Day 20: Petra
Petra Travel Blog› entry 40 of 54 › view all entries
Petra is the ancient captial of the Nabataean empire, and without a doubt *the* postcard picture of Jordan. For those who never head of Petra, think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you know the final act where they find the location of the holy grail in a hidden temple, *that* is Petra.
The Nabataeans were no world conquerors, nor were they particularly good architects, so there isn't much known about them, and there isn't an awful lot left in the city in terms of buildings. On the other hand, they were very good at sculpting and even better at irrigation. They dug out rooms in the soft sandstone rock, which were mostly used as tombs, and these rooms were adorned with beautifully sculpted façades.
By using aqueducts and dame they diverted streams and floods away from the city, which has made that several of these façades are still in top condition more than 2500 years later!
Petra was forgotten for a very long time.
After a successful campaign the city has been added to the list of “New 7 Wonders of the World”
Entering the lost city is immediately the highlight of your visit. The most common way to enter the city is to walk (or ride a horse/donkey/camel), first nearly 2 kilometres along a dry riverbed, and then another 1.3 kilometres through a very narrow canyon, the 'Siq'.
Actually, it is not a canyon (created by water) but rather a crack in the mountains as a result of tectonic activity.
We did this walk at 7 in the morning, well ahead of most tour groups, and the walk was magical. As the sun was just beginning to peak over the mountains, we had the site almost all to ourselves. It was only at the Treasury that was came across a few other people.
The Treasury got its name from the legend that an Egyptian pharaoh hid his gold and treasure in this place while chasing Moses and the Israelites. The legend tells the treasure is hidden in a three metre high jar, which is placed atop the 'roof' of the façade, some 30 metres off the ground.
The downside of such a stunning entrance is that everything that follows can be somewhat disappointing. The Treasury is by far the best preserved of all façades, so all other tombs are less impressive. The 'city centre' has some nice remains of the Roman times (the Nabataean empire was a sovereign state within the Roman empire), but not a whole lot remains.
It is interesting to see how many façades have been preserved by the ingenious waterworks of the Nabataeans, which diverted the water away from their tombs, but the Roman amphitheatre located only 300 metres away has been completely worn by thousands of years of rains and floods.
In my quest to find the coolest toilets in the world, I have found another fine example in Petra: one of the tombs has been converted into a public toilet. And while it might not sound as much, it is really very delicately done. And the pink coloured rock face is certainly nice too look at while taking a dump.
We spent several hours wandering around the centre of the old city, impressed by the sheer size of this place. However, this being the desert, the sunlight is particularly harsh, and Petra is at its best in the early morning or late afternoon sun, when the pink sand stone lights up beautifully in the Golden Hour.
The midday sun however washes all the colours away from the beautiful city, making it far from ideal for photos.
We bumped into Luis who had the same idea as we did. He wanted to go back to his hotel and spend the afternoon by the pool, and then go back in the afternoon. What a splendid idea!
When we got back to the Treasury and the Siq it was clear all tour groups had arrived, including those who do a day trip from Aqaba, Eilat in Israel of even Egypt across the Red Sea. Hundreds, no thousands of Japanese, French, Dutch, Italians, Russians, Germans, Americans and who knows what other nationalities stood there looking in awe at the Treasure, which now resembled an ants nest rather than a lost temple
What a difference with this morning when we were there.
Going back to the hotel probably wasn't. After we got back to the visitor's centre, a good 5 kilometres uphill from the centre of Petra neither of us felt like doing this same walk yet another time today.
The rest of the day was spent chilling. We spent a few hours in the Internet café next to the hotel, arranging our onward trip to Wadi Rum, had some laundry done, and spent most of the afternoon just sitting at a sidewalk café watching the world go by.
In the evening we had dinner with Alessandro, a group of French girls and a German couple.