Holy Jordan

Wadi Rum’s timeless beauty: starry nights and Byzantine hermits

June 11, 2024

The Wadi Rum, a stunning valley in southern Jordan, is known for its scenery, history, and religious significance. This vast desert, also known as the Valley of the Moon, has been a crossroad for different cultures and religions throughout the centuries. Located near the border with Saudi Arabia and approximately 60 km east of the city of Aqaba, Wadi Rum covers an impressive area of 720 km², making it the largest wadi (that is, river valley) in Jordan.

The origins of the name “Wadi Rum” (or “Wadi Ramm”) are intriguing, brimming with different historical associations. One theory is that it derives from the ancient name of Iram of the Pillars (also called Irum), a legendary lost city mentioned in the Quran. This first theory links the area to the mythic past of Arab folklore. Another theory suggests that the name may derive from the word “Romans,” historically used to refer to Christians. This interpretation suggests that Wadi Rum could mean “the valley of the Christians,” reflecting the desert’s deep ties to Byzantine history, and its role as a sanctuary for believers in times of Roman persecution.


Ancient history

But way before Christians and Muslims, several prehistoric civilizations left their mark on Wadi Rum: petroglyphs, rock carvings and ruins testify to the area’s long and varied human history. These ancient works offer a glimpse into the lives of those who once inhabited this landscape, adding layers of cultural and historical depth to the region.

During the Byzantine era, Wadi Rum served as a refuge for Christian monks seeking solitude and solace. These monks also carved inscriptions and symbols into the rock walls, transforming the desert into a sacred setting adorned with crosses and other typically Christian iconographic designs. These ancient carvings still stand as a testament to the spiritual significance of the desert and the faith and traditions of those who once sought peace in its vast, silent expanses.



(Wadi Rum under the night sky)

Brilliant sky

Today, Wadi Rum is a major tourist attraction, offering guided tours, hiking and rock climbing –but it has not lost its spiritual allure, at all. Indeed, the religious charm of the desert extends beyond its historical inscriptions. The region is famous for its exceptionally clear skies, making it one of the best places in the world for stargazing. On a clear night, the sky becomes a true canopy of stars, with the Milky Way stretching across the horizon in breathtaking clarity. 

This celestial display evokes a profound sense of wonder and contemplation. Some compare this experience to that of the Abrahamic promise found in the Bible: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven.” This promise, found in the book of Genesis, resonates powerfully in the Wadi Rum. As one looks up at the countless stars scattered across the night sky, it’s easy to draw a parallel with one’s own experience there, standing in the desert night. This imagery beautifully intertwines heaven and earth, the spiritual and the physical, the ancient promise to the present.

The stars and sands of Wadi Rum serve as a reminder of the vastness of creation and the enduring nature of faith. In this timeless landscape, one can feel a true connection to the countless generations who have looked up at the same stars and walked the same sands.

A visit to Wadi Rum is not just a fun trip through a beautiful desert; it’s a pilgrimage in time through the boundless wonders of Jordanian nature. Whether contemplating the ancient Christian carvings, marveling at the celestial spectacle, or contemplating its deep red sands, Wadi Rum offers an enriching experience that ignites the spirit.

By Daniel Esparza
Daniel Esparza

Daniel Esparza is currently an associate professor of communication ethics and aesthetics at the Ramon Llull University in Barcelona. He holds a PhD in Religion from Columbia University (NYC). He is also an art historian who has developed communicational projects and campaigns for online and print media to promote the cultural and religious heritage of the Americas and the Mediterranean. He is a founding member of Viator Media and the Pilgrimaps project.

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