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Fantastic Petra

JORDAN | Sunday, 1 June 2008 | Views [3193] | Comments [1]

Haha! No tourists

Haha! No tourists

Recently voted one of the seven new wonders of the world, star location for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and one of my two non-negotiable 'must see' sights on our global trip, the Nabatean city of Petra had a lot to live up to. It certainly didn't disappoint.

That first tantalising glimpse of the Treasury through the narrow Siq was everything that I had hoped for. Cut in to, rather than out from, the sheer rose coloured cliff face, the carving has survived amazingly well over the past 2,000 years. The only real damage to the Treasury has been courtesy of the local Bedouin people. Believing that there was treasure hidden behind the numerous statues and urns on the exterior of the building, they peppered them with their rifles. Despite the 'Treasury' not giving up a cent to their hail of bullets, the name stuck.

Of course the city of Petra is much more than just one building, although most tour buses of fat Spaniards and Italians fortunately didn't seem to know this. As they waddled back up the Siq to their air conditioned coaches, we had most of the place to ourselves.

At Petra the horse mafia rule the roost. They're so cunning that they hold the King to ransom and force him to include the price of their terrible horse ride into the entry price to Petra. And when the King tried to change things, they threatened to blow up Petra with dynamite... long story.

Anyhow, back to the good stuff. As well as the Treasury, on our first visit, we headed up to the High Place of Sacrifice for a bit of an overview of the site. En route we passed a Roman amphitheatre carved out of the cliff face and tombs so numerous that most of them are just referred to as a number.

The skill of the carving is just half of the beauty of Petra though.  The coloured sandstone cliffs that the buildings were carved from are equally impressive. Reds, yellows, white, browns, purples and blues. A single coloumn on the front of a tomb can seriously have a whole rainbow of colours in it. Elsewhere we saw all the tiny mulitcoloured layers in an ancient sand dune that was frozen in time, and that now forms part of a the facade of a tomb.

The next day we set out on an 'Adventure Walk' led by Sakai, one of the most intrepid travellers we've ever met (an extra large passport lasts him about two years before he runs out of pages). We started out early and headed down the old canal at the entrance to the Siq. After an hour or so of clambering over boulders, dodging snakes, spooking the local goat herds and meandering through blazes of pink oleander flowers, we arrived at an area littered with tombs that no one ever seems to get to. Unfortunately the local goat herds seem to like sleeping in these tombs, so when I went in for a closer look I came out totally covered in fleas! The colours of the sandstone on the temple of Sextinius Florentinius (what a great name eh!) were superb though.

After lunch we climbed the 783 steps up to the Monastry and were blown away all over again. While it is not as detailed as the Treasury, it is much bigger in scale and sits pride of place on its own plateau up the mountain. As if the building itself wasn't impressive enough, two of the local Bedouin men set about keeping everyone's hearts in their mouths by climbing on top of it and jumping from roof to roof 40 metres up!

After a brilliant day exploring the tombs we enjoyed a fantastic feast of traditional dishes including megluba and mezze. For a region that had a habit of serving us up a succesion of dishes that were all a bit same same, these were a tasty change.

Petra gets the double thumbs up!

PS: A brief history of Petra.

Petra florished for about two centuries during the 1st centuries BC and AD. It was one of several Nabatean cities that were important stops on the Silk Road bringing spices and silk from Asia to Europe. Petra grew rich because it controlled the local water supply, so the caravans had no choice but to stop at Petra where they were taxed for doing so. Just like Christ, the Romans were the downfall of Petra. Despite setting up in harmony with the Nabateans in Petra, they got greedy and started diverting the caravans through other routes to the north that were more profitable for them. With less caravans and less taxes, Petra declined and was virtually abandoned in the second century AD.

What remains today is mainly the necropolis of Petra (where they buried the dead). The more important the person the more impressive the tomb. The Treasury was the tomb of Petra's ruler at its peak around the time of Christ.




Hi Catherine and James,

Our feature destination this month is Jordan. We really liked your post on Petra and have shared it on our homepage.

Happy travels!

  Alicia May 1, 2012 4:53 PM

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