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March 8, 2017

Celebrating the life and tragic times of Branwell Brontë

Celebrating the life and tragic times of Branwell Brontë
The Bronte Parsonage Haworth Yorkshire - by zoe dawes

Brontë Parsonage Museum

The ‘Pillar Portrait’, half way up the stairs of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, says it all. The most famous sisters in the world gaze enigmatically into the distance, dressed in simple Victorian dresses, drab colours reflecting what might be perceived as their drab lives. They were ‘stuck’ in some remote Yorkshire village on wind-swept, rain-drenched moors, spending their days writing or travelling away to teach children in other people’s homes. In the painting, between two of the sisters is a paler, blurry column which, on closer inspection, shows the outline of a male figure. That ‘pillar’ is actually the artist Branwell Brontë, who painted himself and his sisters around 1833. For some reason, possibly composition, he then painted himself out of the portrait and, until recently, he’s been painted out of history too.

The Bronte Sisters - Pillar Portrait at Bronte Parsonage

The Brontë Sisters ‘Pillar Portrait’

The lives of these creative siblings were, in fact, highly creative; Charlotte, Emily and, to a lesser extent, Anne Brontë, are known to readers around the world today for the dramatic novels they wrote in their father’s parsonage in Haworth. The lowly governess got a make-over as a romantic heroine when troubled employer Rochester fell for his daughter’s teacher in Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). The Yorkshire moors will forever be associated with moody Heathcliff and his doomed love in turbulent Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë). The trials of the abused wife of an alcoholic husband were tackled for the very first time in harrowing detail in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Brontë). However, brother Branwell Brontë is notorious as the drunken, layabout brother who came to nothing and died an alcoholic’s death in his late-twenties. But there are many more layers to their story and the place to learn all about it is the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

Bronte Parsonage Dining Room Haworth Yorkshire - image zoe dawes

The Dining Room; costume from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Charlotte’s portrait and head of Branwell Brontë

I’ve been here many times over the years and each time am struck anew at the inspiring yet tragic story of this curious family who produced such creative talent and died such sad deaths. Last month I returned, this time to see a new exhibition which throws light on Branwell Brontë and adds a poetic note to his helter-skelter life.

Branwell Brontë

Born in June 1817, the fourth of six children, Branwell’s mother died when he was only four years old. He had five sisters, two of whom died within weeks of each other, aged 11 and 12 years. He showed some talent in literature and art and his adoring father, Patrick Bronte, had high expectations of his only son. Branwell’s self-destructive tendencies appeared relatively early; maybe paternal pressure and creative sisters contributed to this. Drug and alcohol addiction plus a possible affair with a married women were elements of his rackety adult life. He died on 24 September, 1848 at the parsonage, ‘… most likely due to tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and laudanum and opium addiction, despite the fact that his death certificate notes “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” as the cause.’ [Wikipedia]

Branwell's Room curated by Simon Armitage at the Bronte Parsonage Museum Haworth - image zoe dawes

Branwell’s Room

The Brontë Parsonage Museum celebrates his bicentenary with two significant works, Branwell’s Room and Mansions in the Sky, both curated by renowned Yorkshireman, Simon Armitage. “As a poet of this landscape and region I recognise Branwell’s creative impulse and inspirations. I also sympathise with his desire to have his voice heard by the wider world …” Branwell’s Room is a collaboration between Armitage and Grant Montgomery, production designer for the excellent BBC production To Walk Invisible which focuses on the last three years of Branwell’s life and his challenging relationship with his sisters and father. (Costumes from the TV programme are on display throughout the parsonage.) The room is an evocative representation of what it could have looked like at that time, with rumpled bedclothes, unfinished poems, a discarded laudanum bottle plus writing desk and sketches. It’s as if he’s just popped out the Black Bull pub and will be rolling drunkenly back up the hill at any minute.

The Black Bull, Branwell Bronte's local pub in Haworth Yorkshire - photo zoe dawes

The Black Bull

In the Bonnell Room is an exhibition entitled Mansions in the Sky. 11 objects relating to Branwell are on display, including his letter to William Wordsworth when he was 19 years old, from which the exhibition gets its title. There is also the macabre sketch A Parody showing death leaning over a bed and Branwell’s wallet. Lying alongside are poems by Armitage giving a personal response to each item. In an interview in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner he explained he was trying to imagine what Branwell would have been like today. “One of the objects in the exhibition is his wallet and I wanted to think about what it meant to him – it was always empty. In the poem it becomes a contemporary object; there’s a condom in there, his dealer’s phone number, a credit card with cocaine on the end of it.”

