Jordan (part III) – Petra

Camels in front of the Treasury
Camels in front of the Treasury

Although much has been written about Petra, nothing really prepares you. It does need to be seen to be believed!

Day 4

On the last day of the year, we visited Petra, one of the 7 World Wonders. This was by far the highlight of our trip!

But before I get started, let me tell you a bit of history about this place.

This landmark is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and the greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2,000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city in the 4th century AD. The earthquake combined with changes in trade routes, eventually led to the downfall of the city, which was ultimately abandoned. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appears to have been largely deserted and it was then lost to all except local Bedouins from the area. In 1812, a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt set out to ‘rediscover’ Petra. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city.

We started our visit early on at the Visitor Center. Our first stop was ‘Bab Al Siq’ (gateway to the ‘siq’).  Three massive squared monuments carved out of the rock (called ‘Djinn’) will welcome you.  We then came across the Obelisk Tomb, which was carved by the Nabataeans in the 1st century AD. Above the tomb are four pyramids (‘nafesh’) as well as a niche with a statue in bas-relief that is a symbolic representation of the five people buried there. Below it is the Triclinium, which was a banqueting hall. In the opposing cliff face there is a double inscription in Nabataean and Greek that refers to a burial monument.

We then arrived to the Siq itself. This was the ancient main entrance leading to the city of Petra, which starts at the Dam and ends at the famous Treasury.  The Siq is almost 1 km long. This surreal (but natural)  rock formation was carved by the Nabataeans in some places and was once decorated with sculptures. Before entering the Siq, the original Nabataean dams are still visible. Those prevented the flooding of that area and collected water for various uses. On both sides of the Siq, there are channels to draw water from Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses), from outside the city to the inside. It was amazing to look up to those beautiful rocks along the narrow Siq!

 

The surreal Siq opens up to Petra’s most magnificent façade: the famous Treasury (Al Khazneh). No matter how many times you’ve seen pictures of this site, it will still amaze you! The Treasury is almost 40 meters high and is profusely decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. The Treasury is crowned by a funerary urn while the purpose of the monument is unclear.

Following the sight of the wonderful Treasury, we walked to the Street of Facades. This is a row of monumental Nabataean tombs carved in the southern cliff where the Siq begins to widen gradually as it reaches into an open area. Right after, we admired the Theater from above. Carved into the side of the mountain at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice, this theater could once accommodate 4000 spectators.

Walking above the Siq we discovered the Royal Tombs. This includes a group of four tombs (the Urn, the Silk, the Corinthian and the Palace Tomb) next to one another.
We came down back to the Siq to keep exploring Petra,  also known as the rose-red city because of the wonderful colour of the rock from which many of the city’s structures were carved. We hit the Colonnaded Street. This is believed to have been one of the principal shopping streets of ancient Petra. At the end of the road lies the triple gate, which leads to the Temple of Qasr Al-Bint. To the left of the Colonnaded Street lies the Great Temple, which represents one of the major archaeological and architectural components of central Petra. It was in use until some point in the late Byzantine Period.
By this time, we had already been walking for the whole day. What we didn’t realize was how far was our last stop: the Monastery (Ad-Deir). It took us forever to get there, or so it seemed because we were really tired, but it was worth it! The Monastery is one of the largest monuments in Petra, measuring almost 50m high. It was built on the model of the Treasury and was used for the meetings of religious associations.
After finally getting to the Monastery, we had to come back. We were so exhausted that we hired a camel ride at the Great Temple. They dropped us at the Treasury and we had to walk back that last bit.

We were happy but exhausted after this marvelous day. We almost dropped from the New Year’s Eve dinner and party but we finally didn’t. Thank God we enjoyed that last night of the year because it was worth it: we were treated to Arabic dances and it was really fun!

Hope you had a great New Year’s Eve! After celebrating, we were ready for new adventures in Jordan. Coming up next: the desert of Wadi Rum, the coastal city of Aqaba, Aljun castle and the ruins of Umm Qays and Jerash.

Trip details

Accommodation: Petra Marriott Hotel. We loved the views from the terrace. We spent here the dinner and party for New Year’s Eve.

Information: In order to preserve the area, all tourists’ facilities have been located in the town of Wadi Musa, next to the entrance of Petra. This website hosts a lot of information about the site, including helpful maps.

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