Jordan's Best Historical Sites


Jordan sights beyond Petra and Wadi Rum

What to see in Jordan

Lauren Keith
By Lauren Keith

Though Jordan is one of the world’s younger states, this land has been home to civilisations since time immemorial, and many have left behind evidence of their advances and achievements.


Tetrapylon, Ancient Roman city of Gerasa, Jerash


One of the best-preserved Roman cities in the Middle East, Jerash is Jordan’s largest ancient Roman site, and it has all of the city essentials still intact, including a hippodrome once used for chariot races, a triumphal arch, theatres, temples, a cobbled and collonaded main street and a column-encircled central forum at its heart. Jerash is often visited as a day trip from Amman, and it’s best to hire a guide to get the full history of the site as signage is poor.

Umm Qais

Northern Jordan doesn’t see as many visitors as other parts of the country, but its archaeological sites are no less impressive. The chequerboard white marble and striking black basalt columns of the ancient Roman city of Gadara, now called Umm Qais, shoot up from the remains of a Byzantine church, and the acoustics of the West Theatre are still second to none. From its hilltop perch high above the lush Jordan Valley, the site offers views into Syria, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

Amman’s Roman theatre and citadel

Amman is built atop seven hills showcasing Jordan’s capital’s history front and centre. Right in its downtown, a restored 2nd-century Roman theatre is dug into one of the many hillsides. Lording over the city from the crown of its highest hill is the Citadel, a sprawling site enclosed by a wall nearly 2km long. Giant columns – two still holding a fragmented pediment aloft – loom above the remains of the Temple of Hercules, constructed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius around 162AD. Linger at this heady viewpoint and take in the blocky sand-coloured cityscape of Amman, which is especially beautiful just before sunset.

Crusader castles

To protect trade routes to Jerusalem and keep religious enemies at bay, a series of castles were constructed in the 12th century by Christian Crusaders along Jordan’s rugged mountainous spine. The fortified stronghold in Karak is one of the most famous Crusader castles. Visitors can explore its moats, tunnels and watchtowers that have views all the way to the Dead Sea on clear days. Further to the south, the remote fortress of Shobak is less intact than Karak, but it’s notable as the Crusaders’ first headquarters in the region.


Ruins of the Roman city of Gerasa, Jerash

Mosaic map in Madaba

The intricate mosaic map on the floor of St George’s Church in Madaba is one of the oldest surviving maps of the Holy Land, highlighting the most significant biblical sites of the region, all labelled in Greek. The walled city of Jerusalem immediately catches the eye, with the bright yellow roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it’s thought that Jesus is buried, clearly visible. In the top left corner, tiled fish swim up the Jordan River away from the Dead Sea. The view extends all the way to Egypt’s Sinai, where Christians believe God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

About the author

Jordan sights beyond Petra and Wadi Rum

Lauren Keith

Lauren Keith is a guidebook author and travel writer specialising in the Middle East and North Africa and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Lauren was previously the editor for the Middle East and North Africa at Lonely Planet, where she’s written extensively about the region. Follow her adventures in the Middle East and beyond on Instagram @noplacelike_it.

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