'Mansions in the Sky' Branwell Bronte exhibition Haworth - photo zoe dawes

‘Mansions in the Sky’ exhibition

The Brontë story unfolds throughout the Haworth parsonage via the rooms which hold many original items of furniture, clothing, footwear, art works, writing paraphernalia, first editions and much more. Fans of the sisters’ books and poetry come from all over the world to see the home where they produced such enduring works of literature. Their brother Branwell now gets the attention he deserves, in a unique and moving tribute to this sad figure who longed for recognition and is finally getting it in a little village on the edge of the Yorkshire moors.

Mr Bronte's Bedroom with Branwell and Emily Bronte costumes - Haworth Parsonage

Mr Brontë’s bedroom with Branwell and Emily Brontë costumes from BBC ‘To Walk Invisible’

The Rise and Fall of Branwell Bronte exhibition is on display until 1st of January 2018. Wordsworth’s letter is on loan from the Wordsworth Trust until August 2017. For more information contact the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

If you enjoyed this, you will probably like David Hockney at Saltaire, Yorkshire

 

January 3, 2017

Exploring Kendal Castle on a sunny Cumbria day

Exploring Kendal Castle on a sunny Cumbria day
Kendal Castle - Manor Hall

Kendal Castle – Manor Hall

The kite’s red wings rattled noisily as it soared higher and higher over Kendal Castle into the clear blue sky, its string held firmly by a guy in a big puffa jacket. “Can I hold it, Dad? Please, can I?” begged the young girl beside him. “OK, but you must wrap it round your hand REALLY tight.” An anxious few moments as he transferred the string in a complicated manoeuvre to her small fist. She squealed with delight as she felt the kite’s impatient tug as it swooped and flipped in the chilly breeze, silhouetted against the afternoon sun.

Kendal Castle and kite Cumbria - photo zoedawes

Kendal Castle and kite

It was New Year’s Day and perfect weather for a walk to blow away last year’s cobwebs and overindulgence from the night before. Having just had lunch with my aunt and uncle, who live in the town, I’d come up to Kendal Castle for some fresh air.

Kendal Town and River Kent from Kendal Castle - photo zoedawes

Kendal Town and River Kent

Kendal town spreads out towards the Lake District fells (hills), the River Kent flowing gently towards the coast. Hard to believe that a year ago it burst its banks in one of the worst storms we’ve had for years, flooding houses and businesses, causing huge damage and many to be homeless for far too long. I wandered over to the ruins of the medieval Manor Hall; children were scrambling over the walls and chasing each other around the lower vaults.

Playing at Kendal Castle Cumbria - photo zoedawes

Children at Kendal Castle

Kendal Castle was probably built in the late 12th century as a fortified home for the Barons of Kendal. It was sold to the Parr family a few hundred years later. Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr was once thought to have been born here, but as the castle was already in disrepair in the 1500s that’s not likely. The Manor Hall and the North West Tower (originally called the Troutbeck Tower) plus a couple of underground cellars and walls the courtyard and moat. are all that’s left now. Throughout the site there are information boards telling the history of the castle and illustrating what it might have looked like when it was the inhabited.

Kendal Castle Tower and view Cumbria

Kendal Castle Tower and view

The wind was cold but the sunshine brightened up the day. New Year’s a time for reflection, looking back as well as forward. I thought of all the amazing places I’d been lucky enough to visit over the past 12 months. Highlights included having a female gorilla in Rwanda walk over my feet, clambering across the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, feeding flamingos on Aruba in the Caribbean, driving through the Rockies on a Canadian road trip and finding the quirky quokka in Western Australia. However, I always love coming back home and on the first day of a new year, this is exactly where I wanted to be …

Kendal Castle and Tower

Kendal Castle and Tower

Sitting on a wall beside the tower were two young girls, oblivious to everything but their conversation. I thought of all the dramatic changes in the past year, the famous people, part of the fabric of our growing up, who’d died, and the major shifts in world power. The future is always unclear, but this new year brings greater uncertainly than for many a long time. The future is in the hands of these youngsters; we owe it to them not to mess up the present …

Sitting on Kendal Castle walls

On Kendal Castle walls

As I wandered back down the hill, a woman in an electric wheelchair zoomed past, her scarf rippling out behind her. She waved and said, “Gorgeous day isn’t it! Makes you happy to be alive.” It was and it did …

For lots more really useful information on arts and culture, heritage, shopping, activities and much more, check out Visit Kendal.

