Jerusalem and Petra
By Bailey Hughes
The cities of Jerusalem and Petra may not seem the timeless twins they truly are at first glance. Jerusalem, after all, is a modern city with modern problems, while Petra exists primarily for tourists to tour and Bedouins to bargain. One stands testament to the marvel of antique masonry, and the other to the history of several religions. But despite the differences, Jerusalem and Petra are twins – both cities astound viewers with their ancient narrative, having stood the test of time with little archaeological or historical decay.
A few months ago, I traveled to Jordan and Israel with my family. We primarily toured Petra and Jerusalem, as we were in a bit of a time crunch and wanted to see those cities the most. The experience was nothing short of extraordinary. In two days, we witnessed two thousand years of historical change.
Petra – about four hours each way from the capital of Jordan – seemed locked in a time capsule. The two-millennia-old temples and tombs may as well have been carved out of solid rock yesterday. There’s a Roman amphitheater and a Roman road, but beside that the civilization that created Petra might as well have abandoned the city a couple decades ago, rather than a couple millennia.
In contrast, Jerusalem is a changing city, and has been for as many years as it has existed. The center of Jerusalem – the Old City – is by far the most interesting historically, and stands a stark contrast to the modern city surrounding it. Our guide told us the story of the city – how each progressive empire and dynasty built on the ruins of the former. As we walked through the city he pointed out the different layers of stone, each corresponding to different dates in the past.
In twenty feet we had walked through a thousand years of history.
Though we only took a day trip to Jerusalem, we still visited most of the major historical sites – the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to name a few – while still managing to eat lunch at the Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. While I would highly recommend eating at the kibbutz, I would not recommend taking a day trip to Jerusalem from Jordan. This worked out for my family primarily because we are an impatient bunch and prefer to get a brief sense of a city rather than an in-depth tour of the museums and the history and the culture. However, even with our ability to condense a week-long tour into a couple of hours (which I am convinced is a consequence of undiagnosed ADHD), we were still very close to being stuck in Israel for another day – an frustrating situation when you have brought with you no bags and have no plans or hotel arrangements.
This can happen relatively easily, too, because the border can (and does) shut down whenever border officials decide to, which can be fairly frequent and last for several hours. And you have no bargaining power – don’t even try and argue with the border officials, because it will get you exactly nowhere. You can be stuck at the border for hours on end, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So if you do decide on a visiting Israel from Jordan, or vice versa, I would recommend planning to spend the night across the border.
As far as crossing the border goes, you have a couple options. You can cross the King Hussein / Allenby Bridge, which is only an hour each way from Jerusalem and Amman – this is what my family did, and it worked out perfectly. You can also go through Sheikh Hussein / Beit She’an crossing – about two and half hours from Jerusalem – or the Aqaba / Eilat crossing – four hours from Amman and five hours from Tel Aviv. Although I have no experience with these other two borders, I would recommend crossing the first one – King Hussein / Allenby Bridge – as it is by far the closest to the two major cities and can minimize travel fees.
Whichever border crossing you decide to go through, make sure not to get your passport stamped by Israel – this can make it nearly impossible to get into many Arab countries, limiting your travel in the future. Instead, get a Form 17L to fill out, and Israeli border officials will stamp that instead. Hold on to that form, because when you’re ready to leave Israel you will need to show that with your passport. This way you won’t have any hassle vising countries in the future. (Of course, if you have absolutely zero interest in visiting anywhere in the Middle East, then this doesn’t apply to you, and you could get your passport stamped instead of the form. But I would still encourage keeping your options open.)
Despite the annoyance that the border crossing can usually entail, I highly encourage traveling to Jerusalem if you’re already visiting Jordan, and visiting Petra if you’re already in Israel. Both cities are astounding in their history and in their beauty, and will be an unforgettable experience.