Doing It Indiana Jones Style

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Middle East » Jordan » South » Petra
September 5th 2009
Published: September 13th 2009
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 Video Playlist:

1: The Suspense Is Killing Me 60 secs

To The Valley Of The Crescent Moon

So today’s the day!!! Excited before even leaving the hotel, spirits were dampened by the ever present greed of consumerism that is so common in developing countries. What do I mean… getting off the bus, the first thing you see as you head to the ticket office are the usual touristy stalls trying to sell you everything from “authentic” souvenirs to the clothes and books. What really is disappointing is that the first stall you see is called The Last Crusade Souvenir Shop. It seems everyone will jump on a bandwagon just to make a buck.

Unperturbed, we wind our way down a ravine, seeing tombs all around that are family tombs, decorated in a multitude of styles from giant, solid cubes to simple holes in the cliff face, and some with columns or facades. In some cases, above the tombs is inscribed the names and dates of the deceased, written in both ancient Greek and Aramaic (the language spoken at the time of Christ). What we find is that the tourist route into the ancient city of Petra was originally made because of the Wow factor associated with the gradual increase of sites and culminating in the Siq opening out to the Treasury. This route was opened for the experience given to the people in authority to create a sense of wonder rather than what it’s real use was. The original inhabitants didn’t use this route as an entrance or exit from the city at all. In actual fact, what we now walk through is the Necropolis, the city of the dead, and the funeral path from the actual city.

Reaching the start of the Siq, the first evidence of both the ingenuity of the occupants and the fact that they were conquered by the Romans becomes visible. A dam built to stop the flash flooding of the ravine and a tunnel dug through a mountain to release the trapped water into another gorge made the Necropolis safer and directly above the dam, where the Siq narrows to only a few metres wide, the remains of a Roman arch exist. Down the left side of the cliff face at hip height runs a channel for the catchment of water washing down from above, and has been traced over five kilometres back into the mountains to a fresh water spring, transporting water into the city, with a gentle wave motion to regulate the flow of the water and to help remove impurities as it gains speed and slows down again. Slowly the ravine gets deeper and small shrines appear to the ancient gods, not in the form of humans or animals, but in squared off stone. It wasn’t until the city became a major trade route that outside influences began to take their toll and faces slowly appeared on the stones.

Deeper and deeper, further and further down the Siq, an ancient Roman road is revealed beneath your feet and another channel appears on the right side of the cliff. This channel was from a spring over 70 kilometres away to the South and used clay piping to shelter the water from debris and evaporation. Told you they were ingenious!!!

Rounding the final corner, you enter the narrowest part of the Siq, a mere two metres wide, which twists back and forwards slightly creating the illusion that it’s even narrower still. Stretching for about 60 metres, the anticipation builds knowing that on the other side is the most famous landmark in Jordan. Opening out of the Siq, The Treasury is bathed in the morning light that has just made it over the rim of the canyon. Glowing pink from the oxides in the sandstone, it’s easy to see how the term The Pink City was coined. Carved from the solid cliff face, it is set back a little to protect it from the elements such as water coming down from above and because of this it is the best preserved building in the archaeological area. Unsure of it’s original use (as no remains have been found in any of the tombs in the area), it is thought to be either a kings tomb or a place of worship due to it’s position at the end of the Siq and the details carved into it’s façade. From eagles representing power to sphinxes and the god Ra tying into their close dealings with the Egyptians to a huge urn crowning the top, the building is a mix of ancient Greek and Egyptian architecture and truly a wonder to behold. Unfortunately, there are bullet holes riddling the top, as when it was rediscovered in 1824, people thought that it must have been a tomb and because of it’s size and appearance, of a king. Finding nothing inside but empty rooms, they thought that the urn on the top must contain the riches and so shot at it to try and get them out. Small minded individuals the lot of them if you ask me. The real treasure is the building itself and the lasting legacy it leaves from a forgotten people.

As previously mentioned, the inside of the Treasury was found empty and is simplistic in design. With only three rooms coming off the main chamber, the structure doesn’t go deeper than about 15 metres into the cliff (sorry, no passage to the holy grail and no alien key like in Transformers 2 either), lending to the theory of it being a regal tomb. Out the front of the building though, and about six feet under ground, there has been discovered a whole plaza surrounded by further tombs, but this remains unexcavated due to the damage that would be caused by the elements and the millions of people that walk through here every year.

Now I knew about the Treasury and that there were a few tombs in Petra, what I didn’t know was the extent of the city. Down through another ravine, the Necropolis continues, now with more of a Syrian influence to the facades, with steps leading up from the tops giving passage to the afterlife. The left side has been found to be the resting places for commoners where as on the right the structures are grand and detailed, following the curve of the cliff. Further still and the Necropolis comes to an end ad the remains of the city begin. Although little is left now except what looks like giant Lego scattered everywhere, what is known is that when the Romans conquered Petra, it was given a make over with temples, an amphitheatre and colonnades surrounded by markets. During the time of the Crusades, two forts were built on the top of the mountains to protect the area from invaders from the North and South. Since then it lay unknown but to the locals until rediscovered in 1824.

Once again there was another mountain to climb… this one with 850 steps to the rim of the gorge. The reward… The Monastery!!! Another beautifully carved building and the largest in the area measuring 40 metres wide and 37.5 metres high. This one is set out from the cliff face but was carved in the same way as the Treasury, from a single, solid face. Unique to this one though is that the cliff face wasn’t big enough for the top left corner of the structure and so blocks were used to finish the design off. Climb a little further and you reach the rim of the ravine overlooking Wadi Araba, the great valley that stretches from the Red Sea in the South, all the way up and into Syria in the North, and creates the natural borderland between Jordan and Israel and the Palestine States. One hell of a vista!!!

Leaving the way you come in, I can’t help but think…

Did it live up to the expectation??

Most Definitely!!!!

“The earth belongs to anyone who stops for a moment, gazes and goes on his way." - Colette

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