Kendal Castle Video

 

November 27, 2016

Historic Heysham: off the beaten track in Lancashire

Historic Heysham: off the beaten track in Lancashire

OK, so Heysham may be more well-known for being home to a nuclear power station than for its historic attractions. It’s an ugly blot on the landscape of glorious Morecambe Bay. Visible from virtually any point around the coastline, one good reason to go to Heysham is that you can’t see the power station from here, unless you peer round the point. So, now you know the worst, let’s look at the reasons why you should visit Heysham Barrows.

St Patrick's Chapel at Heysham towards Morecambe Lancashire

St Patrick’s Chapel towards Morecambe

This little promontory at Heysham provides an escape from the suburbs of Lancaster and Morecambe, with stunning views across the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man, the Lake District fells and the Lancashire coast. It’s had visitors going back to time unknown. Evidence of Stone Age (Neolithic) man has been found around the headland including stone axes and hammer heads (now in Lancaster Museum) and Barrows (burial places) can be found in the area. The curious Heysham stone graves near the chapel ruins are thought to date back to the 11th century. Four of the indents are body-shaped and two are straight-sided, cut into the rock and often now filled with water.The holes at the top were probably for wooden crosses and it is possible that they could have been used not for one body each but for the bones of many dead people. They are some of the earliest known graves in Christian England.

Stone graves at Heysham overlooking Morecambe Bay

Stone graves overlooking Morecambe Bay

According to an excellent article by Sandhak, ‘Evidence is too abundant for there to be any doubt that St Patrick was the first to preach the gospel in Heysham. St Patrick was a Roman, the son of a Roman and grandson of a christian preacher … The date of the Chapel at Heysham can be assumed to be about 445 AD … ‘ You can read more about St Patrick and the history of Heysham here. Others think the chapel may date back to about 750AD. Whatever the truth, the chapel, with its curved Anglo-Sazon style arch, adds a romantic, gothic feel to the headland, overlooking Morecambe Bay.

St Patrick's Chapel, Heysham Lancashire - image zoedawes

St Patrick’s Chapel across Morecambe Bay

This area is owned by the National Trust and the noticeboard has information on St Patrick’s Chapel. It shows an artist’s impression of what the chapel and graves may have looked like may have looked like hundreds of years ago.

St Patrick's Chapel National Trust Information Board

St Patrick’s Chapel Information Board

Behind the chapel is a walled section which rises up to a rounded peak; this may have been part of a small monastery. I love to walk up the hill and sit on the wall looking out across the sea and simply enjoy the fresh air and lovely views. In autumn the gorse is a vibrant yellow, adding a welcome dash of colour. I was there in September for a photo shoot with photographer Clare Malley. It  was rainy and overcast when we arrived but the skies cleared for a while and the gorse positively zinged against waters of the Bay and the misty mountains of the Lake District.

Gorse bushes on Heysham Barrows overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills

Gorse bushes overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills

Nearby is St Peter’s Church, a simple Victorian building used by the local inhabitants of Heysham. The old village has a quaint atmosphere with attractive cottages, a decent pub and a couple of very good cafes. It’s benefiting from the regeneration of the area, following the opening of the new M6 link road. Heysham Port provides ferries and freight shipping to the Isle of Man, Ireland and UK ports and this road is speeding up connections to the rest of the country.

St Peter's Church Heysham Lancashire

St Peter’s Church

Of course, this means it is now easier for tourists to visit Heysham and hopefully get up on the Barrows for a bracing walk in some of the loveliest scenery in Lancashire. Just make sure you keep your eyes ahead and don’t look at the hideous carbuncle round the corner; it’s well worth the trip.

