Jordan and Israel are at one of the great crossroads of civilisation and are bursting
with archaeological and historical gems: the world’s first villages, mighty Bronze Age cities, sites reaching back to the origins of Judaism and Christianity, Crusader castles and splendid Islamic monuments. Discover the awe-inspiring history of this region on this new 20-day tour, combining celebrated sites such as Jerusalem and Petra and lesser-known locations that bring out the historical and cultural diversity of these countries. This tour is a must for anyone interested in the history and archaeology of the Near East.
Walk in the footsteps of Jesus, encounter Saladin and the Crusaders’ medieval struggle, discover the Australian Light Horse in Jerusalem’s Old City
Roman, Byzantine and Medieval remains in Jerusalem
The unique rose-red city of Petra
A full day on site at the University of Sydney’s excavations at Pella, Jordan
Jericho and Megiddo: the intriguing histories of some of the world’s
The Martian-like landscape of Wadi Rum, where T. E. Lawrence became a legend
The celebrated food and hospitality of the Middle East
Days 1–2: Visit Amman’s historical sites.
Days 3–6: Walk through Jerusalem’s Old City. Visit Masada, Jericho and Qumran.
Days 7–8: Visit Bethlehem, Roman Caesarea and Megiddo; the battle site of Armageddon.
Days 9–10: Discover Acco’s pivotal place in history, Hellenistic Hippos overlooking Lake Tiberius, Nazareth and Capernaum.
Days 11–13: In Amman, visit Gadara, the Australian dig site at Pella and Roman Jerash.
Days 14–16: Spend two days exploring Petra.
Days 17–20: Stay in Wadi Rum and travel to the Crusader castles along the King’s Highway to the Dead Sea and Amman.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Amman. Emirates and Qatar
Airways offer direct daily flights into and out of Amman from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Saturday 12 March: Arrive Amman, Jordan
The tour commences at the hotel in Amman at 6pm. Meet your tour leader in the lobby for introductions and drinks and dinner in the hotel. Overnight Amman (D)
Sunday 13 March: Touring Amman
While Amman has grown incredibly in the past 50 years, the city maintains a bustling charm, and many reminders of its historic past. In our tour of the city today we focus on the downtown area and three of the city’s best historical attractions. We visit the National Museum, which exhibits the best archaeological treasures that have been unearthed in Jordan. The citadel atop one of Amman’s seven hills has been inhabited at least from the Bronze Age. However, everything that is visible on the surface now is of the Roman, Byzantine or Umayyad periods, except where part of the Iron Age town wall still exists. The imposing Roman theatre built into the sides of the cliff could seat some 6,000 people. Overnight Amman (B, L, D)
Monday 14 March: To Jerusalem
No brief description will do justice to Jerusalem. It needs to be seen and walked in order to reveal its complex overlay of 5,000 years of history. From the early city of King David, to the jumble of Roman, Byzantine and medieval remains, Jerusalem is a historical treasure house. Still as evocative today as it has ever been, Jerusalem is the spiritual home to both Christianity and Judaism, and the most important site for the Muslim world after Mecca and Medina. Today we travel across the Allenby Bridge to Jerusalem. When we arrive, we take an orientation tour of the city, beginning at the Mount of Olives and continuing to the Damascus Gate. Overnight Jerusalem (B, L, D)
Tuesday 15 March: Touring Jerusalem
This morning we take a walking tour of the streets and alleys of Old Jerusalem, a city that has seen everything from the entry of Jesus to marauding Crusaders in the eleventh century and members of the Australian Light Horse during World War 1. We visit the Temple Mount as well as the exquisite seventh-century Umayyad Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque, the third most holy site of Islam. To crown a historically rich day, we also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’s burial and a great basilica originally constructed by Constantine the Great. Overnight Jerusalem (B, L, D)
Wednesday 16 March: Israel Museum
Today we visit the Israel Museum, with the very best of Israel’s archaeological treasures preserved in a well-curated, chronological display that spans the incredible history of the country from the Stone Age to the Classical periods. The afternoon is free for further exploration. Overnight Jerusalem (B)
Thursday 17 March: Masada, Jericho and Qumran
