Today, is an early day for the King and Queen of the 'Has-No-Might' Kingdom and we are very excited. We will see Petra in living color. The drive south takes us to Petra on the Desert Highway, the same road as the ancient Silk Road. Both sides of the road are bordered by sweeping desert vistas, basalt deposits and phosphate and potash mines.. These are mainly used for fertilizer and makes up 1/3 of Jordan's export market.
|A store along the Desert Highway|
It takes us more than three hours to get to Petra with a short rest and shopping break in between. I bought a hand painted depiction from the One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights, a collection of stories and tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age (8th -13th century AD). My husband bought a keffiyeh, the cloth headgear used by Jordanian men to protect their head and shoulders. Our guide Omar says that the red and white is identifiably Jordanian, the black and white is Libyan and became a Palestinian symbol and the all white is worn by the Bedouins and Arabs in the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia. Speaking of the Bedouins, in this region, we saw many tents and shepherds with their sheep and goats grazing. It is a scene that would have been familiar in Jesus' time. This amazes me that in many ways time does stand still.
|The painting we bought depicting stories from Arabian Nights|
We pass by the Wadi Musa area, where, it is said, Moses struck the ground with his staff and a spring emerged to quench the thirst of the Israelites on their march to The Promised Land. This is the area where our hotel is located. Omar pointed out Petra tucked below in a gorge or crevasse. We can see how it had remained hidden for a long time. Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is an abandoned city of temples and tombs cut into high cliffs of predominantly red, pink and orange sandstone. It's name is derived from the Greek word meaning 'Rock'. It was built by the Nabateans who maintained it as their trade and cultural center before and after the time of Jesus. It flourished from the caravan trade because of its strategic location along the silk trade route. Due to trade, their distinctive architectural style incorporates Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Roman styles. They were also excellent engineers installing a complex water distribution and flood abatement systems in Petra and the surrounding areas. Virtually unknown, Petra remained hidden until its rediscovery in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt. Later, lithographs of in situ paintings by David Roberts published in the 1840s sparked the imagination of the world. What we see of today's Petra is only 25% of what it was.
Before the Siq
We walked from where the van let us out to the Visitor's Center, bought tickets and then walked towards the entrance to the Siq (Bab al-Siq) where you can proceed on foot, a carriage or on a horse, included in the entrance fee.
We opted to walk since we did not want to miss out on Omar's lecture and to really take some time perusing the sites along the Siq. Our first stop was at rock tombs and three monuments called Djinn Blocks. Carved out of natural rocky outcropping of sandstone. There are several theories as to what their purpose were. The Bedouins thought they were the home of evil spirits called the Djinns, others believe they are tombs but the most supported theory is that they are placed to protect the pathway or the waterways of the Nabateans. Just to the right is the Tomb of the Serpent, its tiny entrance leads to a funerary chamber.
|Tomb of the Serpent|
Our next stop was the Obelisk Tomb. It looks like one structure but it is actually two, the row of four obelisk on top, probably of Egyptian influence are there as god images for protection, the lower structure is actually a tomb. Between the obelisks and the tomb is an opening which leads to a room (Bab el Siq Triclinium) where banquets and symposia took place to honor the dead.
|Tomb of the Obelisk|
We also saw parts of the water system the Nabateans built. This is a part of the water dam that kept water from rushing through the crevasse in the mountain and destroying Petra. the Nabateans built a sophisticated system where tunnels were dug through the rock to divert the water and not flood the city. Unfortunately, once the city was abandoned the water control system crumbled and flash floods destroyed much of Petra.
From here the path progressively slopes down and we come to the entrance of The Siq, guarded by Bedouins dressed up in period costume. There once was a monumental arch carved at the entrance. One can still see remnants of it today.
|Entrance to the Siq|
The temperature drops down a bit inside the Siq, carved out of a spectacular ravine by mostly natural forces such as earthquakes. In some areas you can actually fit one side of the ravine to another side like a jigsaw puzzle. The inner Siq is about 1 1/2 km (1 mile) long and the walls are 90 to 180 m (300 - 600 feet) high. The widest gap is about 3 meters (10 feet) from wall to wall and others are so narrow, you really need to give way to the small two passenger horse carriages as they come by.
|The Inner Siq|
|More Siq, showing the water tunnels at the bottom|
|The water tunnel system, as water walls from the rocks, it is collected in the tunnels set in the cliff walls for flood control, water distribution and use.|
|Structure with a niche and carved facial features of what is believe to be goddess Al Uzza|
|Rock outcropping that looks like a fish or an elephant depending on where you stand|
|Larger than life sculpture carved out of the rock of two tradesmen and two dromedaries. The top part is almost completely eroded.|
|Some of the dwellings of the Bedouins who used to live inside Petra until they were moved outside of Petra|
We saw this peculiar relief on the walls with three column like figures with eyes, probably depictions of Nabatean gods. This type of niche appears all over Petra; the Nabateans must have been very devoted to their gods.
