Turkey have had to take the greatest burden of this tragedy Jordan has been forgotten in the world’s media.

This from an interview with Jordan’s Queen Rania: “Every seventh person in my country is a Syrian refugee. They all need shelter, food, drinking water, education, and healthcare. Even with the work of UN agencies, we are barely coping.”

Since 2011 Jordan has taken in an estimated 1.3 million Syrian refugees. This is alongside severe economic constraints and growing security concerns. Jordan is stretched to the limit.

From Queen Rania: “Unfortunately, today, perceptions of Muslims and knowledge of Islam amongst many are almost exclusively based on the actions of extremist groups who operate on the farthest fringes of our religion. They have nothing to do with faith and everything to do with fanaticism. His Majesty has called these terrorists “khawarej”, meaning outlaws. In fact, many of their fighters were radicals before they were religious and their histories can be traced back to prison cells and criminal networks.”

I think that over the centuries, sadly, little has changed.

Back in the late 10th century Pope Urban II issued a call to arms to support the Byzantine Empire against the migrating Turks in Anatolia, and ostensibly to ensure safe access to the sacred sites in the Holy Land, which by now was under Muslim control. Thus began the Crusades that saw hundreds of thousands of people of all classes from Western Europe take up arms to fight for their church. The Pope’s call to arms engendered years of warring, pillaging, thievery, and cruelty on both sides, all in the name of religion, but it was really always all about control.

Roman of Le Puy was a French nobleman who became Lord of Transjordan in 1118. All the lords in the area didn’t play nicely. Roman rebelled during a revolt in 1134, so King Fulk of Jerusalem, also a French nobleman, confiscated his fiefdom. The fiefdom was then given to King Fulk’s butler, Paganus.

During the 1140’s Paganus ordered construction of the crusader castle at Kerak at the site of an old citadel. It is one of the largest crusader castles in the area, and it became the centre of his power. The location allowed Paganus to control the Bedouin herders and the trade routes from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca, and to get rich by charging a toll on the road. In 1176 Raynald of Châtillon gained possession of the castle, harassed the trade caravans, and attempted an attack on Mecca. Well what did he expect? Saladin besieged the castle and finally captured it in 1189. He wasn’t nice to Raynald.  Legend has it Saladin cut off Raynald’s head and dragged his body by the feet to the king. Throughout the Crusades immense cruelties were perpetrated by both Crusaders and Muslims, and through the centuries the castle changed hands many times. It was always all about control.

We see the castle long before we reach it, a huge impregnable ship atop the hill.

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Kerak castle is vast. We are oblivious to its bloody past as we spend an hour or more climbing and crawling and scrambling all over it. Some places are dark, and some passageways are so low that bending is needed. There are wide open spaces, and underground places, vaulted rooms, and long corridors with oppressive arches.

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And from the top a clear view of the surrounding countryside.

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Leaving Kerak we continue our journey south. Passing through another town

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we drive on to the place we’ve all been most anticipating: the remarkable Nabatean city of Petra, one of the great wonders of the ancient world, and unsurprisingly Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction.



Next post: “a rose-red city half as old as time” – Petra!





All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.