This morning we travel to Masada, the site of Herod the Great’s tiered palace on the Dead Sea. In 73 CE, under siege from the Roman Legate, Flavius Silva, the Jewish community committed collective suicide, thereby marking Masada as an important symbol of the modern Israeli state. We continue to Qumran, an Essene community at the time of Jesus and where the Dead Sea scrolls were originally located. Jericho is one of the world’s earliest examples of large-scale urban development and our visit will be our first introduction to an ancient archaeological tell (or mound). Overnight Jerusalem (B, L, D)
Friday 18 March: To Haifa via Bethlehem
We depart for Bethlehem and visit the Church of the Nativity, situated directly over the cave in which Jesus was believed to have been born. Crossing to the Mediterranean Sea, we visit two major cities of the Philistine people: Ashdod and Ashkelon. We visit the Museum of Philistine Culture at Ashdod, as well as Ashdod-Yam (or Ashdod on the Sea): the ancient port of Ashdod and subject to renewed archaeological excavations. We visit Ashkelon, another important Philistine city with remains from the Bronze Age, as well as the Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman periods. Overnight Haifa (B, L, D)
Saturday 19 March: Caesarea, Megiddo and Mt Carmel
In Haifa, we step back through time from the height of the Roman Empire to the Palaeolithic period peopled by Neanderthals and archaic Homo Sapiens. Founded by Herod the Great, Caesarea features a large artificial port, a sewer system, a grid town plan, and all the accoutrements expected of a Classical town: temples, an amphitheatre and aqueducts. We also visit Megiddo, the site of Armageddon: the battle to end all battles. Megiddo is pivotally important to our understanding of the period of Solomon, and more broadly, the establishment of Israelite control in the area. We end our day at Mt Carmel, where hominid remains have been excavated in a number of caves; including the most southerly example of a Neanderthal yet discovered. Overnight Haifa (B, L)
Sunday 20 March: To Tiberius
Today’s we travel a short distance to Acco. Principally known as a Crusader town, it became the major port for the Kingdom of Jerusalem after its capture in 1104. Much later, the failure of Napoleon in 1799 to capture Acco forced his retreat to Egypt and changed the course of history. This afternoon we visit Hazor and Tell Dan, dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Of particular interest are the well-preserved fortifications at both sites. Overnight Tiberius (B, L)
Monday 21 March: Hippos, Capernaum and Nazereth
As well as exploring the region around Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee), today we visit three ancient sites associated with Jesus. Located on a ridge overlooking Lake Tiberius, Hippos has all the features of a Greek city. including temples, a central agora, colonnaded streets and other public structures. Frequently mentioned in the Gospels, Capernaum was the closest to a permanent base that Jesus had during the Galilean ministry and it is referred to simply as “his own city”. The site is pleasantly situated and preserves remains from the Byzantine period when it became a major pilgrimage centre. This afternoon we visit Nazareth and the impressive Church of the Annunciation. Overnight Tiberius (B, L)
Tuesday 22 March: Beth Shan and Umm Qais
We return to Jordan, stopping at Beth Shan, which is the ‘sister city’ of Pella. Although Pella is probably the older of the two sites, Beth Shan’s strategic location controlling the eastern mouth of the Esdraelon Valley saw it prosper during the Classical period as one of the cities of the Decapolis. After crossing the Jordan River, we will climb high above Lake Tiberius and visit Umm Qais (ancient Gadara), a Classical period city with panoramic views around where a theatre and tombs, along with stretches of shops and residences, have been excavated. One of the unique features of Umm Qais is that it is largely constructed out of black basalt stone, giving it a different feel to those encountered on the trip. Overnight Amman (B, L, D)
Wednesday 23 March: Pella
Today’s tour to Pella in northern Jordan will be a full, but very interesting day. The ancient site of Pella has been inhabited for over 10,000 years and subject to excavations by the University of Sydney since 1979. While never a major centre, Pella is a survivor and all major periods from the Neolithic to the present are represented here. However, unlike other sites of equal antiquity, Pella does not have a modern town or city built on top of the ruins. This has presented archaeologists with a world-ranking site set in a very beautiful region of Jordan. As your tour leader knows the site intimately, you will gain an unparalleled understanding into the many phases of occupation at the site. Overnight Amman (B, L)
