Ma’an Governorate, Jordan

Among the desert of Jordan’s largest governorate (over 12,000 square miles) are many of the country’s most fascinating and popular archeological sites, including Petra, Little Petra and castles built by the Crusaders.

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1 The Monastery in Petra, Jordan

The most popular tourist attraction in Ma’an Governorate is Petra, the ruins of a Nabataean city. It began to prosper in the 1st century BC. In 106 AD, the Romans added their colonnaded streets, temples and arched gates. This archeological paradise is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The massive (155 by 158 feet) Monastery shown here is just one of the hundreds of amazing facades you will see carved into sandstone cliffs. For more photos and descriptions, please see the “Petra, Jordan” gallery on the Encircle Photos website.

The Monastery, El Deir, Petra, Jordan
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2 Goat Herd Along Road Near Uum Sayhoun, Jordan

It is only a fifteen minute drive north from Petra to Siq al-Barid. Along the way you will pass a Bedouin village and perhaps some of their livestock out for a walk along the road. This herd was unattended but seemed to know their route home after grazing in the semi-desert landscape. Jordan has a population of over 800,000 goats. They are predominately raised by families as a source of milk and meat. 92% of the goats are an indigenous Black Baladi while the rest are Shami or a cross breed.

Uum Sayhoun, Jordan
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3 Black Donkey Beside House at Uum Sayhoun, Jordan

It is common to see donkeys used as work animals in Jordan. There are approximately 18,000 donkeys in the country and two indigenous breeds. The gray-colored Qubressy is much larger than this Black donkey. He was standing patiently in front of a house in Uum Sayhoun. This village of 1,600 residents was formed in 1985 when the government evicted the Al Bdoul tribe from living in the caves at the archeological site of Petra.

Uum Sayhoun, Jordan
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4 Cave Dwellings Near Uum Sayhoun, Jordan

There are half dozen communities within the Petra Region of Ma’an Governorate. Over 60% of the 28,000 people live in the town of Wadi Musa. Most of them are from the Layathnah tribe. Four other clans – Bidoul, Amaariin, Rawajfah and Saidiyyiin – live in small villages established by the government. However, several Bedouins still prefer to live in cave dwellings like their nomadic ancestors did for millenniums. Given their proximity to Beidha and Siq al-Barid, I suspect these structures have a Nabataean or at least a Bedouin origin and may have been burial tombs. Behind them are the ruins of block buildings.

Uum Sayhoun, Jordan
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5 Bedouin Camels Near Uum Sayhoun, Jordan

The three dromedary camels standing at the base of a cliff are not tourist props. These one-hump camelids are part of a livestock herd raised by a Bedouin. Bedouins are a group of nomadic people who live among the hills and valleys of Ma’an Governorate. Approximately 1.2 million Bedouins reside in Jordan. However, most are no longer “desert dwellers” like the Arabic name suggests. If you look closely on the right you will see a sleeping bag and evidence this spot has been a campsite for several days. There are approximately 18,000 camels raised in Jordan. They cost about $6,000 USD.

Uum Sayhoun, Jordan
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6 Siq al-Barid Nicknamed Little Petra in Jordan

Siq al-Barid is an archeological site nicknamed Little Petra because it is only about 1,500 feet long. This suburb of the larger Nabataean community of Petra was built during the 1st century. It is listed as part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site. This magnificent façade greets you before your enter a long passage through the canyon. The building was carved into the sandstone cliff as opposed to being built in the traditional sense.

Little Petra, Jordan
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7 Unusual Ornamentation at Little Petra in Jordan

Unlike other many ancient sites in Jordan, Little Petra has not been well documented by scholars since the town was abandoned sometime in the 7th century. The first major exploration occurred in the late 1950s by Diana Kirkbride, the former Director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. As a result of the scant resources applied towards Little Petra, most of its structures like this one remain a mystery. Some believe this was the equivalent of a visitors’ center or housed the collector of lodging fees. I noticed the circular reliefs between the triglyphs over the door. This frieze is unusual for Nabataean architecture. The only other building I saw with this ornamentation was the Monastery at Petra. It also has an urn on top of the pediment like a few of the very important buildings in Petra.

Little Petra, Jordan
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8 Caravan Waystation at Little Petra in Jordan

Over 2,000 years ago, Sig al-Barid served as a waystation for caravans from routes such as Syria, Egypt and Jerusalem. The travelers came here to escape the desert heat, tend to their animals, secure water from a cistern, eat in a dining room and sleep in one of several cool caves. The merchants also conducted active trade during their stopovers plus brought news of events from far away. This town bustled with activity. Today, very few tourists visit Little Petra so you might be able to explore it in solitude. Admission is free and it only takes an hour or two.

Little Petra, Jordan
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9 Sig Passageway at Little Petra in Jordan

The entrance into Siq al-Barid is formed by a natural split between the cliffs. The walls are so high they block the sun. This is why its name in Arabic means “cold canyon.” The path is also so narrow you must walk single file through it. However, unlike the sig leading into Petra, this one is short.

Little Petra, Jordan
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10 Triclinium in First Courtyard at Little Petra in Jordan

As you exit the sig you come upon a courtyard. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the Triclinium on the south side. It probably was a temple when it was constructed during the 1st century yet its name means dining table. The caves below it were either residents or sleeping rooms.

Triclinium, Little Petra, Jordan
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11 Triclinium Facade at Little Petra in Jordan

The façade of the Triclinium is a beautiful example of simple classic Nabataean architecture. Defining the portico are four columns. Two of them are considered engaged or pilasters. All of them have horned capitals. Notice the narrow steps on the left. Several of these carved, worn and sometime treacherous staircases are seen throughout Little Petra. They reached the second stories of buildings or the upper level of the town.

Triclinium, Little Petra, Jordan
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12 Two Small Caves at Little Petra in Jordan

The mountain walls shaping Little Petra are punctuated with these shallow caves. They probably were not tombs as seen throughout Petra. Instead, because they typically face one of the three courtyards, they were more likely restaurants, meeting rooms or ancient hotel rooms for visiting travelers.

Little Petra, Jordan
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13 Painted Biclinium at Little Petra in Jordan

These two people in front of the large, square opening are exploring the Biclinium. This 1st century dining room became famous in 2010 with the discovery of a huge painting depicting grapes and vines. The Hellenistic-style artwork is assumed to honor Dionysus. He was the son of Zeus and the Greek god of wine plus the creator of viticulture. Since this very rare Nabataean fresco was restored, access inside of the Biclinium is no longer possible.

Little Petra, Jordan
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14 Montreal Crusader Castle on Hilltop in Shoubak, Jordan

The Montreal Castle was built by the Crusaders on top of this rocky plateau in 1115 AD. To appreciate its enormous size, notice the pathway leading up to this citadel. This desolate Mont Rial hilltop provided an excellent means of defense against invaders. Krak de Montreal is located near Shoubak, a small town of Muslims. This ancient fortress is one of several popular archeological sites in Ma’an Governorate. Others include nearby Little Petra and the world famous Petra, the number one tourist attraction in Jordan.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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15 Tall Tower at Montreal Crusader Castle in Shoubak, Jordan

This tall, square tower is one of four at the Montreal Crusader Castle. While most of the 12th century fortress is in ruins, this keep and the adjoining terraced wall are in remarkable good condition. The valley is seen in the lower right corner. Imagine how many archer arrows could be fired from those slits during an enemy’s approach up the hill.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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16 Crusader History of Montreal Castle in Shoubak, Jordan

This arched entry leads you inside Mons Regalis. Montreal Castle was built by a Crusader king and controlled by the Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1115 until 1142. That year it became part of Oultrejordain, a vassal of the Jerusalem Kingdom rule by a lord. In 1176, the fort was transferred to Raynald of Châtillion when he married the lord’s daughter, Stephanie of Milly. This knight from the Second Crusade used the stronghold to terrorize and rob passing caravans. He was captured in 1187 during the Battle of Hattin and executed by Saladin. This first sultan of Syria and Egypt (1174 – 1193) proceeded to overthrow the rest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem within a few months. Then his troops attacked this garrison for 18 months before capturing it in 1189, the same year the Third Crusade began (1189 – 1192). Saladin’s Muslim forces used this fort as part of their defense against the Christians during that King’s Crusade.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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17 Baldwin I Built the Montreal Crusader Castle in Shoubak, Jordan