The Quirky Traveller on Heysham Headland

On Heysham Headland

 

July 23, 2016

Charlestown, Cornwall: Poldark puts it on the map

Charlestown, Cornwall: Poldark puts it on the map

Charlestown Harbour Cornwall - image zoedawes

Winston Graham set his ‘Poldark’ series of historical novels in Cornwall, where he’d lived for over 40 years. In the recent TV adaptation of Poldark, the full glory of the dramatic coastline has entered all our homes. Ross Poldark (curly-locked Aiden Turner) and his lady-love Demelza (red-head Eleanor Tomlinson) spend a lot of time galloping across rocky cliff tops, wandering moors, quaffing ale in crowded inns, dallying in Cornish manor houses and canoodling in the clover. Cornwall has never looked so good. (Neither has Aiden Turner …) The tiny harbour of Charlestown stands in as an 18th c version of Truro, and filming has been going on there for Series 2 that starts September. Following a visit to nearby Eden Project, I decided to detour from St Austell to have a look round.

Heida Reed as Elizabeth and Jack Farthing as George Warleggan during filming of Poldark in Charlestown. BOTL20150921C-006_C Image Cornish Guardian

Filming Poldark in Charlestown, Cornwall – image Cornish Guardian

Real life is not a travel brochure; and on the day I visited, it had been raining hard and was still cloudy. Nor was there any sign of Mr Turner and crew. Even so, the charm of this quaint Grade II Listed Harbour is immediately apparent. Unlike many places in Cornwall, it’s still relatively unspoilt. Built by entrepreneur Charles Rashleigh (hence the name) in the late 1700s to support clay mining and fishing industry, it retains an air of Georgian elegance. The Inner Harbour is currently home to Square Sail (who own the harbour) Tall Ships, which add to the authentic atmosphere.

Charlestown Harbour ship - image zoedawes

The Outer Harbour has original buildings which add to the period feel of the place I walked along the wall and gazed out across St Austell Bay. It was easy to imagine ships setting sail from Charlestown in its heyday, taking their cargo of clay around Britain to feed the growing pottery business and fishing boats bustling off along the coast at dawn. Large waves slapped against the stones and seagulls swooped around in chaotic flight as the wind picked up …

Charlestown Grade II Listed Harbour Cornwall - image zoedawes

There’s a sloping shingle beach which didn’t look too inviting;  a group of school kids were huddled up beside the steps and two children, sensibly clad in wet-suits, were diving off the harbour wall. I made my way past the freshly-painted old fishermen’s cottages, some of which offer B&B accommodation.

Charlestown Harbour cottages Cornwall - image zoedawes

 One of the main attractions in the village is Charlestown Shipwreck & Heritage Centre. It tells the history of Charlestown and tales of shipwrecks and smugglers. Smuggling was at its peak between 1700 and 1850 when a full time living was to be made from the ‘trade’. These men were known as ‘free traders’ because they plied their ‘trade’ across the English Channel supplying not only luxury goods, but everyday items as well. With the government imposing extortionate taxes, many everyday items such as salt, tea and handkerchiefs were not within reach of the common man so the Free Trade was relied upon for these basic necessities; unbelievable when smuggling today is synonymous with more dangerous trades such as drugs and weapons.”

Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre - zoedawes

 There are displays on The Titanic and World War II, a viewing gallery over the harbour accessed through a disused clay tunnel and lots more for children and adults. I was getting a bit peckish so I had to choose between the Pier House Hotel (the big cream building on the Harbour side) or the Tall Ships Creamery. Tempted by local ice-cream, I went to the Creamery. Good choice – simple fare, friendly service and yes, very good ice cream!

Tall Ships Creamery Charlestown Cornwall - image zoedawes

 My final stop was the Charlestown Gallery, which has just the right balance of tasteful of Cornish souvenirs, combined with original, quirky craftwork made by the owner, Gemma. I got a bright blue keyring and Gemma told me stories about the filming of Poldark. Seems that Aiden Turner is as genuinely lovely as he is hunky …

Charlestown Gallery Cornwall - image zoedawes

 Having spent a very pleasant couple of hours I left to explore more of the Cornish coast. The skies were clearing and I was in for a lovely sunset at Polkerris Beach. Ross Poldark may not have made an appearance in Charlestown, but this little slice of Cornish history had made a big impression and well-worth the detour.

