– AUGUST 21-22, 2015
Words can hardly do justice to the true magnificence that is Petra. Some archaeologists have ranked Petra as the eighth wonder of the world, which is as truly justifiable claim. Petra is unique in every respect, having something to offer to people from any walk of life or profession. This remote dead city is one of the great archeological treasures in the world and is easily the most important attraction in Jordan. Much of Petra’s appeal comes from the multi-coloured sandstone mountains within the secluded site of steep rocky slopes, towering craggy mountain tops and high cliffs, into which most of the celebrated tombs, façades, theatres, and stairways are carved into the stone. Nature and architecture concur into conferring a mythical aura to the site.
We knew the temperatures here would quickly reach 35 degrees and higher, so we made the decision to get up early and be at the entrance gate right at the 6:00am opening time. This was a very wise decision indeed, as the heat hit 30 degrees at 11am and quickly climbed higher until mid-day, but we were able to walk through Petra in for 5 hours in the 22 degrees to 29 degrees range. The other advantage of this early start was that only six other people were at the gate, so we got pretty much got all of our pictures with no people in them (as opposed to the people who arrive after 9am and get a million people jammed in their pictures). This 6am start time also is too early for the touts (scammers) who hound you to buy everything you never even knew you needed to buy. Its so nice walking through the amazing sights without being bothered by the pressure tactics from the touts who won’t take “no” for an answer.
A beautiful monument and a perfect example of the artistic intermarriage of styles between East and West. The obelisk is obviously an Egyptian influence; the niche between the obelisks is a Graeco-Roman influence. The four obelisks (small pyramids) and the niche symbolize the five people buried there.
Below the obelisks is the triclinium. This is a chamber with three benches, the purpose of which was to act as a banquet hall for the calibration of the sacred feasts, which took place every year in honour of the dead.
On the opposing cliff face there is a double inscription in Nabataean and Greek that refers to a burial monument. Written by Abdomanchos, it indicates that the tomb was to be used for himself and his family in the reign of Malichus II.
Next comes the Siq, a natural sandstone narrow gorge that gently winds towards the ancient city of Petra for just over 2km until it opens on to the magnificent Treasury. A triumphal arch once spanned the entrance to the Siq, but this collapsed in 1895. Two water channels run along both rock slides. The Siq holds many relics from Petra’s past, including a paved road, Sabinos Alexendros Station and Nabataean baetyls (sacred stones).
The Paved Road in the Siq was originally constructed by the Nabataeans, possibly towards the end of the first century BC. The paving, as much as the baetyls, reflects the formal, and possibly ritual use, of the Siq as an entrance to the city. Limestone was used for the paving and portions of that road still exist today (in the pic below).
Al-Khazna (The Treasury, 60BC-50BC) is the most spectacular monument carved by the Nabataeans. It stands an imposing 39.5m high and is impressively carved out if a single block. The monument name comes from a local Bedouin legend that the pharaoh hid a treasure in the urn at the top, and you can actually see bullet holes from people shooting at the urn to try to retrieve this treasure.
In reality it is a mausoleum and would have been used for funerary purposes; many archaeologists believe it is the mausoleum of King Aretas IV. The Nabataeans decorated the facades of their tombs with funerary designs and symbols related to the afterlife and death.
The façade of the Treasury reveals a Hellenistic influence, with six Corinthian capitals topped by a frieze of winged griffins and vases among scrolls. In the center of the façade is the goddess Isis, and she is surrounded by dancing Amazons (female warriors) with axes over their heads.
Priests would enter the chamber and conduct their rituals. In 2004, three Nabataeans tombs were uncovered below the Khazna, which date to the end of the first century BC and have been identified as royal tombs.
The Street of Façades is the name given to the row of monumental Nabataean tombs carved in the southern cliff face that lies past the Treasury and adjacent to the outer Siq. The façades are crowned with corner crow-steps, pilasters and cavbettos. Some have upper caves used to store the tools of the workers who built them.
The Theatre was carved into the side of the mountain at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice. The theatre consists of three rows of seats separated by passageways. Seven stairways ascend the auditorium and it can accommodate 4,000 spectators. The back wall of the stage was rebuilt by the Romans. This is the only theatre in the world carved into the rock.
The Royal Tombs is the name given to the four magnificent façades adjacent to each other on the east side at the end of the main path through the middle of the city.
The Byzantine Church was probably built around the end of the 5th century AD and destroyed by a fire and an earthquake in the following century. Much of the building material such as the capitals, door jambs, and wall reliefs were re-used from earlier monuments in Petra. The quality of the floor mosaics, which pave both side aisles and are well preserved, attest to the church’s significance.
A beautiful colonnaded street, which led through the city centre, flanked by temples, public buildings and shops. A nymphaeum once adorned the street and the marble pavement is still visible today.
The Great Temple Complex represents one of the major archaeological and architectural monuments of central Petra. It is estimated to cover an area of 7,000 sm, including the north and south areas of the monumental entryway (the holy enclosure) and the upper temenos (the sacred enclosure for the temple itself).
Walking Petra is a long experience, so if you start off during the heat of the day you can always rent a camel to carry you though the sights. We didn’t rent one, as we walked through in the cooler morning hours, but they were very friendly. Camels only need to drink their fill of water once per week (it stored the water in the hump) and then they are good to work for the next seven days. Very valuable animals in the desert for sure.
The monument named Qasr al-Bint is almost square and is set on a podium. It was the main and most important temple of Petra, dedicated to Dushara. It still stands 23m high today. The temple is approached by a flight of 26 marble steps. The rear of the sanctuary is occupied by three distinct elements; the middle one protects the altar platform that housed gods and goddesses and the two others had balcony terraces. The temple dates to the 1st century AD.
The end of the flat walk and the beginning of the 800 stair climb to the Monastery starts here.
A flight of 800 stairs cut into the rock takes you up the mountain to view some amazing scenic views (as seen in the earlier pics). When you reach the top of this climb you turn a corner and see Petra’s second most famed attraction in the Monastery.
The Monastery (Ad-Deir) is one of the largest monuments in Petra which measures 47m wide by 48.3m high. The interior is occupied by two side benches and an altar against the rear wall. This space was used as a biclinium for the meetings of religious associations. The Monastery dates to the early 2nd century AD, during the reign of King Rabel II. The crosses were carved into the rear wall, which is how the structure got its name.
Room No 468 is the name of the room on a hill opposite to the Monastery. In the rear wall of the chamber is an idol niche, which is one of the most finely-carved examples in Petra. The niche is surmounted by a pediment and framed by double pilasters.
In the evening (from 8:30pm-10:30pm) you can buy new tickets to see the event called “Petra By Night“. They place sand in the bottom of a brown paper bag and then light a candle in the center of the bag (supported by the sand base). They light the path from the ticket office to the Treasury, which takes you through the Siq. See the pictures below of this cool experience.
The next day we took a short 4km drive to see “Little Petra“. Its an area where the ancient workers did the same carving out of stone mountains to create tombs and living spaces. Its just on a much, much smaller scale…and its free to enter.
Petra was an overall amazing experience. If you come this way then ensure you go early to avoid the hassles of the touts. On our way back in the afternoon at Petra we came across three young Jordanian men surrounding two English Caucasian women who were asking the men to leave them alone. The men were hitting on them, telling them they would take them around to see the sights and to hang out. The women were clearly unhappy with the situation, so I went up them and asked them if they needed help. This instantly upset the three men, who turned their attention on me and started yelling at me that the women didn’t need any help and they were in good hands. While these idiots yelled at me, the two women got away into the park and yelled a “Thank You” back at me for helping them out.
Jill and I turned away and walked off on our intended path to exit the park. The men kept yelling that we “didn’t understand how things work here and its their territory”…I just laughed and walked away. The funny thing is they didn’t even realise that their “targets” walked off and left them with nothing. The young men in Jordan seem to think that staring at women and yelling at them is the way to their hearts…think 50 times worse than the jokes of workers on construction sites cat-calling the women who walk by.
You don’t feel unsafe, just uncomfortable. There are plenty of very good people in Petra and they honestly want to help you with any questions you have. The young men are ones to avoid, but the older people are just beautiful people.
Jordan is a place to visit…and Petra needs to be on everyone’s must-see list.
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.