Thursday 24 March: Ajlun and Jerash
Most people know two sites in Jordan: Petra and Jerash. Jerash is often referred to as ‘the Pompeii of the East’ and it is one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the Near East, along with Palmyra. Two theatres, a hippodrome, a triumphal arch, an oval plaza, the impressive Temple to Zeus and long stretches of colonnaded streets make Jerash one of the world’s major sites for understanding Roman city planning and urban living. On our return to Amman we stop at Ajlun Castle, one of the few surviving Arab castles dating to the Crusader period. Built by a cousin of Saladin, its chief purpose was to stop the spread of the Kingdom of Jerusalem into Trans-Jordan. Today the castle preserves a great example of Crusader-period military architecture. Overnight Amman (B, L)
Friday 25 March: Madaba, Mt Nebo and Umm El Rasas
As we make our way to Petra, we stop in Madaba, one of the centres for Jordan’s sizeable Christian community from the Byzantine period, when it became a centre for the region’s mosaic industry. One of the most famous mosaics is the Madaba Map in the Church of St George, which shows the Holy Land with over 150 place names from Tyre and Sidon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south. We also visit the church at Mt Nebo that wonderfully displays some of the region’s mosaics. The pinnacle of mosaic work is found at the Church of St Stephen at Umm El Rasas, dating to the Umayyad period and having come down to us almost intact. Overnight Petra (B, L, D)
Saturday 26 March: Petra
Although the description of Petra as ‘the rose-red city, half as old as time’ is a little clichéd today, the evocativeness of the description is matched by the unique splendour one finds. Petra is one of the world’s great archaeological sites dating back to the Palaeolithic period, but it is the Nabataean period for which the city is best known. During this time, the prosperous Nabataeans turned to nearby Egyptian Alexandria for their architectural inspiration, and, using the malleable sandstone, carved mighty tomb edifices into the cliff faces, creating an evocative visual smorgasbord that is unmatched at any site in the ancient world. Overnight Petra (B, L, D)
Sunday 27 March: Little Petra
This morning we make an excursion to an outlying group of monuments named ‘Little Petra’ or Siq el Barid (painted gorge), due to the traces of internal paint that exist in one of the tombs. After our visit, we walk to Beidha, a prehistoric village site that spans the crucial Natufian and Neolithic periods when human society in this part of the world started to turn to agriculture and settle into permanent villages. The afternoon is free to relax, or to re-visit Petra. Overnight Petra (B)
Monday 28 March: Wadi Rum
Brought to the world’s attention in the movie Lawrence of Arabia, and more recently, The Martian, Wadi Rum is a spectacular location. Reminiscent, in part, of Outback Australia, the landscape is one of towering, weathered red-sandstone cliffs, surrounded by plains of sand and grasses. Wadi Rum is part of an inland trade route from Saudi Arabia and inscriptions carved into the rocks remind us that people have been using this thoroughfare throughout history. This is the world of the Bedouin and today we will be guided through Wadi Rum by the locals before camping (comfortably!) for the night among the soaring peaks. Overnight Wadi Rum (B, L, D)
Tuesday 29 March: Shobak Castle
Shobak Castle on the Kings’ Highway was an important Crusader stronghold known as Monte Reale. With its walls and gateway, chapel and banqueting hall, Shobak is a small but complete example of the Crusader period castle. Driving north we then visit Dana, which is both a well-preserved mud-brick village and one of Jordan’s major nature reserves. The reserve protects a unique example of the ecosystem of the highlands of Jordan in a spectacular location. Overnight Kerak (B, L, D)
Wednesday 30 March: Kerak Castle and the Kings Highway
