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Published: October 30th 2017
. This is the big day when at last we will visit Petra the rose red city "half as old as time".
Here nature and man together carved awesome works of impressive grandeur 2000 years ago.That thriving city, capital of the Kingdom of the Nabataeans, was then ravaged by earthquake and time, being lost for a thousand years until its “rediscovery” (I. E. to the west) through duplicity and intrigue in 1812.
Planning to visit? Then understand this. This city sprawls for many miles. It spans over 60 square km. You will walk and walk and walk and walk and then walk back and back and back and back. If you don’t walk you can take a beast of burden a camel, donkey, horse. We chose not to. So we walked and walked and climbed and scrambled and walked for 4 hours. Then I sat at a Cafe at the foot of the Royal Tombs while the two intrepids continued walking on and on. I waited there 4 more hours for their return. Like I said. Be prepared to walk. A lot.
Officially there are horses you can take from the Visitor Centre to
the entrance of the Siq and carriages from the Visitor Centre to the Treasury. Beyond the Treasury to Qasr Al Bint there are camels ( we also saw donkeys). Not surprisingly there are warnings to stay calm and not panic if, choosing to exploring alone, you get lost, to stay on marked trails, to avoid steep edges and to recognize that Petra is a geo-archaeological site subject to natural hazards including slippery slopes.
The first experience is that walk from the visitor entrance to Al Siq. It is the magical first approach, anticipation leading to the Treasury. Walk through this towering narrow canyon, 1.2km long with sides rising 80 to 200 meters high all around you, looming overhead, closing in on both sides. It is in permanent shadow, very intimidating, still the formations capture the eye and the imagination. We walk for about 45 minutes as the excitement mounts noticeably. With every bend we round in Al Siq, we anticipate the moment when we will see the magnificent Treasury facing us. Suddenly! There it is! Glowing in a blaze of sun light! A slither of architecture in pink glimpsed between the narrow rock faces, a 43m high facade carved
into the rosy rock face, towering over us and everything else. We crane our necks upward to take it in.
I pause to capture the instant in a photograph with my self and my mother, she's the reason why I am there at all. I’m all nervous and excited!
Then drawn forward like the other travellers we enter the wider area in front of the Treasury. Filled with camels, dogs, riders, tourists, Bedouin guides, Bedouin vendors and their wares, voices and excited laughter. Everyone is taking photographs. The Bedouin are urging visitors to take sample camel rides hoping for a client. Everyone is keen to photograph the camels or be photographed with them. Few are keen to take the ride. One Asian beauty poses by a seated camel which aims a bite at her. She screams and leaps in the air. Then goes for a camel ride! Good for her!
The Treasury (Al Khazna) was never a treasury, but a kings tomb. It’s facade is intricately carved with figures, friezes, Corinthian capitals and a funerary urn. In fact much of the grandeur of Petra was due to its function as a tomb site to memorialize their kings.
Even the Monastery was first a tomb then a temple. The Nabataeans carved their masterpieces in the soft sandstone rock faces beginning from the top and working down, thus achieving the enormous dimensions they did.
They too were nomadic people who used their knowledge of the desert to safely guide traders and their precious cargoes of myrrh and frankincense, spices and perfumes on the camel caravan route. And were a source of water to thirsty travelers. A notable feature of Nabataean Petra was its complicated system of channels and sophisticated water management which enabled life to flourish in the desert. Thus they amassed incredible wealth, and built this sprawling city of 30,000 people in the desert, it's entrance hidden behind the gorge Al Siq.
In the millennia between Petra falling into silence (first from a devastating earthquake in 363, then with the rise of the Roman empire, later the Moslem empire by 700 AD) and its re emergence in 1812, the Bedouin occupied the land becoming custodians of the area, jealously protecting this highly secluded gorge from outside eyes. But that couldn’t last forever. In 1812 A Swiss scholar (Burckhardt) masquerading as a Bedouin pilgrim and traveler from
India entered the valley using a Bedouin guide. There he saw what he had anticipated. His cover and true status as an infidel was blown by his excitement, but he emerged to bring the news to the western world. And that was that.
The Bedouin who occupied the area were the sedentary Bedoul people of about 300 families who lived in the ancient rock caves formed in the sandstone cliffs. They were moved out of cave dwellings in the 1980s by the Jordanian government just prior to the area being recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. We were told that lately some families have returned to their cave dwellings after dissatisfaction with how the government has fulfilled their agreement.
Today the area is reserved for economic activity exclusively by and for the Bedouin. And they are very active every where.
For the first four hours of our visit we walked the main road following the visitor route map, taking us to the famous sites. We strayed off the beaten track sometimes, led by my name sake looking for a shorter route. We climbed and scrambled over dusty and rocky tracks up the hillsides entering beautiful
chambers in the rocks. Some formations were spectacular with unbelievable strata and hues. From up on high at the Royal Tombs we could look down on carved features below us, like the Theater, the only rock carved amphitheater in the world it could seat 4,000 spectators.
The sun was now high in a cloudless blue sky. I called for a break again as we descended the heights from the Royal Tombs. We joined dozens of visitors all on the move, most on foot others on camel, with a large number of donkeys and more camels lying in wait nearby. A group of Bedouin men were busily engaged in a concrete construction. I headed for the cool shade of a cafe and the promise of cold drinks and food plus a wide display of souvenirs and trinkets. I looked at the map. We were half way to the end of the road, with its climb up 800 steps up to the Monastery. And 800 steps back down.
I knew I was spent. I had seen plenty. I didn’t have another 4 hours walk left inside me. And was not overjoyed at the prospect of climbing 800 steps (x2 to
climb down). I begged off. I positioned myself with cold water and guava juice on a shady bench facing the magnificent Royal Tombs. There I waited, watching the facades emerge with the changing light as day progressed, revealing their full features.
The café owner very kindly never bothered me to make purchases, though I did. His son was incredible. Every time a tourist walked by which was every 15 to 30 seconds he called out....
“Welcome! water! icer-cream! polle-granate! ”
Every single time. For four hours. He never faltered. He was amazing.
I people watched the visitors who sometimes stopped and came in. There were two scrawny kittens who were like magnets for most of them, being fed scraps at the table, petted and picked up. I don't think they were clean animals to tell the truth. But they didn’t mind.
When the Intrepids eventually returned the crowds had thinned out, it was quieter, the passing hopeful animals were much fewer, and the sun was lowering in the sky. Darkness was approaching. We trudged back retracing the morning route to exit the Siq, while debating visiting Petra By Night that evening from 8.30 to 10.30pm.
It is highly rated and well recommended. The walk back to Visitor Centre took 45 minutes to cover. Which finally did us in.
We were hungry. We found a restaurant in our neighborhood the Beit alBarakah, had some good Jordanian food served by our charming Egyptian waiter "captain Tariq", then decided to hit our rooms. Climb those 5 flights of stairs and take our weary selves to bed.
Petra the beautiful city carved out of sandstone, was over. The day had been awesome. It was enough.
(PS please remember to scroll down further to see all the photos I've posted)
Further interesting reading here https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/petra/petra-rediscovered
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