Cornish Shells and ingots at Charlestown Harbour - image zoedawes

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Charlestown Harbour and Poldark in Cornwall Pinterest

May 18, 2016

Quirky Travel Photo: the ‘Great Men’ of Milan at Casa degli Omenoni

Quirky Travel Photo: the ‘Great Men’ of Milan at Casa degli Omenoni
The House of the Titans - Milan Italy zoedawes

The ‘Great Men’ of Casa degli Omenoni

Tucked away in a little backstreet near Il Duomo, Milan’s famous Cathedral, is Clubino, an exclusive gentlemen’s club. Historically it is better known,  appropriately, as the Casa degli Omenoni – the House of the Great Men (rebuilt 1565-67). Adorning its facade are eight enormous male figures with serious features. They were made by sculptor Antonio Abondio, to a design by renowned Italian sculptor Leone Leoni (c1509 – 1590) to decorate his own mansion. They are Atlantes (Titans), named after Atlas, decorative supporting figures, their heads bowed to take the weight of the structure above.

Casa degli omenoni milan italy zoedawes

Casa degli Omenoni facade with ‘Atlantes’

I was shown this impressive building during a walking tour of Milan with Milanese travel blogger Simon Falvo; you can read her fascinating blog Wild about Travel.  It’s great to go round with a local as you get to see sights that a tourist often misses. I only spent 24 hours in the city and barely scratched the surface of its many historical and architectural treasures, but these figures made a big impression. In his poem ‘The House of the Titans’ George William Russell refers to “… the tender shadow of long-vanquished pain and brightening wisdom …” which sculptor Abondoni has captured beautifully in these evocative figures.

Casa degli Omenoni Atlantes Milan Italy zoedawes

Casa degli Omenoni

If you visit Milan, search out the Casa degli Omenoni; you’ll find it at No 3 Via degli Omenoni; well worth a detour from nearby Piazza Il Duomo .

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The Great Men of Milan Italy Casa degli Omenoni - image zoedawes

March 7, 2016

Baroque Konopiste Castle in the Czech Republic

Baroque Konopiste Castle in the Czech Republic

Konopiste Castle and gardens Czech Republic - zoedawes

Rebuilt on the site of a medieval citadel, the opulent and impressive baroque Konopiste Castle (Konopiště) is in old Bavaria, now the Czech Republic, about 50km SE from Prague. Its most famous owner was Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, who bought it in 1875 when he was 24 years old.  His assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 was to trigger the First World War. Looking rather like a French Chateau, it’s set in a beautiful park with a large lake, lovely Rose Garden, exotic plants in hothouses and extensive Game Reserves in the more remote areas.

Konopiste Castle and grounds map

Konopiste map

If you’re a vegetarian or have a very strong objection to hunting, you may want to admire Konopiste Castle from outside.  Staring down from virtually every inside wall of this beautiful building are the heads of just about every animal ever shot by the Archduke, totalling almost 300,000.   The guide assures you that he was a great conservationist too, but it’s rather difficult to get that side of his character with these trophies all around.  However, I would strongly urge you to take the guided tour of the Konopiste Castle, as it is truly fascinating.

Konospiste Castle Hunting trophies - zoedawes

As well as the Hunting Corridor, there are a number of official and social rooms where important guests were entertained and slept in formal state.  The real highlight of the castle is on the second floor.  The Este Armoury is one of the largest and most valuable collections of weapons in the world, including beautiful Italian pistols and rifles, ornate suits of armour for both horse and rider used in jousting tournaments, with rare linens and other many other intriguing artefacts  collection.

konopiste-chateau-armoury

Konopiste Armoury – photo czechtourism.com

The private chambers of the Archduke and his wife Sofia, including sitting room, dining room and bedrooms are richly furnished with an air of faded elegance.  Photos of the family have a real poignancy when the fate of the couple is known by the visitor.  In addition, there is a lovely chapel, still used on special occasions, with a highly decorated vaulted ceiling, some old stained glass and a somewhat incongruous organ hidden at the back.  The Archduke’s Game Room and Shooting Gallery (not included in the tour when I visited) must have been in constant use during his occupancy, when he wasn’t off in India, Africa or some other far-flung hunting ground.

