By Antonio Malara
This post starts where the Amman post ends, the first story about my adventure in Jordan. I recommend reading it in order to understand the following even better.
That morning after visiting the Amman Citadel we moved by bus to reach the two further destinations planned for that day; Machaerus and al-Karak. Even though I couldn't say I knew Amman, looking out the bus window, I knew we were traveling on different roads than the day before. I noticed new design buildings and above all many villas that, even if they had different styles, were all beautiful and original, especially those that appeared to be built in stone. Leaving the city, the hilly scenery began to appear again but this time to my pleasant surprise, the hills were green. Let's say that on the yellow hills there was a remnant of green grass, this scenario that mixed for the first time two colors of opposite concepts accompanied us until the arrival at Machaerus.
Personally I didn’t know anything about the place we were going to visit, I listened to Don Valerio in the background talking about some difficulties regarding the visit of the site but I had not committed myself to understand the reason. We got off the bus in a large parking area that was totally deserted but I still saw uncertainties in the group, then Don Valerio explained that climbing to the top of Machaerus was a bit difficult for less agile people, so to form a group, the others would have seen it from the vantage point. Walking to reach the mountain I understood why; Machaerus stood out with its circular shape in the middle of two valleys and the road to begin climbing it was downstream. This hill was in a stunning position with the Dead Sea behind it and other mountains beyond the valleys. Although challenging to achieve, the shape of the Machaerus was still beautiful, it did not seem a threatening place but rather gave harmony. The road leading to the top was quite wide but made of stony material so you had to be careful not to slip. Personally, I didn’t find any difficulties, just a little attention was enough, but it was rewarded by the view. In fact, along the mountain, another beautiful view of the Dead Sea began to open. At the top, the view was breathtaking because the yellow tinged with green of the hills broke on the horizon with the blue of the sea and the sky that seemed to be one thing only. The summit was very wide and rather flat, it was a site full of large blocks of stone scattered here and there, all wild. On one side, two columns remained standing, the sign of what must have once been a temple, and in the opposite direction on the sea side there was a rectangle formed of stones, like a council chamber. We sat there, side by side until we took up half of the rectangle, there Don Valerio began to tell a story that I remembered reading and that made me understand why we were on that mountain. Here took place the facts narrated in the Gospel about Salomé's story, his famous dance and the request for the head of John the Baptist. Don Valerio read that crucial passage from the Gospel of which I want to quote here the final part, hoping that by doing so it can do the same the effect he had on me and all the people present there that day.
“When Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced in public and Herod liked it so much that he swore to give her everything she asked for. And she, instigated by her mother, said: "Give me here, on a tray, the head of John the Baptist".
The king was saddened, but because of the oath and the diners he ordered it to be given to her and sent John to be beheaded in the prison. Her head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she carried it to her mother.
His disciples went to take the body, buried it and went to inform Jesus "
After finishing the reading, Don Valerio looked at us and looked around saying: “here, this is all that remains of that barbaric, violent and furious night”.
In a moment I lived the whole narration of Don Valerio as if it had been there in front of my eyes, then I turned to look at the ruins making a journey thousands of years long in just one second! This was the power of storytelling, an hour before I didn't know what place I was going to visit, then I realized that that place was the location of an important historical fact that I had read and then suddenly it was as if I had lived it! The story of the historical facts narrated in the place where they occurred but in the conditions in which it was now, gave a unique teaching. The temporariness of everything! The ecstasy, the power, everything will eventually be reduced to any ruin.
After that good life lesson, we focused on lighter things, like photography. We spent that little time on top of the mountain and on the way back to photograph that magnificent, wild and unprotected place; as I liked it.
Our next destination was the city of al-Karak and a visit to its famous Castle-Fortress. Along the way we passed another breathtaking point, downstream there was a dam surrounded by mountains with a different shape than usual. Everyone's enthusiasm convinced our guide to stop and take some pictures even if this caused us a delay on the schedule that we have never recovered. The landscape there was vast as far as the eye could see and the mountains above the dam looked more like giant flows. They had two large dark stripes for a long time in two distinct levels, as if they had been cut, very suggestive that together with the rest created another unique view. Obviously, without even realizing it, between one photo and another we lost much more time than expected.
Already arriving by bus I noticed that al-Karak extended over a wide plateau, where the great stone Castle stood. After leaving the bus we went for lunch at the restaurant after 3 PM. al-Karak Castle was a construction that dates back to the 12th century, the entrance was impressive because it was accessed from a walkway that flanked the high walls. Once you passed the entrance, you would actually find yourself outside again. The castle still retained large parts of the construction and we visited an area that was full of arched structures. I remember that someone was amazed at how these had resisted compared to walls that were damaged. Don Valerio explained that it was thanks to the principle of construction of the arches that they had resisted, more stable than the largest walls. The area was very large and there were large spaces between one building and another where probably a long time ago there was part of the castle that has now been destroyed. In today's conditions it gave the impression of being a sort of archaeological park, also given the presence of a lot of greenery around it. Moreover, being the castle on a summit, from there you could enjoy a beautiful view. Obviously, as usual, I began to explore the area as if it were a playground, armed with a camera to capture everything. To my surprise I discovered some tunnels, it was a lot of fun to go through them, go around the various rooms and notice that despite being underground they were designed in such a way as to let in glimmers of light. I remember that there was a passage that from an entrance led to an exit from a completely different side, these things excited me a lot.
Our visit there didn't last very long, we left after more than an hour because a long journey to Petra awaited us. After crossing the narrow streets of al-Karak we immersed ourselves in a new desert scenery, along the way we stopped for a break and a coffee, there we admired one of our first Jordanian sunsets.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800