The Rock City
Petra Travel Blog› entry 10 of 36 › view all entries
And so to Petra (Rock in Greek, hence petrology), but first a quick and belated book review:
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
I was rather uncertain when approaching this book, but soon was hooked. It does exactly what it says on the tin, detailing the history of the universe and earth from a scientific viewpoint. Now I know that this may sound somewhat underwhelming, but Bryson is a funny writer with the great skill of being able to simplify the scientific mumbo-jumbo to a level understandable to all whilst maintaining the detail. Not all chapters were equally interesting, and this will much depend on your own particular interests, but I found the geological aspects fascinating. A great book to travel with as quite easy to pick up and put down at will. Recommended!
And now back to Petra (a little further south than indicated on the map). Digs at Wadi Musa (the local town) were fine at the Cleopetra (it took me a moment or two to spot the pun) and I rose early (6.30, becoming a habit) to spend a full-on day down at the ancient city. Once dropped off at the site entrance we paid our 26 Jordanian Dinar (about 20 pounds) for the two day pass. It was, once again, a fantastic day weatherwise.
On entering the site you are greeted by many Arabs on horseback - there is an equine hospital based here, supported by one in London, in order to ensure that the animals are treated well. Its quite a sight to see the Arabs in full regalia cantering down the track. A fair stroll takes you to the start of the As-Siq (canyon) made so famous by the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. This in itself is 1.2 km long and offers welcome shade (even at 8am), with terra cota water channels down either side - an impressive piece of engineering that would pale into insignificance with what was to come. The one thing that is clear is that Indi would not have been able to canter all the way down here as the surface is far too slippy and unstable for a horse to cope with at speed - something that I dare say disappoints some visitors with high expectations.
And then comes one of the most famous sights in the world, the Treasury at Petra is truely stunning, dwarfing all around with what were clearly, if now somewhat eroded, intricate and ornate carvings creating a wonderful frame. As expected, we were greeted by large numbers of hawkers at this point, the most bizarre offering being the sale of 3 rocks for 1JD. Whilst they were very pretty rocks, it was not exactly difficult to find your own if this is what floats your boat.
Construction of the site began in the 6th century BC by the Nabataeans and would continue to be added to and modified over the following centuries by the usual mix of various Arab tribes, Greeks and Romans. Not only is the architecture stunning, but the rock formations and colours also (as you may have seen in some of my photos) - it is kind of a cross between Palmyra and Cappadocia, although it is pretty unfair to compare three such magnificant places. What is a little strange is that it was not until 1812 that the site was "rediscovered" by the West. The place is immense and requires a book to describe in any semblance of detail, so a couple of highlights follow.
From the Treasury the trail takes you round past several royal tombs and a Roman Amphitheatre with stunning vistas in all directions. I was roaming the site with Nick (a very rude word in Arabic - something no-one told him for several days and he wondered why the locals were sniggering at him) and Anita. They were great fun as both had a great sense of humour. My keffiyah (see Damascus) came in most handy as the sun beat down and it was incredibly hot. Despite this we decided a couple of good climbs would be the order of the day (as well as the noted places of interest), partly to escape the crowds (who were in no real way a hindrance due to the scale of the place) and also for the views.
First we upped Jebel al'Amr in order to build up an appetite before lunch. After we had eaten we headed up to the Monastery, which is just as spectacular as the Treasury. Slightly larger, the facade is around 50 metre square, and at the top of a by no-means even 800 step climb, which made the cafe facing it a more than welcome sight. We spotted one person who had arrived up top wearing a pair of high-heel shoes, history does not record whether she walked or took a donkey (there are many for hire), but had she made it on foot hats off to her - she will still be sufferring I am sure! From here a further 20 minute walk takes you to the High Place of Sacrifice, which again affords incredible views.
We capped the day at 6pm with a couple of beers, very expensive but just about the only ones in Petra and much called for. Following an early night after some very long days I awoke to the sound of rain pouring down, itself in its own way a welcome experience, I can not recall having seen any since briefly in Olympos. This also allowed me the chance to catch up on some admin and stock some provisions, as well as plan the next leg of the "Where's Olly" tour - to Wadi Rum and the land made famous by TE Lawrence.