Konopiste Italian statues - zoedawes

Italian Renaissance sculptures are scattered throughout Konopiste Castle gardens, including a circle of maidens dancing around an urn and a big pond with what appears to a dragon’s head ready to spout water not fire. There was also a rather forlorn black bear prowling around a tatty enclosure; in the past it would have been fair game for the hunters as they roamed wild in the surrounding area till the last century.

Konopiste Castle bear - zoedawes

In front of the castle is a sculpture of a young man armed with a hunting rifle and two dogs straining at the leash.  It’s full of vigour and seems to embody the spirit of this fascinating castle.

Hunter & dogs Konopiste Castle - zoedawes

After all that history and opulence, you must call in to nearby Stara Myslivna Restaurant (unless you’re the aforementioned vegetarian, in which case you might want to eat at the Castle Restaurant.)  Not only is this place a carnivore’s delight, it’s also where all the hunting trophies and related paraphernalia that wouldn’t fit in to the castle, are on display.  Designed in the style of the castle interiors at the time of Franz Ferdinand, it even has a gloriously OTT chandelier made of antlers.

Stara Myslivna Restaurant Bar - Konopiste - czech republic - zoedawes

Stara Myslivna Restaurant

The menu features a very wide selection of game dishes with great names such as the Archduke’s Roasted Wild Game Sausage, the Empress Elisabeth’s Rabbit in Cream Sauce with Bread Dumplings and Franz Joseph’s Roasted Wild Boar with Old Bohemian Red Sauerkraut.  And, if you’re really lucky, you might get the table beneath the bear skin …

I visited Konopiste Castle on a tour organised with Czech Tourism. You can read about my stay in Prague here.

Prague Castle and Vltava River - zoedawes

Prague Castle and Vltava River

December 7, 2015

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

The most famous site in Jordan is undoubtedly the breath-takingly lovely ancient city of Petra, magnet for visitors from around the globe, but on a recent visit to this wonderfully diverse country, I discovered many other world-class sights. Here are 5 places that will appeal to any lovers of history, art and beauty.

Amman – Ancient Philadelphia

Amman Roman Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Roman Theatre

The capital of Jordan, Amman is a beige mish-mash of busy highways, modern skyscrapers, ugly office blocks and higgledy-piggledy housing, where charm needs to be searched out. The jewel in its historical crown is the Lower City, where picturesque streets and old markets can still be seen. However, it’s the ruins of venerable Roman Philadelphia that attracted us. The huge Theatre, built in the 2nd c AD, seating 6,000 spectactors, is still used for public performances and from the top there’s a great view of Amman. Bedside the main amphitheatre is the intimate Odeum, a well-preserved structure that seats an audience of up to 500. Our guide, Burhan, made sure we visited the Museum of Folk Tradition, housed in the original entrance to the theatre.

Museum of Costume and Jewellery Amman Jordan - zoedawes

Museum of Folk Tradition

It has a delightful collection local costumes, attractive jewellery and artworks from around Jordan. I particularly liked the silver necklaces and face masks, embroidered dresses and mosaic fragments from Madaba, dating back to the 5th c AD. Towering over the Theatre is the Citadel, originally the acropolis of the city.

Amman Roman Citadel Jordan - photo zoedawes

Temple of Hercules

It has the remains of the Temple of Hercules and a huge hand from a massive statue. There’s also an excellent Archaeological Museum, with some of the oldest ‘human’ statues ever found.

Madaba – City of Mosaics

Madaba Church of St George Jordan - photo zoedawes

Church of St George

Known as Medba in the Bible, Madaba is renowned for its many churches, the floors, walls and ceilings of which are decorated with intricate mosaics. The first to be discovered in recent times is on the floor of the Greek-Orthodox Church of St George. ‘The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 x 6m, 94 sq.m., only about a quarter of which is preserved.’  It’s a map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian (527 – 56 AD) and is belived to be the oldest map in the world.

Madaba Map of the Holy Land Jordan - photo zoedawes

Map of the Holy Land

It was probably designed for the benefit of pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land; surviving fragments include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. What amazed us most was how close you can get to it; there is just a little rope surrounding it, over which you can lean to take photos!

