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On Assignment: Jordan

by Coole Photography on July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Images of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, carved from the rock over a thousand years ago, have long been most people’s first impression of Jordan. But while Petra is indeed one of the most stunning attractions in the Middle East, Jordan offers so much more for the modern traveller.

A well-travelled bridge between sea and desert, east and west, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a land of mesmerizing beauty and contrasts, from the Jordan Valley which are fertile and ever changing, to the remote desert canyons which are immense and still.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen by the Jordan Tourism Board to photograph their wonderful country, and for a change my itinerary was completely planned out for me before my arrival. The majority of my days were spent shooting campaign images but there were a few days model free for me to let my imagination go wild, so these are the days I’ll be discussing on this post.

My first stop was the 12th century Karak castle, which is one of the largest crusader castles in the Levant. Whether you approach Karak from the ancient Kings Highway to the east or from the Dead Sea to the west, the striking silhouette of this fortified town and castle will instantly make you understand why the fates of kings and nations were decided here for millennia. While the castle we see today essentially dates back to the 12th century, Karak has been a fortress since biblical times, the Bible relates how the King of Israel and his allies from Judah and Edom ravaged Moab and besieged its king Mesha in the fortress of Kir Heres, as Karak was then known.

Following on from Karak I headed to the Dana Biosphere Reserve, which is the only reserve in Jordan that includes the four different bio-geographical zones; Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo Arabian and Sudanian penetration. This makes it the most diverse nature reserve in the country in terms of habitats and species. The scenery was absolutely spectacular and although our guide had talked nonstop about snakes and scorpions we were lucky enough not to have any close encounters with them!

No trip to Jordan would be complete without a visit to my next destination, although much has been written about Petra; nothing really prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed. Petra, the world wonder and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80m high cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colours and formations of the rocks are dazzling. As you reach the end of the Siq you will catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh, more commonly known as the Treasury – which made its Hollywood debut in 1989 in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” starring Harrison Ford. This is an awe-inspiring experience. A massive façade, 30m wide and 43m high, carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and dwarfing everything around it.

The Treasury is merely the first of the many wonders that make up Petra. As you enter the Petra valley you will be overwhelmed by the natural beauty of this place and its outstanding architectural achievements. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings, there are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets, and high above, overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery – a flight of 800 rock cut steps takes you there, a truly magical experience. Ideally you would have 3 or 4 days to explore this huge site, but as we were on a very tight schedule we had just the 1 day, but I did my best to get as many beautiful photographs as possible!

The following day we drove to Wadi Rum, a stupendous, timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and its destructive forces. Here, it is the weather and winds that have carved the imposing, towering skyscrapers, so elegantly described by T.E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and God-like…” Also known as The Valley of the Moon, this is the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War I, their exploits intrinsically woven into the history of this amazing area. My guide for the afternoon, Mahmoud, was absolutely fantastic and made a fabulous model!

I had one remaining non-campaign day left and so after discussing it with my driver, George; we decided we could squeeze in both the 12th Century Ajlun Castle, an Islamic castle that stands atop Jabal Auf near Ajloun, in northern Jordan and the ancient city of Jerash, which boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years, is known for the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River.

Considering that Jordan is a relatively small country there are so many amazing places to photograph. I could easily spend another 2 weeks covering some of the places we didn’t manage to see and also to cover the sites we did visit much more thoroughly – here’s hoping the Tourism Board are delighted with my work from this trip and invite me back in the cooler Spring months next year!

To see the full gallery of images from Jordan please click here

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