Petra Jordan day 2: Petra by Day

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September 10th 2019
Published: July 9th 2020
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The day began with breakfast at the hotel. As mentioned the group discussed the Petra by Night tour. Although most felt it was a disappointing slog after a full day on the coach, everyone was excited to explore ancient Petra this morning. After breakfast onto the coach and soon we were back at the Petra Visitor Center.

Our tour guide handed out tickets and led us from the Visitor plaza to the broad paved start of the walk to Petra. This is where the historic aspects began. Our guide explained some key geographic aspects like how the deep channel was naturally carved over millions of years by water flooding down the path when rare rainstorms hit the area. He also pointed out scattered caves which were used for burial sites.

We approached ancient Petra city from the east as tourists do. The pathway view was dramatically different in the day compared to the night, more interesting and impressive. Even with the bright sun above, much of the passage was in dark shadow while the opposite sandstone walls blindingly reflected rose coloured light. The entrance passage is a deep narrow gorge call the Siq or shaft. Water from the Wadi Musa flowed down a split in the sandstone rocks during geological ages and formed the 1200-metre (3/4 mile) long gorge about 80 metres deep and several metres wide. Small carts or donkeys bring some paying visitors down to the old city, but most walk as we did. Since the risk of stumbling over the rough surface in the day was much less than at night, nobody needed my assistance today.

Along the path were a few markers in Arabic and English explaining particular features. For example there is a sculpture carved into the passage wall depicting a Camel Caravan. According to the marker this dates to around 100-50 BCE. At one end of the Camel Caravan relief the lower part of a trader appears in detail down to where the sand has worn away his sandals over the years.

The passage suddenly opens onto a wide area and roadway directly facing the Treasury building called Al-Khazneh in Arabic. The film "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade" made this sight famously recognizable. Some tourists took camel rides around there. I was amazed that the Treasury was cut into the sandstone with the top of a cliff visible above it, but that it was not merely a facade. Indeed the building doorway leads into a full functional space within the wall of rock.

While the Treasury is the (modern) symbol of Petra, there is much to see by walking the road to the rest of the ancient city beyond it. In 1985 historic Petra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Al-Khazneh (the Treasury) was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007.

I spent the morning wandering up the road and inspecting various sights. Some were well labelled with markers, and others were left for me to imagine their purpose. Several tombs were highlighted, and one included a graphic description of its construction and interior burial chambers. I inspected an interesting building with multi-coloured walls both inside and outside. It was unclear whether this was a dwelling or served some other purpose. As usual it was cut into the rock beneath a hillside wall.

The city centre included a pool and fountain complex. Water mastery was an important capability of the Nabataean civilisation who constructed Petra and ruled the greater region from here.

One area was marked as the Street of Facades. This was a major market area, and the sales spaces remained visible to a degree. Of course numerous current stalls were selling all manner of stuff to tourists, including jewelry, art, food, postcards, etc.

A particular recent establishment caught my eye. A building with a portrait of the Petra Treasury was selling ice cream, maintained in freezers with electricity from sunlight. I dubbed my selfie there "Indiana Don and the Solar Powered Ice Cream" and posted it on Facebook.

Some people continued up to the Monastery another couple of kilometres away but I did not make it that far.

After a few hours of wandering around the archaeological area, around noon I went back to the Visitor Centre plaza where our group would meet to leave the ancient zone. I walked through the museum to see exhibits and explanations about the history and culture of Petra and the region. The vacinity around Petra was inhabited since 7000 BCE by various peoples. When the Edomites were succeeded by the Nabataeans in the 4th century BCE the kingdom established its capital in Petra and grew by conquering other tribes. Petra became the hub of a vast Arabian trading route, which brought wealth to the Nabataeans. They mastered rainwater management - crucial engineering knowledge in the desert region - and irrigated their agriculture. The population grew to an estimated 20,000.

The mountainous terrain helped them repel invaders for about 500 years until the Roman Empire overtook the Nabataean kingdom in 106 CE. Its value as a trade route declined after an earthquake in 363. In the Byzantine period some Chrisian churches were built, and by the Islamic era there were only nomadic tribes in the area. In 1812 it was discovered by a Swiss geographer named Johann Ludwig Burckhard.

A fascinating fact about Nabataean culture was their treatment of women. They were considered equal to men in the Nabataean society. Women participated in politics, owned land, and queens ruled alongside kings. Nabataean coins are the only ancient money ever found in which the queens were both pictured and named with the kings.

The group gathered and left the Visitor Center, and walked to lunch nearby. The Sandstone restaurant was similar to where we had lunch on the first day. Unfortunately the cold salad options were limited in comparison, and personally I did not find much choice of food to eat. For snacking I still had granola energy bars and small packets of nuts from airplane flights amongst my supplies. Also in common with the previous restaurant, there were charges for all drinks. This extra cost even included bottled water, so I was glad that I always had my refilled water bottle with me. Many in our group were caught off guard, having asked the wait-staff for bottles of water and then learning that they had to pay after drinking. We would expect to pay for beer or wine, and often for soft drinks like CocaCola, but paying for water was a new gotcha. The coach always had plenty of cold water bottles (of course we were not on the coach between the Petra historic area and lunch) and I made sure to keep my thermos bottle full. Some people complained but it did not do them any good. I was surprised that a few still got caught this second day after seeing the situation on the first day.

In the afternoon we left Petra on the coach and continued south via the ‘Desert Highway’ to Wadi Rum. We drove more than 100km past a lot of sandscape, but there was not much else to see on the way.

We arrived late afternoon at our hotel for the night. the Bait Ali Lodge. This consisted of a central building and a number of surrounding units both permanent structures and tents. We were housed in permanent units, but there were a large number of additional tents which might have been occupied by other groups. There was time to relax, get cleaned up from the hot dusty day's activities, and watch the desert sunset.

Dinner in the hotel courtyard was a real problem for me. It was billed as an authentic desert dinner, whatever that means. There was hardly any salad and again I would not eat the cooked foods even if they were supposedly vegetarian. By this point it had been 48 hours since I had enjoyed (at home) what I consider a proper meal. So it was time for my escape clause - Lesley had insisted on my taking a large Pot Noodle in my suitcase. As always she was right !! So I got some boiling water (and ensured I was NOT paying for it) and made my hot dinner to go with a little cold salad and whatever fruit I could find, another granola bar and my water bottle. Yum. Or maybe not fabulously 'yum' but reasonably filling and somewhat nutritious.

After dinner some of our group stayed up talking and drinking beer. Everyone agreed it was a worthwhile day, albeit we were really on in the interesting Petra district for half of it. I hung around a little while and then went to my room and slept.

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