Monday, December 11, 2017

Touring Middle East 16: The Two Ruins and the Dead Sea

We spent the later parts of our trip enjoying the magnificent sights of more archaeological sites near Dead Sea and in Jordan. On our last full day in Israel, we were taken on a scenic route along the coast of Dead Sea and paid a visit to the popular tourist spot of Masada, an ancient fortress built on top of a rock plateau in the middle of nowhere.

Thanks to technology, we reached the top of Masada in less than 10 minutes in a cable car, as opposed to a gruesome 45 minutes walk on the "Snake Trail" up the steep slope of 300m high. All of us were amused at the condition of the site, with many of the construction still intact, including the fortress wall, reservoirs and storehouses, and even a Roman-style bathhouse - how they manage to build all these 2000 years ago and supply enough water for that up on a mountain in a dessert was beyond my comprehension.

"Swimming in Dead Sea" was not something on my bucket list but I was happy to add that into things I have done. After Masada and the "obligatory stopover" to shop for some Dead Sea cosmetics products, we made a brief stop at the beach and "had a dip". It's not exactly what I thought it would be like - first, the place is super crowded with tourists. If you think you can snap a shot floating in the middle of the sea reading the newspaper you are out of luck. And you can't really swim - the water is super salty so putting your face anywhere near to the water was definitely not a good idea. Most of us just carefully tip-toe our way along and tried not to fall over or walk into any underwater sinkhole by accident. But it was fun effortlessly floating on my back and be amazed at how easy that was - in fact it's almost impossible to sink. And I did feel my skin was smoother after covering myself with the Dead Sea mud as part of the ritual that most people do after the swim. For those in our group who preferred to stay dry, they just hung out by the beachside for a drink at the place dubbed "the lowest bar on earth", which in retrospect, maybe a more interesting to do. And I didn't even take that many pictures - no way I was going to risk soaking my camera/phone in the water just to show I have been there done that.

We thought Petra was going to be the only highlight of our stopover in Jordan until we stopped by Jerash on our last day of the trip before our late night flight home. It's said Jerash is one of the largest and more well-preserved sites of Roman architecture outside of Italy, and upon setting foot inside the entrance gate, we realized why this is the second most-visited tourist spot in Jordan.

From what's been discovered already (the excavation is still on-going), we can already get the picture of this city in its glorious days (roughly from the first century CE until the 6th century) Near the entrance was the Hadrian's Arch built in the first century and right behind was the hippodrome, a chariot race-track which can once seat 15000 spectators. At the center of the site was the forum, with 56 Ionic-style columns built in a circle, most of which are still intact. There are more columns in the Cardo Maximus, or the main street, and the Temple of Artemis. Elsewhere there were other well-preserved structures in this complex site including the coliseum (where performance still took place) and fountains. We all had an incredible time visiting this amazing site in a leisurely pace with a glimpse of the beautiful sunset just as we departed.

(Touring Middle East - Part 16)

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