We felt that the Siq was endless, until we got to a very narrow ridge where through a narrow slit, we get our first glimpse of the Treasury, the most celebrated structure in all of Petra. Dramatic!
The Treasury or El Khazneh
The charming architecture of the building and its strategic location makes for a breathtaking experience when you first set your eyes on The Treasury. The first glimpse through the slit at the end of the Siq opening keeps you in a state of great anticipation. Then the whole scene opens up, as the sun shines on the monument and the large space in front of it. After the quiet of the Siq, with just the click clack of the horse hooves breaking the muted conversations, you are welcomed to more sound coming from the number of people speaking different languages milling around and hawkers of souvenirs such a postcards and 'genuine' artifacts found at the ruins as well as the nuzzing of the camels and neighing of horses. but all this distractions can't take away from the magnificence of El Khazneh. The carving of this building started from the top to the bottom. There is a very Hellenistic influence to its architecture, which is fully restored to its former glory. The inside is inaccessible due to archaeological work being done just below the entrance. Although it was originally thought to hold the Pharaoh's treasures, hence the name, it is now believed to be a funerary temple consecrated for the worship and memory of one of the Nabatean kings, King Aretas IV.
|Top detail of the Treasury|
|Lower portion of the Treasury|
|One of the camels parked in front of the Treasury available for hire to ride around the park.|
We were given a choice by Omar to stop our trek here or come with him to the necropolis area. We were already exhausted but we decided to go with him and we were glad we did. The magnificent Treasury proved to be just the tip of the iceberg. We continued to walk downhill towards the right and entered another relatively narrow gorge. Once we exited the Old Siq, we were treated to more unbelievable architectural treasures. You actually do not know where to focus first. Here are some of the highlights
The view that greeted us as you walk out of the Old Siq, more astounding architectural treasures carved out of the rock. Way in the background are the Petra Mountains.
This is the Street of Facades. There are tall impressive tombs covered with a decorated rock face carved out of the rock.
|The more substantial tomb above belongs to Uneish , the brother of the Queen of King Aretas IV|
The Royal Tombs
|More elaborate and therefore more costly to build, these were believed to be the Royal Tombs. On top is the massive Tomb of the Urn. It is more set into the rock face than any other tomb in Petra.|
|Tomb of the Urn closeup|
|More Royal Tombs|
Demonstrating that Petra is a city for both the living and the dead, this huge theater was sculpted into the rock showing the considerable engineering prowess of the Nabateans.
Due to time constraints, we were not able to trek through the urban area or city center of Petra which is down the cliff shown in the picture below. This is where the Wadi Musa and the Wadi Mataha meet and around 30,000 people lived here during the time of the Nabateans and through the Byzantine Era. As in any typical city of its time, it has markets, temples and churches, a Cardo, Nymphaeum and theater. I can almost imagine it with a panoply of white washed low houses, with gardens. We had a glimpse of the town and the colonnaded streets the Royal Tombs area. Archaeological digs are still on-going in city center the area.
One thing we missed that I wish I had visited is The Monastery or el Deir, said to be more spectacular than the Treasury. It would have taken too much time, at least 3 hours even on a donkey. I heard it is a steep and trying climb. One really needs at least 3 days to properly explore Petra and I believe it is a place one can return to time and time again and still find it surprising and magnificent.
From the Royal Tombs, we walked back to the Visitor Center to meet up with our traveling companions. The entire site is quieter now as the tourist start to depart and the hawkers and rest stops close down. Still on our walk back, people are continuing to come into the park and it is already past 5pm. We took our time to revisit some of the sites and discovering new ones. It took us an 1 1/2 hour trek back on terrain that slopes upwards this time; even with trekking poles, my legs were really giving out. We could have taken a carriage but I wanted to savor my last minutes in Petra. Who knows if we ever get the opportunity to come back. This was a truly extraordinary and special place.
After some time for much needed refreshments at our meeting place (in our excitement we forgot to eat anything inside the park) and everyone was accounted for, we boarded our bus. Two minutes later, the bus stopped and Omar announced we are at our hotel. We could have probably gone back into Petra since we were just a stone's throw from the entrance, but we were so exhausted. All I wanted was a hot shower and to sleep. We have packing to do and an early pick-up tomorrow morning.
Leyla Saida.(Good Night)
|From the King and Queen of the 'Has-No-Mights'|