Off the Beaten Track in Israel – Petra The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Written by Michael Rosenbloom
Since the Israeli city closest to Petra is Eilat, you’ll probably want to cross the Israel-Jordan border from Eilat. However, if Petra is but one stop on a tour of Jordan, other border crossings such as the Allenby Bridge near Jericho or the one near Beit Shean, in the Jordan Valley may be preferable. Several years ago the word was that since the Allenby Bridge is an army outpost, the wait there is longer than at other crossings. A travel agent will be able to make the arrangements for a Jordanian guide to meet you at the border to take you to Petra.
It’s very trendy for those who visited Petra before it became widely accessible to Israeli tourists to say that it’s not the same as it was in the old days. Don’t believe it! I didn’t see any McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts in Petra. You still ride a horse to the beginning of the canyon and then walk maybe a mile through the narrow canyon (horse drawn carriages are available for those who prefer not to walk) until you are mesmerized by the Treasury building, peaking through the space between the canyon walls. It’s the first building that greets you in the valley.
Petra is also called in Hebrew “Hasela Ha’adom,” the Red Rock. This is because the mountains’ rocky walls are colored a brownish red. And as the sun passes over the sky in the late afternoon, the rocks change colors to various shades of red and brown.
You need at least a full day to see all of Petra. There is a considerable amount of walking to do. Some of the buildings are built higher up on the mountain and require a trek reach to them.
If you’re interested in knowing if there are other places of interest in Jordan, let me tell you that the answer is a resounding yes. Firstly, let it be known that there is no Jewish community in Jordan. However some of the sites are linked to our history. In the town of Madaba, between Amman and Petra, is the famous Madaba mosaic map from roughly the 7th century CE. The map is famous because it contains in it the oldest known map of Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, the map indicated a Cardo going through the heart of the walled city, before the Cardo was ever unearthed, in Jerusalem’s Jewish quarter. The Cardo is the main north – south thoroughfare in any walled Roman city. In fact, the Jerusalem map is only part of a much larger mosaic map of the entire Middle East.
North of Amman is the Roman city of Jerash. Jerash is incredibly well preserved. You can visualize how a Roman city looked two thousand years ago. The Cardo is lined with the original columns. The streets from Roman times are intact, with grooves carved diagonally in the pavement, to prevent horses from slipping.
Finally, the city of Amman is also worth seeing. While the downtown area has the feel of other Arab cities on the west bank of the Jordan River like Schem (Nablus), or East Jerusalem, the Roman amphitheater in the center of town is well preserved and is something you should try to see. In addition the citadel provides a picturesque view of this city built on several hills.
If you’re looking for a side trip to take while you’re in Israel, a trip to Jordan may be a good change of pace. As mentioned above, the trip can last anywhere from a day (if Petra is your only destination), to three or four days, if you’d like to see additional sites. Regardless of the length of your stay in Jordan, you’ll feel thrilled and secure to be back in Israel when your Jordanian sojourn is over