Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eid in Amman

Our plan was to travel from Amman to Jerusalem today to avoid Eid al-Adha but it has come a day sooner than we expected and there is no public transport. So we have an enforced rest day with little to do but read and chat with other travellers and wander the empty streets of Amman. It's not the most picturesque of cities - the Salford of the Middle East I guess. It has grown quickly from a village under Ottoman rule to a capital city of just under 2 million people - most of them immigrants from neighbouring countries. I didn't actually realise that the Palestinians outnumber Jordanians 2 to 1, and there are large numbers of Iraqis who have moved here to escape the conflict at home. There is no sense of a large city, partly because it is spread over many low hills and valleys and there are only short views. West of the city are the hills overlooking the Jordan valley and east is the desert stretching to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

We head out this way to visit a handful of buildings - forts, a caravanserai and two hammans. Yes, hammans in the desert. These were built by the first Islamic rulers in the 7th century - beside deep wells. It is thought they were used by the wealthy as hunting lodges, or by pilgrims on route to Mecca, and one features risque frescoes - not for the Faithful. One fort had been used by T.E.Lawrence during the Arab revolt against the Turks. I'm reading his 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' at the moment but haven't got past the introduction........... We pass several new 'forts' - American military bases for Iraq. No photographs, no stops.

desert hamman

Jerash is just north of Amman and is an impressive site of Roman remains. There are temples, churches, baths, a forum and agora, a hippodrome and more columns than you can shake a stick at. We take a minibus with Harry, a young New Zealander and criss-cross the sight in the warm winter sun. To demonstrate the acoustics of the amphiteatre we are treated to 'Scotland The Brave' on bagpipes played by a soldier in bedouin uniform - looking the part in long skirt and red and white keffiyeh. Quite bizarre. Gayle is keeping a tally of Roman amphitheatres we have visited - this is number 9 and in good nick. On our way back into Amman we pass several makeshift pens at the roadside full of sheep for sale. A man is trying to shut the boot of his car on a purchase. Eid al-Adha commemorates Allah/God saving Ibrahim/Abraham from sacrificing his son Ishmael/Isaac. The father slaughtered a lamb instead, and the carnage is to be repeated at Eid. We will be celebrating at Hashem's Restaurant - with felafel, houmous and foul and a glass of tea. Yummm.

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