Jordan: Introduction

  • © Lars,

    © Lars,


World history speeded up, imposing natural treasures, fascinating landscapes: the Hashemite kingdom is a small gem – packing in testimonies of the great European and Middle Eastern cultures in a small area. As in a time machine, travellers can trace world history back to its earliest days. The Ain Ghazzal statues are the oldest large sculptures in the world, and are seemingly alive in the Archaeological Museum in Amman, created by artists in the 8th millennium BC. The highlight of any trip to Jordan is the rock city of Petra, which the Nabataeans carved into the reddish rock from the 6th century BC onwards. Greeks, Romans, Christians, Muslims and Crusaders all left their impressive marks on the territory that today is the Kingdom of Jordan.

Yet the country not only lends itself to a stroll through history, it also boasts stunning natural treasures. This region at the interface of the Mediterranean and the great desert of the Arabian Peninsula has some spectacular scenery. In the south, you have the desert of Wadi Rum, with its fine sand and wonderful red rocks jutting into the skies. This is the most beautiful part of the desert areas, which make up 90 per cent of Jordan and which have marked the population and their identity. The vastness and loneliness of this landscape reduces everything down to the core: simple gestures, no superfluous words, controlled emotions. These qualities have emerged over thousands of years where the people adapted to their hostile surroundings. The Jordanians' unassuming, near-reticent politeness is balanced with a down-to-earth philosophy of life: Ramadan is not marked with fairs and festivities late into the night or people milling around in the street after breaking the fast. Jordanians celebrate within the circle of their family, in their own house.

Only a few miles from Wadi Rum the Red Sea awaits, a paradise for divers, with its coral reefs and fish-rich waters. In contrast, the Jordan Valley, where a subtropical climate supports the cultivation of vegetables, and as far as the eye can see there is green. At its southern point, the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea, which at 400m/1300ft below sea level marks the lowest point on earth. With its high salt and mineral content, it has been a destination for health tourism since time immemorial. And in the north, you’ll find a Mediterranean hilly landscape with olive groves.

Despite Jordan's many attractions, for a long time the country was not exactly in the spotlight of the travelling world. The explanation for this is the political situation in the region. The image of this buffer state between Israel/Palestine and Iraq is affected by the unstable conditions in its neighbouring countries. However, Jordan itself – even after the terror attacks on hotels in Amman in 2005 – remains a safe country to travel in, both in a regional and a global context, as proven by the World Economy Forum of Davos choosing Jordan as the stage for its special meetings in the region.

Many Jordanians speak English

Tourists are treated like royalty. People are friendly and helpful, yet they never pester. With the possible exception of Petra, you will not have a horde of souvenir sellers pursuing you, or children asking for money. Taxi drivers work by their functioning taximeters, dispensing with the need for tiresome haggling over the fare. Thanks to the good educational system, many Jordanians speak English, and road signage is always bilingual: Arabic and English. This makes Jordan an ideal destination for independent travellers who prefer to go and discover it on their own.

King Abdullah II is a welcome guest in the West

Today's Jordan is a relatively recent state, established under British colonial rule. The idea was to create a kingdom for their ally Abdullah: Transjordan, as the territory under British mandate was known at the time. The 'small king' Hussein, grandson of the founder of the state Abdullah I, was adept at creating a role for his country far beyond its geographical size. After Hussein’s death in 1999, his son Abdullah II stepped up to the succession. With his beautiful Palestinian Queen Rania at his side, Abdullah II is a popular guest in the West. In terms of the economy, he has brought in young technocrats to walk the corridors of power. However, there have been few political reforms.

Many young people can't find a job and leave the country

Yet Jordan could do with some of those. The around 6.5 million inhabitants of the country are on average 22 years old. The rapid increase in population is not without problems – many young people can't find work and are forced to emigrate. There is also a strong contrast between rich and poor, and no middle class to speak of. In the high-class quarter of Abdoun in western Amman, it's all palatial residences with at least two cars in the garage, where domestic staff are employed to do the housework. Despite unemployment, there are certain tasks that Jordanians will not accept. The gardeners in the fine residential districts and in the Jordan Valley, for example, are usually Egyptians. Due to the conservative code of honour of the Bedouin and Islam, Jordanian women will not work in a stranger’s household, as being on their own in the house with a man would compromise them. This work is taken on by women from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In the eastern part of Amman, in contrast, one room is usually shared by a whole family; the houses are concrete buildings standing close to one another, and often just bare concrete. Yet there's little downright misery, and you won't see any slums. This is thanks to foreign aid intended to stabilise Jordan in this volatile region and to guarantee the pro-western stance of the royal family, but also thanks to remittances sent by Jordanians living abroad.

The Jordanians still trust the leadership qualities of King Abdullah II, but even traditionally royalist groupings are calling for change, measures against corruption and more social justice. Environmental campaigners are mobilising protests against the introduction of nuclear power and the exploitation of non-renewable water reserves. However, deep political change or violent regime change are not on the cards. Jordan remains a fascinating and at the same time safe destination in an otherwise rather restless region.

If you take the trouble to pick up a few phrases in Arabic, Jordanians' doors and hearts will open even wider. Many are pleasantly surprised to see western visitors taking an interest in their language and culture. Don't just discover the historical sights of Jordan, dive into the contemporary Arabic universe too. Ahlan wa Sahlan – a warm welcome.

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