Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Monday, 3 December 2007

Thursday 22 November 2007 - Castles and Mosaics

On Tuesday we met Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealander of Dutch parentage, who married a Bedouin following an unlikely holiday romance in 1978. She brought up her children in the family cave in Petra. Only a handful of people still live in the caves, and Marguerite has recently written about her experiences. Now widowed, she has moved with the times, and even has her own web site! Her book promises to be a good read.
It was another cool morning, but everyone must have had more than enough sleep as we were up from this last night’s camping before 7 am. Luckily for Sue, it was to be a sightseeing day, with loos never far away. A bus picked us up from camp for the 3 hour journey along the ‘beautifully scenic’ King’s Highway to Karak. Unfortunately low cloud obscured the views, so we resorted to the faster ‘Desert Highway’. On the way the driver of the old Toyota bus fell asleep. Luckily he was ‘under observation’, and a yell went up from a number of people who had been watching his sagging eyelids through the rear view mirror. And so we made it to Karak, where a Crusader castle built in the C12th, as its Wikipedia entry explains…”extends over the southern part of the plateau. It is a notable example of Crusader architecture, a mixture of European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Its walls are strengthened with rectangular projecting towers, long stone vaulted galleries are lighted only by narrow slits, and it contains a deep moat from the west which completely isolates the site.”
The castle is famous for withstanding sieges, but was finally captured by Saladin in 1189. Its fortifications were largely destroyed much later, around 1840, but recently there has been much restoration work, and a new museum opened in 2004.
Mahmoud, the archaeologist, guided us around the castle in cool, wet weather. It was an excellent structure, with 3 storeys and wide tunnels; a shame that we didn’t have time for a full exploration.


After adjourning to the pleasantly heated museum, it was soon time to re-board the bus and fight our way around the narrow, double parked, hilly streets of Karak. This is a fertile area, with lots of grocery shops, and, as can be seen from the coach window, a selection of goats – still with heads and long ears, with their organs hanging next to them!


It was about two hours to Madaba, on the way to which we crossed Wadi Jubim, a 600 metre deep valley with a new reservoir at the bottom. We stopped at a viewpoint where the usual 1 Dinar stalls were abundant, this time selling bits of local rock, and it was strange to see a river (to the left of this picture) in the arid landscape. [The sellers of baubles were never obtrusive and were easy to deter – reluctantly, as these people were so friendly.]

Madaba is famous for its mosaics, and we headed straight for the mosaic map found in the Greek Orthodox Church of St George, built in 1884 over the remains of a Byzantine Church. The map focuses on Jerusalem with its colonnaded main street, and has 157 captions written in Greek. It dates to around 560 AD and originally measured some 16 x 6 metres and comprised over 2 million bits of rock. The Dead Sea is shown, as well as fish escaping its salty waters by swimming up the river Jordan. We strolled back to the bus down damp streets, occasionally pausing for those enticed by shops, which this trip has (thankfully) rarely encountered.
Next, a short drive to Mount Nebo, where Moses reputedly died. There is a memorial church housing more exceptional mosaics, and the view past the Brazen Serpent monument over the Rift Valley to Jerusalem and Jericho, with the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, was lovely in the sunset light. Mahmoud admitted he had never seen it so clear – the rain had literally washed away the haze.
Our final stop of the day was at a mosaic workshop, where we were shown how the pieces of rock are glued face down onto pieces of cloth on which patterns have been drawn. The borders are created first, then the inside of the figures and finally the ‘filling’ and edges. Then the fabric is turned upside down and set in a bed of grout, after which the fabric is removed and the glue washed off to reveal the pristine shiny rock surfaces below.
The workshop visit was designed to lure us into the adjoining shop, and whilst some of the garden furniture with mosaic tables was very nice, it was extremely expensive (up to £6,000), so nobody committed themselves.
We then adjourned to the Mariam Hotel, where the bath was pleasant but very short, and the D7 set meal brought a few complaints from those who wanted to go a la carte. It was Mahmoud’s first night with us for a while, as he had spent the last two nights with his family in Petra, and he didn’t show any interest in Sandra, Sally and Katie’s requests. In the end Sally got her pasta and chips! And Sally and Katie prevailed upon some Aussies to order them burgers. Nothing was particularly appetising, and the veg was cold. Sue (fasting) didn’t miss much.

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