When it comes to sightseeing, I’m definitely Toy Story’s Woody to Veronica’s Buzz Lightyear. Bounding around looking for new things to see, I’m always rushing around taking just one more picture. As the perfect foil to Woody, Buzz looks after the kids when they (or Buzz) start complaining about getting bored or tired. Usually that means I race off on my own, so as not to make everyone’s life completely unbearable, arriving back drenched in sweat from being a power toyrist.
Jerash Roman Ruins
Which is pretty much how it went when we travelled just under an hour (50km) up north in our rental car to the Roman ruins of Jerash.
The second most popular site in Jordan, after Petra, Jerash has some of the most spectacular Roman ruins in the world. Spread out over a huge area, it requires a minimum of three hours unless you’ve got your Woody running shoes on, in which case you’ll still need at least a couple of hours in order to do it justice.
Having entered through the tourist shops, you’re greeted with the back entrance of the Hippodrome, which during its heyday crammed 15,000 people into the bleaches to watch chariots race around the 245m long oval track. These days there is a different type of event to watch, the Roman Army and Chariots Experience. Unfortunately, for some unexplained reason it wasn’t on the day that we visited, which was extremely disappointing for the kids, as I’d built this up for them for the past week.
Hadrian’s Arch which was built in commemoration of Emperor Hadrian’s visit in 129 AD provides the best way of entering the site proper. Standing an imposing 21 metres high, it illustrates just how revered Hadrian must’ve been back in the day. I’m pretty sure taxpayers wouldn’t allow anything this grand to be built in homage to our rulers today- although I can think of a couple of dictators who continue in this vein.
Further on, the Oval Forum containing 56 Ionic columns used to be the centre of social and political life in the second century AD. Measuring 90 metres long and 80 meters at its widest point, this was one of my favourites sights.
Another not to be forgotten sight is Main Street, or Cardo Maximus as it was called back in the day. What makes this so neat, is that the original paving is still in place, with giant cobbles and paving stones waiting to trip up unwary tourists.
Down on Cardo Maximum is the Nymphaenum which was the main fountain for the city.
Also situated not far from the Oval Forum is the North Theatre. Personally, I thought that the Theatre in Amman was better, but supposedly I’m in the minority here.
What the North Theatre does provide, though, is some great perspective on the overall size of Jerash, from up high.
RACE-failure aside, our time spent at the Jerash ruins counts as one of the best things we’ve done to date. From here, it was time to back up our antiquity travel experience with the start of our religious travel experience.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan
Whilst not cheap, having our own hire car, has enabled us to make up our own itinerary and move along at our own pace. So, following Jerash, we headed off to Bethany beyond the Jordan (also known in Arabic as Al-Maghtas), which is situated nine kilometres north of the Dead Sea.
For the devout, the site is of immense religious significance, as most denominations have accepted this as the location where Jesus Christ was baptised by John the Baptist. Not surprising, it is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This one wasn’t covered by our Jordan Pass, but we were able to purchase it earlier for 4 JD pp saving, otherwise the fee would’ve been a reasonably hefty (for Jordan standards) 12 JD per adult.
You aren’t able to drive up to the actual site, so instead we were required to wait for the next shuttle bus which arrive every 30 minutes. After being crammed in with all the other waiting tourists, we got off the minibus and walked a short distance to a spot fifty metres from the Jordan River. Here, the Byzantines built three churches to commemorate Jesus’ baptism by John.
We walked on to the Jordan River, which today is a relatively small and dirty stream due to both Jordan and Israel taking large quantities of water from its sources. And whilst baptisms are no longer allowed (on the Jordanian side at least), it still is wide enough to enter and stand in. This might or might not be the exact same place as where Jesus was baptised, but it is close enough that no one’s going to know any difference.
Just behind the modern baptism pool site, there stands the large Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist, which glitters prettily in the beating sun.
Being herded around as part of the “tour group” so as to ensure that we got the shuttle bus back did make it feel a little bit touristy, but it was also convenient and it still didn’t feel too overcrowded. As such we all (Veronica more especially) were able to get some meaning out of our visit, with a certain degree of reverence..
One thing that was noticeable, was how much hotter it had become since we’d descended from the relative heights of Amman (760 metres above sea level) to Bethany beyond the Jordan (approx. 400 metres below sea level). We were about to go even lower, as Buzz, Woody and Co. continued their trip in Jordan to the Dead Sea.