Trip Start Mar 11, 2009
Trip End Jan 05, 2010

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Flag of Jordan  ,
Sunday, December 20, 2009

The words of Dean Burgon's famous poem: "Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime / A rose-red city half as old as time....." reflects some truth about Petra.  Yet words can hardly do justice to the true magnifience that is Petra.  A truly justifiable claim by some archaeologists is to rank Petra as the eighth wonder of the ancient world.

This remote dead city is one of the great archaeological treasures in the world, undoubtedly it is the most important famous attraction of Jordan - if you only have time for one place in Jordan, make it Petra!  A dream come for me.  Much of Petra's appeal comes from its awesome, multicoloured sandstone high mountains; it is a secluded site of steep rocky slopes towering craggy mountain tops and high cliffs, into which most of the celebrated tombs, facades, theatres and stairways are carved...Nature and architecture concur into conferring a mythical aura to the site.

Hewn from towering rock walls, the imposing facades of the great temples and tombs of Petra are an enduring testament to the grandeur of the Nabataean vision.  The Nabataeans - Arabs who controlled the frankincense trade routes of the region in pre-Roman times - chose as their city a hidden valley concealed from the outside world and transformed it into one of the Middle East's most memorable sites.

There are three different prices for entry into Petra, these are determined by how long (in days) you wish to visit the site.  The prices are: 21/26/31 JD for a one/two/three day entry.  We are only here for one day, which is unfortunate for us as Petra really need at least two days to do it justice.

From the visitors centre you follow a footpath to the entrace way of Petra.  On the way on the right hand side is the Djinn Blocks, which are a form of tombs.  Opposite these you see an Obelisk Tomb and Bab As-Siq Triclinium.  A beautiful monument and an example of the artistic intermarriage of styles between East and West.  The obelisk is of Egyptian influence; the niche between the obelisks is a Graeco-Roman influence.  The triclinium is a chamber with three benches, the purpose of which, being Nabataean, was the celebration of the sacred feasts, which took place every year in honour of the dead.

Walking further down you reach the ancient main entrance to Petra, As-Siq.  It's an impressive 1.2km long, deep and narrow gorge of stunning natural beauty.  The Siq is hemmed in by cliffs soaring up to 80m.  This is not a canyon but rather one block that has been rent apart by tetonic forces.  Walking through here you start to lose sense of time as you gaze up the walls at bizarre-looking geological formations or, closer to ground level, the water channels dug into the cliffs.

When I started to think that the Siq would never end, I was expecting around every corner that famous first glimpse of the site - it did and I got to see Petra's most impressive sight.  Al-Khazneh (Treasury), the pride and joy of Petra and supposedly the most beautiful monument in here.  Think of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade just when he appears in front of this sight.  The architectural style of it was quite unique in the ancient world.  The main inspiration was Hellenistic, Alexandrian Hellenistic, plus the unique encompassing Nabataean artistic touch.  I felt dwarfed by the huge size of the facade (30m wide by 43m high).  It is truly breathtaking, so much so that I don't think there is enough descriptive prose to do it justice, and it would be better-experienced first-hand.  It was carved out of iron-laden sandstone in the 1st century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataean king, it may have been used later on as a temple.  Approaching the doorway it comes as a surpries to find that the room does not extend that far into the rock, approx. 10m I think (the scale is hard to say due to the size of the facade).  Two entrances have been discovered beneath the main level, believed to have been added later on.  The Treasury gets its name from the misguided local belief that an Egyptian Pharaoh hid his treasure in the top urn.

Moving around the outer Siq brings you into the Street of Facades, rows of Nabataean tombs with intricate carvings.  Now there is a choice of two ways to go: deeper into the site past the theatre or climb the steps to the High Place of Sacrifice.  As it was early morning Lene and I decided on the second option so we could get it out of the way before the midday sun.  A hard but enjoyable climb up stairs cut into the rock to the top brings the spectacular view of Petra down below.  The High Place was the venue for important religious ceremonies honouring Nabataean gods and it may have been used for funeral rites.

Heading back down the mountain, via a different route, past the two Obelisks and the Lion Monument brings you to some more tombs.  The Garden Temple Complex, Triclinium and the Roman Soldier's Tomb are all interesting to look at, both inside and out.  The Soldier's Tomb has been altered since it was first created by the Romans, hence the name.  There are more tombs continuing around the cliffs, some have interesting entrances (one looks like 2 eyes and a mouth).  We then couldn't spot the footpath easily and we tried to head to the Columbarium, but ended up at Qasr al-Bint.

Qasr al-Bint was probably the main temple of the Nabataean capital, it is the only free-standing building in Petra to have survived centuries of earthquakes and floods.  We decided to break the tour here for lunch, and the two restaurants here were offering buffet lunches: one at JD17 and one at JD10 ($15) - suffice to say we chose the cheaper option.

After lunch we opted for a donkey ride to Ad-Deir (Monastry) for JD7, this was great fun.  Our donkeys liked to race each other whenever Lene's one wasn't at the front.  It was an exerience and although slightly expensive at $10 for about 20mins it was well worth it by the smiles on our faces.  The ride didn't take us all the way to the top so we finished climbing the last of the 800 stairs that are cut into the rock of the mountain of Ad-Deir.  There are some amazing mountain scenes on the way up as well.  At the top is Petra's second most famous attraction....Ad-Deir.  It is huge in size and yet beautifully stunning.  The overall design resembles that of the Khazneh, but the architecture is simplified.  It is either a tomb, temple or both - the Deir used to be an important pilgrimage site.  The nearby cliff-tops offer some stunning views.  We walked to "The End of the World" and upon getting there we could look down into a Rift Valley.  Standing beside a tent, which is situated at "In the End of the World", you could buy some souvenirs or appreciate the views.  There are at least five other places offering similiar or slightly different views.  We walked all the way back down, you can only take the donkeys on the way up.

Back down at Qasr al-Bint we followed the main path along the Colonnaded Street, passing through the Temenos Gate.  The Colonnaded Street, which led through the city centre, was flanked by temples, public buildings and shops.  The marble pavement is still visible today.  We decided to head for the exit as it was getting late and we were feeling tired.  Walked past the rubble of the Nymphaeum and looked from a distance at the Royal Tombs.  From North to South: Sextius Florentinus Tomb; Palace Tomb; Corinthian Tomb; Silk Tomb; and Urn Tomb.  The largest of the Royal Tombs is the Urn Tomb, that has an immense courtyard - the dimensions are 17 x 18.9m.

Our last stop was the Theatre, which looks Roman but was built by the Nabataeans in the 1st century AD, as the shadow of the Roman influence hung over the Near East.  It is carved into solid rock except towards the front on either side, where part of it was built freestanding.  Initially it could seat 3000 people, but was later extended to finally hold about 7000 people.

I found today to be an absolutely amazing day, especially seeing Al-Khazneh after meandering my way through the Siq and Ad-Deir high up on the mountain.  I would've loved a second day in here to explore more, mainly the Royal Tombs and perhaps climbing up a mountain to get a view overlooking Al-Khazneh.
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