Jordan’s Mount Nebo: A sacred mountain and attractive tourism site

Friday 29/05/2015
Pope Benedict XVI prays at the ancient Mount Nebo Church in May 2009

Mount Nebo - It is rare to find a single place that has significant meaning to Islam, Christianity and Judaism alike and can be easily accessed by visitors seeking to retrace Moses’s journey to the Holy Land.
Such a place is Jordan’s Mount Nebo, north-west of Amman in the governorate of Madaba. It still at­tracts tourists despite regional un­rest and terrorism threats.
Like in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, tour­ism in Jordan has been adversely af­fected by uprisings and wars in the region, driving away scores of tour­ists and pilgrims, observed Jordan Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Nayef Fayez.
“Islamic State militants have damaged tourism in the region more than the so-called ‘Arab spring’ up­risings,” Fayez said in an interview with The Arab Weekly.
To alleviate pressure on the tour­ism sector, the government recently adopted several measures to pro­mote tourism, including waiving visa fees for tourists of all nationali­ties using Jordanian tour operators and staying more than two nights. It also reduced electricity tariffs on hotels to encourage competitive prices.
In Madaba, there was a 40% drop of visitors during the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period last year, according to Wael Jaanini, the governorate’s tourism director.
“The kingdom, including Madaba and its surrounding attractions, has been badly hit by the regional politi­cal conditions and their repercus­sions on tourism are painful. People are staying away, mostly for secu­rity reasons,” Jaanini told The Arab Weekly.
Nonetheless, Mount Nebo re­mains a favoured destination for religious tourism.
Rising high above the Jordan Val­ley, Mount Nebo, according to an­cient belief, is the mountain from which Moses saw the “Promised Land”, a reference to biblical Judea and Samaria, including Jerusalem.
“And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jer­icho.” (Deuteronomy 34:1).
Known locally as Siyagha — “monastery” — Mount Nebo is the highest point in this part of the an­cient kingdom of Moab.
In 1932, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land purchased the site and established a monastery, which continues to be active and houses the headquarters of the Franciscan Archaeological Institute, a “must stop” for religious pilgrims and tourists.
Mount Nebo serves as a unique natural balcony for a spectacular panoramic view that extends across the Dead Sea reaching the Judean desert and the arid landscapes of the Jordan Valley. On clear days, when visibility is nearly perfect, Bethlehem can be seen, along with Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives all the way to Ramallah in the West Bank of the Jordan River.
On March 19, 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pil­grimage to the Holy Land and took in the same panoramic scene that Moses saw more than 3,000 years ago. Pope Benedict XVI also trav­elled to Mount Nebo in 2009.
“It is a magnificent feeling being here in the footsteps of Moses, see­ing what he saw and I must say it’s a breathtaking view,” said Jose Slee­ba, director of Royal Omania Travel, an India-based travel agency.
“Unfortunately, we will not spend too much time in Jordan as we can go to the Baptism Site on the Israeli side for free, whereas here it’s $10- $15 per head extra”, Sleeba told The Arab Weekly.
“We would love to go to Petra and Wadi Rum but find it too costly. Jordan has to realise that people want to feel fairly treated and hav­ing much higher entry fees for non locals is keeping people away,” he added. In Mount Nebo, the main focal point is the Serpentine Cross sculpture at the Brazen Serpent Monument atop the mountain. It is a modern replica created by Italian artist, Giovanni Fantoni of the bib­lical serpent. The sculpture is sym­bolic of the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness and the cross upon which Jesus was cruci­fied. It has become the emblem of Mount Nebo.
At the site, elements of a triple-apse Byzantine basilica were uncov­ered by archaeologists in the 1930s and have been incorporated into the structure of the modern church known as the Memorial Church of Moses, with its magnificent mosa­ics, making it the centrepiece of the hilltop complex.
The Franciscans excavated most of the ruins of the church and mon­astery, as well as rebuilt much of the basilica. The church is part of the functioning monastery and is off-limits to visitors.
Just inside the site is the exca­vated Old Baptistery, which has one of the most interesting ancient mosaics in Jordan and which had remained hidden for nearly 1,400 years until it was uncovered in 1976.
In the far right-hand corner of the church is the New Baptistery from 597AD. It was previously a funerary chapel and includes a small mosaic bearing the greeting “Peace To All”.
Next to the New Baptistery, a mo­saic cross from the original fourth-century church stands on a modern altar in its original location, along with a photograph of Pope John Paul II praying at the altar.
Next to the exit door is the Theo­tokos Chapel from the seventh cen­tury, whose floor is paved with mo­saics of plants and flowers.
Two kilometres from Mount Nebo on the Nebo-Madaba Road is La Storia Tourism Complex, which depicts major religious, historic and cultural highlights in the heritage of Jordan and accommodates a large variety of handicrafts.
The 2015 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index Ranking, is­sued by the World Economic Forum in early May, ranked Jordan 77th among 141 countries and eighth among countries of the region.
“I loved Jordan and I am sure to be back again to see more of it,” French tourist Marie Claire enthu­siastically told The Arab Weekly. “I hope that the tensions in the region will calm down so I can bring my husband and daughters next time.”