Robin's Adventures

Adventures in the Mediterranean and Middle East
Running through Ruins

The Adventure Begins

Our adventure began with a flight from Los Angeles to Amman, Jordan with a 3.5 hour stopover in Istanbul. Total flight time was 16 hours.

Over the next three weeks we would visit six different countries (seven if you count the stopover in Istanbul), traveling by airplane, ship, bus, car, donkey, and camel. We explored ruins of ancient civilizations and admired the ingenuity of newer cultures built right on top. Our journey took us through small villages and big cities, across deserts, and up mountainsides, to visit places we had never seen before and to revisit a few that we had enjoyed in the past.

On the Road to Petra

Since we arrived in Amman at midnight, we went directly to the Four Seasons Hotel. In the morning we grabbed a quick bite at the hotel before we hit the road. The best part of the breakfast was the incredible fresh baked pita bread.

The drive to Petra would take about three and a half hours, but our plan was to make some stops along the way to see the sights. First stop, Bethany.


Bethany Beyond the Jordan is believed to be the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The area, which is located on the border between Jordan and Israel, was a minefield until the 1994 peace treaty was signed.

In 1996, after land mines were cleared, archaeologists began to excavate and unearthed remains of several different 5th and 6th century Byzantine and Roman churches, baptism ponds, and dwellings built for people who made pilgrimages to the site.

Remains of mosaic floors, some pavement stones, as well as bases to some columns have been excavated.

Saint John the Baptist

There is a modern Greek orthodox church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist located at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. There were colorful frescoes of religious scenes on the walls and many beautifully carved wooden pieces, including the alter, pews, and the pulpit.

We could see across the narrow river to the Israeli side which is a popular place for current day pilgrims to be baptized. In reality, the course of the Jordan River has changed dramatically since the time of Jesus, and it is believed that Jesus was actually baptized in the fresher, less turbid waters of a small tributary called Wadi el-Kharrar. Thus, the actual site of his baptism is still uncertain.

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo, a 2,330 foot tall mountain in Jordan, is believed to be the location from which Moses viewed the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. It is believed that he lived his final days here and is buried somewhere in this region.

The Memorial Sanctuary of Moses is a modern building on Mount Nebo that was built to protect the excavated ruins of a fourth century Byzantine basilica which was expanded in the fifth and sixth centuries. Inside are some well preserved mosaic floors and remains of a baptistry font.

As we entered the site, there was an interesting statue called the Book of Love. The statue is shaped like a book and faces of biblical characters are sticking out of the pages. Also on display was a large round stone, referred to as Abu Badd, that was a fortified door of a monastery.

Mosaic Mysteries Unraveled

Mosaics have been really popular in this region since the Byzantine era. The art of making mosaics is still going strong today and we visited the Madaba Arts and Handicraft Center where we were given a demonstration of how mosaics were made. The artists also paint elaborate designs on ostrich eggs. Of course, a large assortment of items was available for purchase in the spacious showroom behind the workshop.

Sixth Century Holy Land Map

Our next stop was Saint George's Orthodox Church in Madaba. On the floor of the church was a 1,500 year old mosaic map of the Holy Land. The map was originally about 69 feet by 23 feet and contained more than two million mosaic pieces. This is the oldest known map of Jerusalem and it is very accurate in depicting the location of biblical structures. In addition, it has proven useful in helping to locate additional structures that have recently been excavated.

On the Road Again

We had a lunch break in Madaba which involved a variety of traditional Jordanian foods and then we continued our journey to Petra. We had about 100 miles to go and it would take about three hours by car.

The scenery, which was mostly flat rocky desert, was broken up by occasional cities, but mostly small groups of houses without much else around. Several times we passed by flocks of sheep being tended by young boys on donkeys.

The Rose City

One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is an amazing city carved into rose colored red sandstone cliffs that spill across a dry desert floor. Petra comes from a Latin word which means rock. Built about 2,000 years ago, Petra was a thriving capital city and a major hub on regional trade routes of a nomadic desert people called the Nabateans.

Gateway to Petra

Since we arrived at Petra in the late afternoon, we only had a few hours of daylight left to begin our adventure. We decided on a round trip hike of about three miles to the Treasury monument. The hike out was done by flashlight under the stars and provided a very different perspective of what we had seen on the way in.

The trail began in a wide valley that would eventually contract into a long narrow canyon. We shared the trail with an interesting assortment of camel and donkey "taxis" that took tourists directly to the Treasury. We chose to walk so we could savor the sights along the way.

We passed by some carved square blocks of rock called djinn blocks. These are believed to be some of the earliest tombs in Petra and there are 26 of them in the region. As we walked, we couldn't help but notice that the surrounding hills were filled with caves, temples, and tombs carved into the sandstone.