The King’s Way: The heritage path of myriad civilizations

(Photos: Abdulrahem Arajan)
The King’s Highway, pictured in this undated photo, passes through some of Jordan’s most historically-rich archeological sites. (Photo: Envato elements)
AMMAN — Jordan has one of the oldest roads in the world, the King’s Highway, which has been used for more than 4,000 years, passing through most of the Kingdom’s major cities.اضافة اعلان

Most visitors in Jordan prefer to follow Highway 35, which is based on the ancient road and provides access to many ancient sites and spectacular sceneries.

Starting from Irbid, the second largest and northernmost city in Jordan, the King’s Highway passes through Jerash, Amman, Madaba, Kerak, Tafileh, Petra, and Aqaba.

Traveling from Amman to Petra via this road, visitors can pass through Madaba’s most important sites, including Mt Nebo (the Memorial of Moses) and the St George Church, which has the world’s oldest map of the holy land.
Among the most breathtaking stops along the road are Wadi Mujib (aka the Grand Canyon of Jordan) and the Dana Biosphere Reserve.

The King’s Highway, known at one point in history as Via Trijana Nova (the new road of Trajan), was rebuilt in the Roman era (108 AD) under Roman Emperor Trajan. Some milestones that marked each mile, which for Romans was 1,844m, are still visible in many spots along the highway. 

But before the Romans, the Nabataeans of Petra used the road to trade precious commodities such as frankincense and spices, facing several challenges posed by rivals.

At its height, this ancient path started in Heliopolis, Egypt, and then extended eastward to Suez, through the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba in Jordan. From there, the highway turned northward through Arabah, past Petra and Maan to Udhruh, Sela, and Shaubak. It passed through Karak, Madaba, Rabbah Ammon/Philadelphia (modern Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Bosra, Damascus, and (Palmyra) Tadmor, ending at Resafa on the upper Euphrates.

The oldest reference to this road was in the Book of Genesis, which recounts how four marched along it toward the Valley of Siddim to fight against another alliance of five kings.

It is also referred to in the Book of Exodus, when Moses asked to use the way heading north from the King of Edom (an ancient kingdom south of Jordan) and then from King Sihon of the Amorites (near Madaba). Both times Moses was refused passage.

Many of the wars mentioned in the bible are related to conflicts over the control of the King’s Highway.

Mesha, the king of Moab, wrote on his well-known stele that he rebuilt the King’s Highway near Arnon (Wadi Mujib). 

During the Byzantine period (324-636 AD), the Kingsway was used by Christian pilgrims visiting several sacred places in the holy land such as Mount Nebo, the mountain in overlooking the Jordan Valley where Moses presumably died.

For Muslims, the King’sway was the only pilgrimage route for people from the Levant to Mecca since the seventh century, until the Ottomans created the Sultani Route (known in Jordan as the Desert Highway), building several caravanserais along the way.

During the Crusader period (11th and 12th centuries), the use of the King’s Highway by Muslims was dangerous as it passed through Oultrejordain (the region east of the Jordan). Raynald of Chatillon, governor of Oultrejordain, attacked and looted the pilgrims twice. Such acts eventually led to his own death at the hands of Saladin and to the fall of the crusader kingdom in 1,187 in the Battle of Hattin.

The King’s Highway is not an archaeological site or a free-standing monument, but rather the heritage path of several civilizations.

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