A main road which existed since prehistoric times was referred loosely as King’s Road. The modern King’s Highway Jordan beings at Irbid in the north and stretches all the way up to Aqaba in the south. It is a single lane tarmacked road which passes through the countryside of Western Jordan.
After an overnight stay in Amman, we hit the road early next morning. We were on our way to Petra via King’s Highway. Most of the public transport to Petra takes the Desert Highway which is faster and better. But a sucker for road trips, road tripping on King’s Highway was one of the must things on my list of ‘Things to do in Jordan’. There is so much historical significance attached to the King’s Highway and the scenic drive was worth every effort!
We passed by olive plantation in the outskirts of Madaba before hitting the highway. The meandering road contours along the hills where we could see sand mountains stretching into the horizon. Beautiful winding road seemed to be cutting across the lunar landscape of wadis along its route. The highway in parts is dotted with lovely little towns and fields.
History of King’s Highway Jordan
King’s Highway in Jordan has witnessed magnitude of historical events. Since prehistoric times the route has been used by traders, pilgrims and crusaders to go across Transjordan.
Moses who led the exodus of Israelites out of Egypt, is believed to have traveled from Mount Sinai to Mount Nebo via King’s Road. After being denied a permission to enter the Promised Land, he died on Mount Nebo.
The route which ran on North South axis served as a primary trade route in 3rd century BC for Nabateans based in Petra. They used the route to trade luxury goods between Arabia and Syria. After the annexation of Nabatean Kingdom, Roman Emperor Trajan renovated the King’s Road to facilitate trade from Aqaba port to Syria.
King’s Highway served as a pilgrimage route for Christians from 4th to 6th century. The pilgrims visited holy sites around Madaba and to Elijah’s Hill in Bethany beyond Jordan. The Mosaic maps of Madaba reveal the existence of the Holy Land beyond Jordan and Jerusalem.
The Christian crusaders used King’s Highway in 10th century to establish stronghold along the Transjordan which extended from Egypt to Syria. On the hills of Karak they built a castle which controlled the advancement of muslims from Arabia. Shobak was another place where the crusaders built a castle which eventually fell into the hands of Mamluke in 13th century.
The King’s Highway Jordan served as a pilgrimage road for Muslims from 6th to 16th century. Muslims coming from Syria, Iraq and beyond took this route to head towards the holy city of Mecca. The importance of King’s Road faded after Ottomans built a different pilgrimage route to reach Mecca and Medina. The construction of faster Desert Highway further reduced the use of King’s Highway.
Places to visit on King’s Highway Jordan
Madaba is the largest town along the King’s Highway in Jordan. The town is famous for Byzantine mosaics from 4th to 6th centuries. The most famous of all is the Map of the Holy Land inside Saint George’s Church. Madaba’s old town can be explored by foot. The narrow lanes of Madaba house churches, old Ottoman stone houses and remains of the Roman road. Many mosaics have been discovered from under the floorings of old houses during reconstruction. Hippolytus Hall is one of the largest floor mosaics from 6th century. The Archeological Park is worth visiting, it houses the collection of mosaics from 4th to 7th century.
Mount Nebo is one of the holiest sites for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. It is accessible via a little detour towards the Dead Sea. Moses saw the promised land from the top of Mount Nebo, where he was forbidden to enter. Moses is believed to have died and buried here, it now serves as an important pilgrim place for Christians and Jews.
The excavations around the baptistry and adjacent churches have unearthed 6th century mosaics beneath the floor of the church. These are some of the finest mosaics from Byzantine era.
The scenic route passes through stunning Wadi Mujib. The gorges at the Wadi are dubbed as ‘Grand Canyon of Jordan’. The viewpoints on King’s Highway offer spectacular panorama of the barren landscape. The grand canyon of Wadi Mujib has been mentioned in Biblical times as Arnon. It is possible to trek through the streams running in the floor of the canyon.
Wadi Karak stands halfway between Amman and Petra on King’s Highway. It is a perfect place to stop for lunch. Perched on top of a hill, 11th century Karak Castle was built by the crusaders to establish their stronghold along the pilgrimage route. The well preserved castle ruins are worth exploring. The excavation beneath the ground has revealed vaulted passageways, Mamluk Palace, Kitchen and other well preserved chambers. Climbing on Mamluk’s Keep offers spectacular view of Wadi Karak and winding King’s Highway.
Dana Nature Reserve
Dana Nature Reserve is a protected area in South of Jordan which is a symbol of sustainable tourism. The area is dotted with sand stone mountains interlaced with woodlands and scrublands. The reserve is lush with varied fauna and flora including variety of birds and wild animals. Dana Reserve is a perfect place to unwind in the nature. There are numerous trails and hikes to explore around Wadi Dana.
Facts about King’s Highway Road Trip
- The best way to explore the King’s Highway Jordan is by renting a car in Amman or at the airport.
- Renting a car is the cheapest option; private taxi can be hired but it costs @100 JOD
- It take 5 to 6 hours to reach from Amman to Petra on King’s Highway, depending on stops overs at Karak Castle and Wadi Mujib. Desert Highway takes only 3 and half hours.
- Morning bus to Petra takes the dull Desert Highway.
- It takes around one hour to visit the canyon view point near Wadi Mujib. Trekking inside canyon takes longer. Start early if you plan to trek in the canyon. It takes another two hours to explore Karak Castle.
- Stopover for traditional lunch at Syrian-run Halabi at Wadi Karak. It is located in one of the bylanes next to the entrance to the castle and serves delicious local cuisine.
- There is no public transport available on the King’s Highway Jordan connecting Amman to Petra.
- Hitchhiking is not heard of in Jordan.
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