Before Indiana Jones arrived to Petra in search of the Holy Grail, the "Rose City" was first established by the Nabataeans in the 6th century BC. At its peak, the nomadic Nabataean Arabs had a vast empire stretching from present day Yemen to the Sinai Peninsula and as far north as Damascus. They built a magnificent city carved out of dusty pink rocks as well as an elaborate water system comprising of dams, cisterns, and water conduits, turning this desert city into an important trading route from the Mediterranean Sea to Arabia. The Romans annexed Petra in AD 106 as part of the province of Arabia and later the Arabs conquered the city in 636.
Petra, one of the Wonders of the World and Jordan's most popular attraction, is truly an awe-inspiring place! Pictures do not it justice; you'll have to see Petra yourself. The landscape is very similar to Mt. Sinai in Egypt with its rugged mountains, red sand, and the ubiquitous camels carrying tourists up the steep pathways. The archaeological sights in this Nabataean city are no doubt incredible!
Petra is huge; I didn’t expect it to be so huge! Allow at least two days (1/2/3 days passes for 50/55/60 JOD) to explore the main highlights of the Rose City - the Treasury, the Monastery, the Royal Tombs, and the High Place of Sacrifice - and wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking upwards of 6 to 8 hours under the blazing sun (yes sun, a dose of vitamin D for us pasty Londoners!)
The entrance to Petra is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, approximately 1 mile in length and no more than 3 meters wide, formed by the torrent in which the Nabataeans blocked with a dam in order to bring water to the city. Pretending to be 20th explorers like T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, we walked through the Siq feeling dwarfed by the towering cliffs and full of excitement for our first glimpse of the Treasury building located at the end of the Siq. This striking 40 metre temple was sheer beauty cut directly from the rock of the mountainside. It was truly breathtaking! We took a short break here to marvel at the intricate details on the Tholos and to snap a few photos of our hump-back friends.
Our plan for Day 1 in Petra was to see all the archaeological sights enroute to another impressive archeological monument: the Monastery. Immediately left after the Treasury is the Streets of Façades comprising of rows of intricately carved tombs built over four levels. Further along, the Nabataeans also built a 3,000 seat Roman-style theatre adjacent to the colonnades (Roman Cardo), the main artery leading to the City of Petra and the Great Temple. Opposite of the Roman theatre are the Royal Tombs, a collection of palatial tombs fit for kings and queens consisting of Corinthian Tomb, Urn Tomb, and the Palace Tomb carved along the pinkish sandstone mountain of El-Khubtha. The tombs are very different, though all equally impressive, from the underground tombs found in Luxor and those soaring tombs in Palmyra.
The Street of Facades:
The Royal Tombs:
From City of Petra, we were well on our way up to the Monastery. The hike involves climbing 800 carved stone steps through Wadi Musa. It is an arduous hike, but a worthwhile climb for both the Monastery and the amazing views of overlooking the stunning landscape of Petra. We visited the nearby Lion Triclinium, a keyhole monument caused by erosion along the way.
The Hike to the Monastery:
After huffing and puffing for over 90 minutes, a little reminder that we should put fitness as a goal for 2011 (in our defense we both ran mild fevers and exhaustion caught up to us), we finally made it to the top and found ourselves standing face-to-face with the imposing façade and perfectly preserved Monastery. Amazing! We wondered around and took in the view from high above before making our slow descend back to the Treasury.
View of the Monastery from above:
It was already 4pm by the time we made it to the Treasury, and according to the guidebooks, this was the best time to photograph Petra as the angle of the sun enhances the natural pink and red hues of the rocks. Snapped away we did and said goodbye to Petra until tomorrow….
After a full night’s rest, we both woke up with more energy than the previous morning. After a quick brekkie (British abbreviation for “breakfast”), we made our way to the visitors centre and once again walked through the narrow Siq into the ancient wonders of Petra.
Our goal of the day: conquer the High Place of Sacrifice on the summit of Jebal Madhbah. This sacred open-air altar was used by the Nabataeans for ritual killings of animals. There are two routes up to the High Place of Sacrifice, either starting at Qasr el-Bint or just before the Street of Façade. I recommend taking the former route as it is an easy gentle climb up and short, but a steep walk down.
To the High Place of Sacrifice:
We also took several shorter walks around Petra before making our final stroll through the Siq and taking one last glimpse of the Treasury. For now at least we have a gazillion photos and priceless memories to fondly remember our time in the magnificent city of Petra. With five Wonders of the World under our belt, we have two more to go: Chichenitza and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janiero which we will see in seven weeks time! Next up: Jerusalem.
Last glimpse of the Treasury: