Some say: “Compared to Petra and the Dead Sea, there isn’t much to see in Tafila.” I beg to differ!
If you are like me; where off-road adventures or treks to least traveled paths raise your heart beat, then Tafila is definitely for you.
183km South East of Amman, Jordan, 3 hours drive = a very early rise.
3:30 am, I started heading to the heart of the Edomite city of Tophel “Tafila nowadays” and its capital Busairah with a hiking team from Jordan.
Taking highway 60 west at Jurf Al Darawish, the beauty started to unravel around us; mountains, mist, and a wind farm that added to the mystery of the place.
We reached the starting point of our hike; Sela Fortress. The fortress is located in the highlands of what was once the kingdom of Edom during the Iron Age. Due to its unique location as one of the transit points of the route of incense in Jordan, it was continually inhabited by various civilizations including the Nabataeans and the Romans.
Looking up from my standing point, I could hardly see a fortress among the sand stone hills. You can easily miss it without the exact GPS coordinates or without a guide so make sure to prepare because the area is empty of people to ask. We started climbing from the only accessible point that lies in the East comprising a 17 meters Siq with carved stairs. Along the way, we could see traces of amazing defense mechanisms that utilized stored water in padded dams to be released at any sign of danger.
Once we reached the top, we found watch towers, caves, wells, and platforms for sacrifices. I stood there contemplating the amazing views of the surrounding plains, mountains and my beloved Wadi Araba. Looking down, I could easily see why King Amaziah might have chosen this location, according to some scholars, to throw the 10,000 Edomite prisoners (II Kings 14:7). In case of a fall, chances of survival are very slim.
If this wasn’t enough to awe struck you, wait until your eyes make out the unique stele carving on a 150m steep rock façade. The last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire; Nabonidus ruling from 556-539 BC used the fortress on his way to the Arabian Peninsula. The stele is the first of a kind in Jordan; it depicts a king wearing a fringed garment that reaches to his ankles and a conical headdress. In one hand he carries a mace, with the other, he points to the Crescent of the Moon God “Sin”, the Winged Disc of the Sun God “Shamash”, and the Star of Venus “Ishtar”, in addition to writings in Cuneiform. Using a binocular will enable you to see these details clearly.
Hiking through the sandstone plains and mountains to reach Al Ma’atan village wasn’t an easy task and some falls were inescapable. The village that dates back to the Ottoman Empire was once home to a thriving agricultural community as the many mud houses, stables, and warehouses attest. Later, it was abandoned when drought hit the area. Today, the village is on Abraham’s Path long distance hiking trail that starts in Turkey and passes through Syria. You will find an Eco lodge and a visitors center offering a great opportunity to rest.
After re-energizing with some snacks and fruits that we brought along, we continued our hike towards Al Ma’atan canyon. The descent was not easy at all, falls increased in frequency due to steepness, the type of rocks in these mountains, and the distracting beauty of our surrounding. Finally, we reached the canyon just to see the artistic work of wind and water in shaping and coloring the rocks.
To finish hiking the canyon, we needed a rope and our rappelling skills, so bring both. As soon as we were out, I could see the final ascent. Steep as steep can be, I managed to summon the remains of my energy to end this 18 km hike. At this point, I was very envious of the sheep and their ability to run these hills up and down in grace. My trekking pole was a life savior; incapable of sitting down for fear that I may fail to stand up again from exhaustion; I used it frequently to support my body weight as I took resting intervals while standing.
With this, our adventure on foot ended and our bus tour began. We headed to the modern town of Bouseira to look at some of its old mud houses.
Then, we drove to the ruins of Bozrah, the capital of Edom. An old worn-out, hand-written sign post indicated that this is Bozrah; ruined and neglected as declared in the Old Testament:
“I swear by myself,” declares the Lord “that Bozrah will become a ruin and a curse, an object of horror and reproach; and all its towns will be in ruin forever.” (Jeremiah 49:13)
Bozrah is also the location of God’s deliverance of the covenant people. Since, there is still time, I presume, before the End of Times, some repair and investment in the location will do no one any harm! In fact, it will generate income to the poverty stricken governorate of Tafila. An action, I am sure, that will not be frowned upon by the Almighty.
Back to Sela village, I strolled between the old mud houses, inspecting their insides thrilled that I was standing in a village that dates back to the 1st Millennium.
Bidding the sun farewell from the roof of the visitors center in Sela village, we headed to our final destination; Mosque and Mausoleum of Al Hareth Bin Umair Al Azdi. He was one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, beheaded by a close ally to the Byzantine Emperor Caesar while in an official mission to the King of Bozrah. Since killing official envoys was considered an act of war, the Prophet prepared the largest Muslim army of 3000 men but lost the battle of Mutah. The Mosque is very beautiful and has a small garden. You can see the mausoleum from a window but if you are lucky, the Imam will be on duty and will allow you to see the tomb up close.
Adventure in Tafila does not end here, but that was the end of my adventure that day.
Tafila has much more to offer; it has 360 Natural Springs including the Natural reservoir of Dana and the nearby Afra and Burbita Hot springs. It has Dana Biosphere Reserve with its amazing nature, multitude of trails that vary in difficulty, rare flora and fauna that you can find only here, 100 archaeological sites including the copper mines of King David and King Solomon, and Qaser Ramsis; the Egyptian pharaoh. In short, it has everything needed to satisfy every taste and to quench the thirst of curiosity of all adventure parched travelers.
Click on the link for more information about Dana Biosphere Reserve
Writing and Photography
Samar M. Salma
PS: This blog reflects my personal opinion and my personal take on many issues. Its not a scientific paper, the information used is based on internet searches rather than scholarly articles. Its purpose is to entertain and everything mentioned is open for debate and correction.