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As Middle Eastern cities go, Amman is a relative youth, being mostly a creation of the 20th century. But though it lacks the storied history and thrilling architectural tapestry of other regional capitals, there’s plenty here to encourage you to linger awhile before making for Petra, the Dead Sea or Wadi Rum. In fact, Amman is one of the easiest cities in which to enjoy the Middle East experience.
With its wind-whittled landscape, honeycomb tombs and silent canyons blessed by forgotten gods, the ancient city of Petra embraces human history on an epic scale. The breadth of the site, which is sprinkled over numerous mountains, accessed via narrow slot canyons and stretches across dry river beds, means a visit to Petra demands time.
Aqaba carries the relaxed small-town atmosphere of a popular local getaway. The town offers a sociable stopover en route to the diving and snorkelling clubs to the south and the big destinations of Wadi Rum and Petra. It’s also an obvious place to break a journey to or from Israel and the Palestinian Territories or Egypt.
The ruined city of Jerash is Jordan's largest and most interesting Roman site, and a major tourist drawcard. Its imposing ceremonial gates, colonnaded avenues, temples and theatres all speak to the time when this was an important imperial centre. Even the most casual fan of archaeology will enjoy a half-day at the site – but take a hat and sunscreen in the warmer months, as the exposed ruins can be very hot to explore.
The amiable market town of Madaba is best known for a collection of Byzantine-era mosaics. The most famous of these is the map on the floor of St George’s Church, but there are many others in different parts of the town, several of them even more complete and vibrantly colourful.
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