Baldwin I was a major military leader during the First Crusades. This skirmish at the end of the 11th century sought to recapture the Holy Lands from the Muslims. He built the Montreal Castle while he was the King of Jerusalem from 1100 until 1118. The fortress was originally called Mons Realis or Royal Mountain. It was the first of several Crusader castles constructed during this period in present day Jordan. This network of citadels controlled all movements of travelers from Syria to either Arabia or Egypt.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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18 Churches at Montreal Crusader Castle in Shoubak, Jordan

The Montreal Castle had two churches. This more elaborate Latin Christian church with double arches included a baptistery. The second served the Orthodox religion and was much smaller. Beneath it are catacombs including Christian and Muslim artifacts plus Saladin’s throne. Unlike several famous ancient sites in Jordan, the Montreal Castle has not received the same level of archeological attention. But fortunately it is also not visited by as many tourists. So you and your group may have the chance to explore this Medieval castle alone.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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19 Mamluk Expansion of Montreal Crusader Castle in Shoubak, Jordan

Despite its ruined condition, a visitor to the Shoubak Castle is immediately impressed with its formidable size. This oval shaped citadel measures 574 by 262 feet. But evidence suggests the original Crusader Castle was considerable smaller. Much of what can be seen today was added from 1260 through 1300 by the Mamelukes during the Bahrī period (1250 – 1382). The Mamluk Sultante monarchy reigned over most of the Middle East including Egypt, Jerusalem, Jordan and Syria from 1250 until 1517.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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20 Baths at Montreal Crusader Castle in Shoubak, Jordan

After seeing the reconstructed court of Baldwin I at the Montreal Castle, watch for these double arches of sandstone. These small chambers once served as baths and were later used by the Mamluks as a school. From there you are only a few steps away from another watchtower. This semicircular keep was constructed by the Mamluks in the late 13th century. An interesting historical note is the Mamluks used carrier pigeons to rapidly communicate between their castles.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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21 Montreal Crusader Castle Keep Overlooking Valley in Shoubak, Jordan

Located about 4,200 feet above sea level, this rounded keep protecting the northeast corner of Montreal Castle had a commanding view of the valley below. Although the surrounding area is barren today, it was apparently forested during the Middle Ages. The castles strategic height, however, came with challenges. For example, it required 350 steps to reach fresh water in a well. Notice the delicate reliefs carved along the row of stones near the top of this northeast tower. These Quaranic inceptions in Kufic script were added during the late 13th or early 14th century.

Shobak Castle, Montreal Shobak, Jordan
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Rooster Leaving Wooden Coop in Shoubak, Jordan

This rooster proudly left his old wooden coop and began to strut his stuff. However, when the tether stopped his advance, he crowed in protest. He lives near Shoubak, a small town of 12,500 people near the northwest corner of Ma’an Governorate bordering Tafilah Governorate. This region is arid and very dry during the summer because it rarely rains from June through August. Then during the winter it can reach temperatures below freezing.

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22 Rocky Landscape Near Dana Village in Jordan

While touring through Jordan from one fascinating attraction to the next, it is impossible not to be impressed with the barren yet beautiful countryside. You will routinely stop the car, grab your camera and admire the rolling, rocky terrain like this at the Dana Biosphere Reserve. With this type of natural beauty, it is no wonder archeologists believe this area in Tafilah Governorate has been settled since 1100 BC. On a terrace in the upper left corner is the 500 year old, stone village of Dana.

Dana Village, Kings Hwy. Jordan
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23 Qadisiyah Plateau Overlooking Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan

This breathtaking view from an elevation of 4,900 feet is at the top of the Qadisiyah Plateau just off the King’s Highway. This dry gorge, which is called a wadi in Arabic, stretches for miles. In fact, at 119 square miles, the Dana Nature Reserve is the country’s largest. Since the early 1990s, the RSCN has managed countless trails through the Wadi Dana for ecotourists who want to admire its 600 species of plants, hundreds of birds and animal breeds plus numerous archaeology sites.

Dana Village, Kings Hwy. Jordan
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