Kerak is imposingly situated and commands a magnificent view in all directions, especially towards the Dead Sea. Occupied since the Iron Age, its greatest importance was during the Crusader period when it was known as Crac des Moabites. After Kerak was in Muslim hands, its importance as a castle dwindled and today it remains overlooking Jordan’s largest Christian community. We travel down below sea level to the Dead Sea to the Church of St Lot where your tour leader excavated in the early 1990s. This site consists of a small church and associated monastic complex built around a small cave. Archaeological evidence at the site shows continued use into the Islamic period, indicating the good relations between the Christian and Muslim community. Digging beneath the Byzantine levels at the back of the cave, archaeologists found a pottery jug and two drinking cups dating to the Early Bronze Age—the period of Lot—and evidence that the site is a shrine of great antiquity. Travelling north once more we will pass along the shores of the Dead Sea before returning to Amman. Overnight Amman (B, L, D)
Thursday 31 March: Departure
The tour concludes after breakfast in Amman. (B)
An educator and practicing archaeologist, who works both in Jordan and with Aboriginal sites in Australia.
Ben Churcher is an archaeologist who works both in the Near East, as well as with Aboriginal archaeology in Australia. He has a strong personal interest in history and archaeology, primarily of the Muslim world, but not exclusively. Ben holds the position of Field Director at the University of Sydney’s archaeological excavations at Pella in Jordan.
Ben holds a BA (Hons) from the University of Queensland and a Dip. Ed from the University of Sydney. In 1983, Ben received a travelling grant from the Alumni Association at the University of Queensland to participate at the excavations at Pella in Jordan and he has been involved in archaeology ever since.
In between digs, Ben worked as a secondary teacher for five years at both public and private high schools and in 1993 he brought together his love of teaching and archaeology by founding Astarte Resources, a company producing and distributing educational resources specialising in history. While running Astarte Resources, Ben has been involved with adult education lecturing on a range of historical subjects and graduate teaching duties at the University of Canberra in their cultural heritage degree.
Since 2002 Ben has worked extensively in Aboriginal archaeology in Australia, working with a small firm undertaking heritage assessments and management. This work has taken him from western NSW, into the Snowy Mountains and onto the coalfields of the Hunter Valley.
Ben has continued his association with the excavations at Pella in Jordan throughout this time and he has participated in most seasons of excavation at the site. This work has involved excavating most major Near Eastern periods from the prehistoric Natufian period, through to the Islamic period.
Ben is a life member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at the University of Sydney and he currently sits on the board of the Foundation.
Ben has also travelled widely beyond the destinations to which he takes tours, has taught English in Japan for six months and has sailed on a dhow to Zanzibar. The consequence of this experience is that Ben is an adept traveller, unfazed by what the world may throw at him, and someone who has managed to amass a lot of information from various places and time periods that he is only too happy to impart.
Ben led his first tour to Jordan and Syria in 1993 and has gone on to take travellers to an eclectic range of countries including Mali, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Central Asia, China and Mexico. The common thread has been Ben’s interest in global history and the interconnections between both historical periods and cultures. How these interconnections are expressed in architecture, religion and governance is an abiding interest of Ben’s.
We asked Ben, what do you think clients get from travelling with you?
“I feel the people I travel with enjoy the way I can place great sweeps of history into context for them. On tour people often want to know what was happening elsewhere while such and such a building was being constructed. Fortunately I can use the experience I’ve built up over the years to answer such questions and then tie the particular culture we are looking at into the broader picture so that it links with things already known by the people in the group.”
In order to avoid unnecessary transfers and allow for individual exploration, we select comfortable, centrally-located hotels wherever possible. Most of the hotels we use are 4-star. We prefer smaller hotels if available, and we are constantly researching and reviewing our choices.
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity