17 December, 2010

Sights from Kahf Ahl Al Kahf, Amman

Very few places on Earth have as many historical sites, most of which considered  holly and most of which are as wonderful, as the Kingdom of Jordan. One of these 'one of a kind' places is about ten kilometers east of central Amman: the legendary Cave of the Seven Sleepers. One afternoon we decided to visit the much narrated about Kahf Ahl Al'Kahf.

The site - sometimes referred to as Kahaf Ahl Al Kahaf or Kahaf Al Raqeem or Kahaf Al Rajeeb, is well taken care of by the Jordanian authority. The entrance to the entombed ruined Cave is rather small; and interestingly points south towards Makkah and the Qibla. Outside the 'tomb', there are old ruins of shrines, two mosques and graves. One of the old mosques is right on top of the Cave.
Like most historical sites in Jordan, the site is easy to reach. By taxi or by bus which is much cheaper - about one-and-a-half Dinars, it would take you about thirty to forty minutes to reach the place. Entrance is free.
The whole site, feels 'Byzantine' and 'Omayyad'; just like most of the old, historical sites in the Kingdom.
On the walls, outside the Cave, are engravings and carvings which are unique to the region; weathered, engraved decorative frontage and sculpted pillars frame the doorway.
The story of the Seven Sleepers is narrated both in Qur'an Al'kareem - Sura'a Ahl kahf; and in Christianity and Judaism.
Scholars differ on where the exact location of the Cave is; some say it is in Yemen, on the slopes of Saber Mountain near Taiz in a village called Al'Miqab; some say - in Jabal Qassioun, Damascus, Syria; some, notably the Qur’anic translator, Yusuf ‘Ali - say the Kahf Ahl Kahf is in Turkey, some say - in Chenini in Tunisia, some even say the Cave is in Afghanistan and some even say the real Cave is in Spain; but most Muslim scholars seem to agree that this site in Jordan is the real Kahf Ahl Al Kaf or 'Cave of the Cavemen'. Read this.
Outside the Cave, are stumps of massive stone columns and pilasters indicating that a large apparently Byzantine structure, presumably a church, may have once incorporated the Cave as a point for prayers and devotion.
Stone carvings and graves can be seen outside the Cave. And what look like water wells. There appears to be some kind of watering system within the site.
Like most ruins around the Mediterranean region, especially in Jordan - the ruins here, have been there for very long. It is amazing that we can still see so much of them now; and in the process - try to imagine or relive the past.
Inside the Cave, fluorescent lamps illuminate and  the walls are smooth; there are more engravings on the walls and roof. On the floor of this cave, is where the Seven Sleepers and their dog, are said to have spent about 300 years 'sleeping'; when they woke up, the men thought that - they had slept for only a few hours.
The engravings and writing on this stone - above - are Islamic. Surprisingly, once inside - one realizes how very small the Cave is. In the Cave, are four tombs; a second crypt to the right has two holes. On top of it is a worn tablet with indistinct lettering. Some of the tombs had their entrances sealed.
An old eight-sided Christian octagon is carved into the side of the smooth wall; octagon signs are frequently mistaken for the six-sided Star of David. For thousands of years, the Kingdom of Jordan has very much been shaped by history; it has seen numerous civilizations - both from the East and from the West.
Canaanites, Semites, Akkadians, Assyrians, Judeans, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, the Omayyad and Ottoman Turks have all passed through here. All have left much behind. Many of these marks are still there today, preserved for us to see.
These old items and artifacts above, were all excavated within the site. They are on display within the Cave.
But the most impressive and most unforgettable site of all, is the above: preserved skeletons of what are said to be of those of the Seven Sleepers; a dog's skull - not kept in the enclosing above - was also found during excavations; which gave more weight to the claim that, this was indeed the Cave of the Cavemen. These skeletons are in a very small, enclosed tomb like structure, with a glass window for visitors to view through.
Within the walled, ruin grounds, there are gardens of palm trees, olive trees, pine trees and many flowers. The scenery around, is truly beautiful. There is also a new big, modern mosque - below - within the grounds, opened in 2006.

One of the old graves within the grounds, uphill, is said to be that of Prophet Shou'ayb (Jethro); this too has scholars having disagreeing views - a number of places in the Middle East, including Hadhramout, claim to have the Prophet's grave. The Kingdom of Jordan is amazing and full of surprises; it seems that most ancient Great Prophets and Holly men lived here or passed though here. Almost every part of the Kingdom has a piece of holly land. Caves and caverns have played a deep significant role in most of these Prophets' and Holly men's lives. One thing about the Amman caves that fits well with the Qur'anic verses and description, is that - if you faced the entrance of the Cave, the sun moves from right as it rises overhead and drops to the left as it sets towards the horizon; this cave in Amman, can most likely be the one mentioned in the Noble Qur'an.

It is rather astonishing that, this site was completely forgotten and overlooked until after the excavations in 1963. Excavations that revealed so much about this site; and re-established the importance of this place. It is that intensive excavation by the Jordanian archeologist, Rafiq Al'Dajani, and his journalist colleague, Muhammad Taisir Zibyan that aroused people's interest in the Cave and got the Jordanian government to focus and develop the site for visitors and tourists. During our visit to the Cave, most of those there were Yemenis and Sudanese; I was later told that, it is us Yemenis and the Sudanese, for some reason which I do not know, who are the main visitors there. Many who visit Jordan, like us, have visited the site; and many, like us, have been impressed.

+ Other Wonderful Places in the Kingdom of Jordan:
The River Jordan
The Dead Sea
The Citadel
The Roman Theater
* Jerash
Petra