Ajloun and Umm Qais


A few weeks ago we took a day trip up north to Ajloun ("adje-loon") and Umm Qais ("oomk eyes")--two of the most beautiful cities in Jordan!

See Kineret Lake right up in the corner of Syria? That lake has another name: the Sea of Galilee. Umm Qais is set up on a hill and offers and unbelievable view (along with vistas of the Golan Heights and Syria). But more on that later.

Ajloun was our first stop of the day. It's a beautiful city surrounded by forests of pine, oak, and pistachio trees. Its defining landmark is an ancient castle that looms on a hill over the city. Here's some fun information about it taken from my fabulous guidebook, The Rough Guide to Jordan:

"The history of Ajloun is bound up in the story of the castle--in Arabic, the Qal'at ar-Rabadh. A perfect location with a bird's-eye view over the surrounding countryside and over three major wadis (valleys) leading to the Jordan valley. It is said to have formerly been the site of an isolated Christian monastery, home to a monk named Ajloun. By 1184, in the midst of the Crusades, the monastery had fallen into ruin, and an Arab general and close relative of Salah- ad-Din, Azz ad-Din Usama, took the opportunity to build a fortress on the ruins, partly to limit expansion of the Crusader kingdoms, partly to protect the iron mines of the nearby hills, and partly to show a strong hand to the squabbling clans of the local Bani Auf tribe. Legend has it that, to demonstrate his authority, Usama invited the sheikhs of Bani Auf to a banquet int he newly completed castle, enteratined and fed them, then threw them all into the dungeons."

Intense, eh?! It was really neat to see and Ajloun is beautiful. I have to admit that it wasn't as cool as Jerash, but definitely still worth the trip. 

Hold on. Have I not blogged about Jerash yet?!!? Welp, guess I know what my next post will be. You know what I think my problem is? After I come home and edit/upload/write captions for all the pictures I post to Facebook, I mentally check off that even has having been documented. But this week is the perfect opportunity to play catch up (it's Eid al-Adha--no classes!), so get ready for lots of posts.

Anyway, where was I? Umm Qais! Our second stop of the day. The main attraction of this city is exploring the sprawling ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, Palestinians who were expelled from or fled their homes have come here specifically to savor the spectacular views of their homeland. From the highest point of Gadara, you can see the lush countryside of Galilee, the choppy lake itself, and the waterfront city of Tiberias. The city's primary claim to fame comes from the New Testament itself, in Matthew 8:28-34:
28 And when he was come to the other side into the city of Gadara, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
29 And behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
30 And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding.
31 So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
32 And he said unto them, go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of the swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
33 And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told everything, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils.
34 And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.
Pretty amazing! It goes without saying how surreal it was to stand where this happened. And to look out over the Sea of Galilee and think "That's where Jesus walked on water. That's where He calmed the seas." The more and more I visit Jordan, the happier I am to be here.

The initial plan for this study abroad was for it to happen in Cairo, but that plan changed when the revolution broke out (BYU can't send kids to places on the State Department's travel warning list). I'll admit that I was kind of bummed at first to be going to Jordan. What the heck is in Jordan? There's no pyraminds! No hieroglyphs! No Nile River! No history!

But oh how wrong I was. Jordan more than holds its own against its more famous Middle Eastern counterparts like Egypt or Israel--I wonder how long it will take before the rest of the world realizes what a gem this country is? Don't get me wrong, tourism is big business here, but mostly for Europeans (everybody always thinks we're from France, Italy, or Spain). If Americans knew about all that Jordan had to offer--how dynamic its people are, how beautiful and varied the country is, how deep its history runs--they would be flocking here! And how great would that be? 

We need more Americans to visit the Middle East for two main purposes: To get rid of horrible stereotypes about Arabs, and to better understand the dynamics of the region (especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). What better place to do that than Jordan? A country that not only offers something for everybody (history geeks, adventurers, etc), but also happens to be the safest and most peaceful place in the region?

Long story short: Umm Qais is an extremely special place, and I'm so grateful I got the chance to visit it. We couldn't have gone at a better time of day! We arrived right as the sun was beginning to set, and my was it a sight to see (check out my Facebook album for more pictures, photos 166-194).

One of the coolest things about Umm Qais was the full-service restaurant that was built right into the ruins of the city. The patio had a stunning, once-in-a-lifetime view of the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, everything (not to mention great food!). We sat and chatted over dinner with our friends for the better part of an hour, watching the sun melt across the horizon.

It was, unequivocally, the most amazing dining experience I've ever had.


  1. Tiberius. Our hotel in Galilee overlooked the city. Oh how I miss is.

    I love hearing all the amazing things you are doing! Keep blogging!

  2. How cool is that? In case you had no idea, I love your blogs and I am living vicariously through you. Thanks for all the history and pictures you include. =)


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