The King’s Highway – Derek HaMelech
The first highway we will travel is the King’s Highway (Derek HaMelech). The King’s Highway is named for the kings who used it in Genesis 14 for war. Four kings from the north marched their troops on the King’s Highway to do battle against the five kings of the Cities of the Plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah. The invading monarchs captured Abraham’s nephew Lot before they retreated. Abraham chased the soldiers, and overpowered them near Damascus.
The King’s Highway is mentioned in the Book of Numbers. It is the highway that Moses wanted to follow as he led the Israelites north through the land of Edom, or southern Jordan.
Like the Via Maris, the King’s Highway began in Egypt. This road went to Damascus by a route that ran east of Israel. It continued beyond Damascus to the Euphrates River and brought merchants and travelers to the region where Abraham’s family dwelled in Haran.
Merchants who chose to travel the King’s Highway started their journey across the hot, parched Sinai Peninsula. They reached the tropical air of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba at the Red Sea. At Eilat, this age-old route turned north, touching the edge of the Arabian desert near Petra. It moved through lush farm lands, plunged 1800 feet into the Arnon River Gorge, and traveled up into the great forested highlands of Bashan.
The King’s Highway traversed the territory of the Amorites, the avowed enemies of Israel. It passed through the lands of the Edomites who were the descendants of Esau. It continued through the land of the Ammonites and Moabites who were the descendants of Lot. These lands eventually became the tribal territories for Reuben, Gad, and half of the Tribe of Manasseh. So, the King’s Highway traveled east of the Jordan River through the tribal lands.
The King's Highway is one of the oldest trade routes in Jordan--a remarkable fact in the context of this country which lay at the heart of many of the ancient world's key trade routes. The route, which runs along the mountain plateau above the eastern side of the Great Rift Valley, connected the Biblical kingdoms of Jordan (Edom, Moab and Ammon), hence came the name "King's Highway." In the early 2nd century AD, Trajan used this route to build his "Via Nova Trajana".
Trade caravans moving between points in Syria, Asia Minor, the Arabian Peninsula and the Far East, passing on to markets around the Mediterranean, in Egypt and on to Europe used portions of this route. The passage of trade caravans brought prosperity to the inhabitants of lands along the route and, ironically, catastrophes as well. Many battles were waged throughout the ages for control over the route and thus the trade goods traversing it. The King's Highway, or key portions thereof, have been used continuously from the Bronze Age right through contemporary times.
The modern route--actually a winding 2-lane rural road rather than a highway--runs from Aqaba to Amman ,passing some of the most beautiful towns and splendid scenery in Jordan. The half-way point on the most traveled part of the route from Amman to Petra is the spectacular switchback road which traverses Wadi al-Mujib, sometimes referred to as Jordan's "Grand Canyon." Two other major east-west canyons, Wadi al-Wala and Wadi al-Hasa, are also transversed along the King's Highway by scenic switchback roads. Wadi al-Wala, to the south of Madaba, contains the ruins of the Early Bronze Age urban city of Khirbet Iskander. Wadi al-Hasa, between Karak and Tafila, is a beautiful valley containing several Nabatean sites including Khirbet at-Tannour, as well as the Hamamat Afra hot springs, which enjoys great local popularity due to its reputed curative properties.
The King's Highway is quite a long drive to attempt in one day, particularly if you want to stop and enjoy some of the ancient ruins and modern natural beauty along the way.
Credit: Petra Moon Tourism Services