The three cities that will host the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup lie within easy reach of each other, which means teams can stay in Amman for the duration of tournament without having to do much travelling. The capital has much to offer visitors, as does the rest of Jordan, which is steeped in history and boasts some captiating scenery. Here are five places that are essential destinations on any trip to this part of the world.
The lowest point on Earth
Did you know that Jordan is home to the lowest point on Earth, which lies 412 metres below sea level, on the shores of the Dead Sea, some 65 kilometres from Amman. The Dead Sea is the only stretch of water on the planet that is situated below sea level. Though the River Jordan empties into it, it is the saltiest of seas and owes its name to the fact that it is impossible for marine life to live there. It is, however, rich in salts and minerals, and both its water and mud are used to tackle a number of skin ailments. The high salt content of the Dead Sea also means you can lie back, relax and float on it.
This low-lying region is home to a number of holy sites, and it was here, in eastern Jordan, that Jesus Christ was baptised at the age of 30 by John. Pope Benedict XVI visited the site on his trip to the Holy Land in 2009. The remains of a Byzantine church built during the reign of Emperor Anastasius were unearthed by archaeologists at Al-Maghtas. There are also many pools and wells in the area, and it is believed that the first Christians were baptised here.
Petra is the jewel in Jordan’s crown and its most stunning tourist destination. It is, quite simply, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, and descriptions of the site can in no way capture its magic. Sculpted out of the rock by the Nabataeans, it was a strategically important city linking the Arabian Peninsula and Syria to Europe in the west and China in the east, on the Silk and Spice Routes.
One of its many wonders is the narrow gorge known as Al-Siq, with its beautifully curved walls of colourful rock, stretching as high as 80 metres in places. Visitors can negotiate the pebble-lined gorge on foot or hire a donkey or camel, which will take them into the heart of the amazing city of Petra and to the world-famous Al-Khazneh, with its facade measuring 43 by 30 metres. Hewn out of red sandstone, it bursts with colour at daybreak, just one of the memorable sights on offer at this stunning site.
The Wadi Rum is another of southern Jordan’s spectacular locations, a desert valley dotted with mountains, which soar upwards like skyscrapers and attract many an intrepid climber. It is known, not without good reason, as Wadi Al-Qamar (The Valley of the Moon). Warm clothing is a must if you intend to spend the night here, when temperatures can plummet from 32ºC to 4ºC, though the silence and calm of the place and its vast open spaces make it well worth visiting. The valley also boasts a number of hidden treasures, among them rock drawings dating back 4,000 years.
Aqaba occupies a very special place on the tourist map of Jordan. As the country’s only sea port, it is also vitally important to its economy and is the point of entry for visitors heading from the Red Sea to the nearby ancient sites of Petra and Wadi Rum, which lie around an hour away.
Aqaba is blessed with very agreeable temperatures in winter, and the sea here is home to gorgeous coral reefs and exotic species of marine life, all of which can be enjoyed on a scuba-diving expedition or from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat.
Midway between Amman and Irbid lies the city of Jerash. Surrounded by lush, green hills, it is one of the best-conserved ancient cities in the world today. Founded by the Greeks, it was discovered beneath the sand over 70 years ago, with subsequent digs revealing an entire city complete with paved streets, temples, theatres, fountains, squares and an outer wall. Jerash was governed by the Romans after falling to Pompey in 63 BC, and subsequently formed part of the Decapolis, an alliance of ten Roman cities, becoming the largest of them and taking on the name of Gerasa. In spite of this, it retained its Greek identity.