Our second day in Jordan dawned slightly cooler and greyer than the first. We had another early start, but as we’d had such a fantastic first day in Jordan we had high hopes for the day ahead. Bleary-eyed, we hauled ourselves out of bed, keen to see as much of Amman as we could before leaving for the Dead Sea that afternoon.
The husband and I were super excited about floating in the Dead Sea – it was a bucket list must-do for both of us. However, it didn’t really turn out as we hoped… Can you guess why?
Amman’s Citadel Ruins
If you’re wondering what to see in Amman, the Citadel is a good place to start. We drove through Amman’s streets towards the highest hill in the city, Jebel al-Qala’a. The views from the Citadel are superb as it’s in the centre of Amman. Here we hired a guide at the gates and learned that Amman has a long history.
Evidence of human habitation here goes back to 5500 BC. We looked inside a cave, ceiling blackened from fire, where Neolithic tribes lived.
Prior to 312 BC the settlement was known as Rabbath-Ammon but during the rule of Ptolemy II of Egypt, the city was named Philadelphia in his honour. Philadelphia became a Roman city and part of the Decapolis League of cities. Remnants of the Roman temple of Hercules and a forum can be seen today. There was once a large statue, presumably of Hercules, but all that remains are his elbow and part of a hand.
In 661 AD the Umayyad Caliphate came to power and Philadelphia became Amman. The Umayyad palace was built on top of this hill but it was destroyed by an earthquake shortly after its construction. The most complete building is a hall with a reconstructed domed roof.
Also worth looking around is the Archaeological Museum which has a wealth of artefacts from various points throughout Amman’s history.
The Secrets of Amman’s Ancient Roman Theatre
The highlight of our morning in Amman was the incredible amphitheatre. It’s just downhill from the Citadel. We didn’t hire a guide but our driver, Nabil, told us about some curiosities that we could look for.
The first was to find a small mark on the paving slabs just off centre and towards the back of the “stage.” If you stand on this mark and speak, your voice will be amplified by the theatre so that the people sitting at the top can hear you. The Cub copied us, shouting in delight – she thought this was really funny. Even taking a small step to the side stops the effect.
On the raised dais behind the stage area is a hidden trapdoor which leads to a tunnel going under the city and up the hill to the citadel. In Roman times, this was allegedly used by the upper class who didn’t want to mix with the general public. Unfortunately it’s locked and blocked off so you can’t creep through these tunnels, but you can peek through the gaps and see the stairs disappearing into the gloom.
The last secret was the best. The amphitheatre was used for shows and fights in the past. How did the show runners know when to bring out the prisoner, or the lions, for maximum impact? Incredibly, the curved wall of the bottom tier acts as a sort of telephone. Speak into the wall by one end, where the prisoners would have been waiting, and the sound travels through the stone to the person at the far side of the amphitheatre. When the husband spoke into the wall I could hear him as clearly as if he’d been standing right next to me. The audience wouldn’t have been able to hear this. The Romans knew a thing or two about engineering!
You can climb all over the amphitheatre, so we did. The stairs are steep! At one end of the stage, you’ll find the Jordan Folklore Museum, with exhibits on Jordanian culture. At the other end is the Museum of Popular Traditions. And there’s a mini amphitheatre, the Odeon, just next to the main theatre. The amphitheatre has been restored in recent years and is still used at certain times today. It’s unmissable.
After our look around it was time to head off to the Dead Sea. Just by the amphitheatre are some of Jordan’s markets. As we drove past I wished we had more time to look around these streets as I’m sure there were some beautiful things to buy and we’d have had a better look at modern Jordanian life.
Visiting the Dead Sea with Kids
Situated between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is so salty that nothing can live there. You won’t see any boats on it either as the water will corrode them! It is the lowest point on land, 390m below sea level. The water is particularly buoyant so floating in the Dead Sea is on many people’s bucket lists. The mud from the bottom of the sea is packed full of minerals and used in many spa treatments.
We talked with Nabil as we drove down to the Dead Sea. He was keen to tell us the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah (the Qur’an version is slightly different to the Old Testament) as this was where the cities were allegedly located. We drove past a pillar said to be Lot’s wife, frozen in salt for eternity, and looked at the salt crystals on the shore of the Dead Sea.
We checked into our hotel, part of a complex of hotels lining a small part of the Dead Sea, and wasted no time in getting down to the shore. We had to walk quite a way as the Dead Sea is receding by several metres a year. As we walked down the path signs showed just how much the sea level is dropping. There are plans being made with Israel to create a pipeline from the Red Sea that will re-fill the Dead Sea; they had better hurry. The day was still cool and overcast but there were a few people down by the water’s edge.
The husband and I had decided to take turns swimming as the Dead Sea isn’t suitable for small kids. I went first. Bee started to wail as soon as I walked off – it was going to have to be a quick dip! It’s an odd sensation – you really do float and you absolutely cannot swim in the Dead Sea. I tried but nearly flipped over.
Believe me when I say you do not want to get your face in the water. I got a teeny splash in my eye and it burned. I also got a drop on my lip and the taste of the water is unbelievably strong. It’s not sodium but magnesium chloride in the water and it feels almost greasy, leaving a film on your skin that you have to wash off. If you’ve got a small cut anywhere it will also tingle and burn.
Bee was now howling for me so I got out and let the husband have a turn. The beach wasn’t sandy, it was more dirt and pebbles so the Cub wasn’t able to make sandcastles. There wasn’t much for the kids to do other than wait for us. Toddlers are not known for their patience and poor Bee kept fussing.
Most Dead Sea hotels have buckets of therapeutic spa mud by the shore so I quickly slapped some on my arms and legs and got back in the sea. You’re supposed to leave the mud on for 20 minutes or more before washing it off but I was pushing my luck as it was. Another couple of minutes and the Cub was whinging and Bee was getting frantic. It was also getting cold so we grabbed kids and towels and gave up.
It was a far cry from the relaxing images of people reading magazines and looking chilled out that spring to mind when you think of the Dead Sea. We started to grumble, but then reminded ourselves that we had to leave all expectations behind when travelling with such young children. But my skin did feel very soft, and we got another bucket list item checked off, so it wasn’t all bad.
You win some, you lose some. I think we lost the Dead Sea!