Jerash – Roman Gerasa

The Roman Arch of Triumph Jerash Jordan - zoedawes

The Arch of Triumph

I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of Jerash (ancient Gerasa), yet it is acknowledged as one of the most impressive Roman ‘provincial towns’ in the world. It’s easy to see why. The enormous Arch of Triumph, erected in AD 129 in honour of Emperor Hadrian’s visit, sets the tone for this trip back in time to Rome’s heyday in Jordan. Wandering past the Hippodrome you can almost hear the chariots racing round the track to the cheering crowds. Through the South Gate, you pass the Temple of Zeus and onwards to the large, elegant colonnaded horse-shoe of The Forum. With few tourists around during our visit, it was easy to get a feel for the splendour of this site.

Jerash Forum and modern city Jordan - photo zoedawes

Jerash Forum and Cardo Maximus

The main artery of Jerash is the Cardo Maximus, a paved road flanked by mighty columns decorated with agapanthus leaves. Some lie toppled where they fell hundreds of years ago, adding to the sense of history and myth. I loved the Nymphaeum, which must have looked wonderful when the fountains were in full spate. Hiking up to the South Theatre we were intrigued to hear the incongrous sound of bagpipes drifting across the ruins. Inside the Orchestra area were two guys in Jordanian army uniform, playing their hearts out in the midday sun.

Musicians Jerash Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Theatre musicians

We chatted to them; it turns out they are retired soldiers who do this all summer to entertain the tourists. They’ve even performed at the Edinburgh Tatoo! Very quirky and unexpected …

Salt – Abu Jabber House Museum

Abu Jabber House - Salt Museum - Jordan - photo zoedawes

Salt Museum of Archaeology and Folklore, opposite the town centre Mosque, is a little gem. Opened in 2010, Abu Jabber House is a traditional Jordanian dwelling where the first King of Jordan stayed. Salt (Al Salt) is thought to have been built during the reign of Alexander the Great and has a strong historical past. Salt’s heyday was in the late 19th century when traders arrived from Nablus to expand their trading network eastwards beyond the Jordan River. As a result of the influx of newcomers this period saw the rapid expansion of Salt from a simple peasant village into a town with many architecturally elegant buildings, many built in the Nablusi style from the attractive honey-coloured local stone. A large number of buildings from this era survive. Wikipedia

Salt street market jordan - zoedawes

Salt street scene

The museum is home to a number of old artefacts, a recreation of a school-room, traditional Bedouin costumes and a model of the town as it used to be. The curator is very enthusiastic about Salt’s latest attraction and spent a great deal of time explaining its history. On a wall in one of the elegant upper rooms is a series of photos of the Kings of Jordan. This country is very proud of its Heshemite ruling family; there are pictures of King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania in public places all over the country.

Salt Museum Kings of Jordan - zoedawes

Kings of Jordan

River Jordan – Baptism Site

Last but most definitely not least, the Baptism Site (Bethabara – Place of Passage) at the River Jordan. This is by far and away the most significant religious site in this part of the Middle East. There was some dispute over which side of the River Jordan was the ‘genuine’ site, but in 2015 ‘UNESCO weighed in on the rivalry, designating Jordan’s baptismal area on the eastern bank a World Heritage site. The UN cultural agency declared this month that the site “is believed to be” the location of Jesus’ baptism, based on what it said is a view shared by most Christian churches.’ 

Baptism mosaic River Jordan - zoedawes

Baptism mosaic

En route to the site itself is a newly created path that leads to the Chapels that have been built over the centuries and to the impressive (newly erected) Church of St John the Baptist with some interesting icons and murals plus some fairly tacky souvenirs and vials of ‘Holy Water’ taken from the rivulet nearby that is all that is left of the original River Jordan.

Church of St John the Baptist

Church of St John the Baptist

The river is a narrow muddy place with a covered pavilion on the site of an ancient chapel. On the opposite side (Palestine) is a much more elaborate complex with many pilgrims immersing themselves totally into the water. You can almost touch those on the other side and there is a feeling of great harmony as people of all races and creeds smile over the water and take photos of each other. Whilst we were there, a group of British visitors were celebrating the Baptism Service in the most appropriate place on earth.

Baptism site at the River Jordan zoedawes

The Baptism Site at the River Jordan

At the time of publication Jordan has the same safety rating as Canada, United States, China and Germany and has fewer tourists at present so it’s a great time to go. Many thanks to our knowledgeable guide Burhan and Visit Jordan for inviting us to experience Jordan, a country beyond expectations. Check out their website for more information on what to see, where to stay and when to go.

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