Petra

Petra Travel Blog

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The Treasury from above

How could I possibly describe my experience in Petra?  This ancient city, for some, is the primary reason to visit Jordan. To those people I say "What a bunch of tourists!" Yes Petra is breathtaking in so many ways, but nothing compared to getting immersed in the culture in Amman.  The main sights in Petra unfortunately are crawling with tourists, many of them dressed as if coming to a museum.  Therein lies a great advantage, therefore, for the young and adventurous because the actual beauty of Petra lies in the hiking routes and the trails not typically accessed by the older and more feeble crowds that stand gawking and open jawed in front of the glorious treasury at the end of the opening walkway.

The narrowing canyon walls in the entrance to the city
 

In the summertime, Petra is very hot so you will need a lot of water and since, as I have hinted, Petra is more a place for hiking than an outdoor museum (it's definitely that too), I would advise bringing a camelpack, boots and a head scarf.

The entrance to the city is a sinuous decent with narrowing canyon walls.  Geographically, there are no other easily accessible routes to the city center which proved to visitors in the ancient world that Petra was impregnable to even a powerful army. To understand Petra and the Nabataeans one must first understand the strategic location of this ancient capital along the caravan routes coming up from Yemen and also from the east across the desert to Egypt and north to Jerusalem and Damascus.

Nabataean style columns
  A social system completely based on trade, the Nabataeans became rich when the caravans increased in number in the first few centuries BC. Their empire stretched from the Euphrates to the Red Sea.  With such wealth they built immense tombs, temples and fountains in and around Petra. 

Petra has its own style of sculpture and architecture. It is a blend of the Semitic cultures of the region.  Travelers who have visited Greece will be pleasantly surprised to see columns with wholly unique tops unrelated to Ionic and Corinthian styles. Nabataean style is very sharp looking edges many times with carvings of eagles.  The blend of cultures has influenced the burial tombs with Assyrian/Babylonian looking stairs in a V shape atop the tomb entrances.  Petra is literally paved with Nabatean pottery.

From the ascent to the High Place of Sacrifice
Simply walking along the pathways away from the city center you will surely find scraps of pottery strewn out all over the rocks.  Some pieces are even painted or contain handles and ridges.  I had the advantage of hiking with an archeology major married to an archeologist at Petra so I learned a ton about the ancient culture.  Much of the Nabataean way of life is unknown to modern scholars.  Their religion seems to be very strange and their lifestyle unclear. There is so much more to be uncovered at Petra.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the city of Petra is not the monstrous buildings carved into the rock walls but rather the complex network of water carrying troughs that slice through canyon walls.

Finished my first climb
  Many times I found myself hiking in an area I believed no human could live near when I spotted a little aqueduct in a rock wall coming from a high place where water was collected and leading to a little niche where a community probably once lived. There is a main waterway with various dams strategically blocking flushing routes for the purpose of collecting water during the wet season for the entire community.  It’s hard to believe that there ever was a wet season if you come to Petra in the summertime.  This process of funneling water has led to the biggest tragedy in the history of Petra besides the earthquakes that destroyed many of the cities monuments. All of the rock in Petra is sandstone (duh, it’s in the desert) and thus the yearly process of draining and collecting has slowly worn away many of the city’s fountains, carvings and staircases.  Because the city was never really conquered (it just faded out of use by the middle ages) it might still look as splendid as it did in 100AD if it were not for water erosion.
The lion fountain

What you do in Petra is go on various climbs or hikes.  My three favorites are the Monastery, the High Place of Sacrifice and the Treasury Overlook.  The first one is quite traveled, the second moderately and the third is rarely attempted but by far the most interesting.  The Monastery climb is mandatory because the sight of the monastery standing almost freely away from the mountain and much larger than the treasury.  By the way, the Treasury and the Monastery are misnomers as neither was used by the Nabataeans as the names imply.  After gawking at the monastery you can walk around to the scenic overlook of Jebel Haroun and the Jordan Valley.  This is possibly the highest place in Petra to dangle your feet from, but you might get queasy from the height.

Colorful sandstone formations
  On the backside descent from the High Place of Sacrifice is my favorite rock carving in Petra. It is a fountain made from the water collection troughs that is carved out of the rock wall into the shape of a magnificent Lion.  Unfortunately all of the lion’s head has been eroded away by the very water that would in ancient times drip from his gaping jaws.  Finally, the Treasury overlook climb is one rarely travelled but well worth the extra hours and half liter of sweat.  It ends with a wonderful view of the Treasury but in order to reach that great view you have to leave the path and get a little dirty climbing over boulders while moderately close to a cliff edge. It’s really not so bad as long as you’re not 5’ tall like our friend Elena.  We waited there for at least 20min starring down at the tourists who were too busy eying the immense treasury façade to notice the people hanging from the cliffs behind them.
Colorful painted pottery

That was the last thing we did in Petra and boy was it worth the extra 4 hours.  Petra is a place I could come back to over and over again.  In fact, Elena and her husband keep finding new treks to make and admit that “Petra never gets old.”

cmgervais says:
Great blog.
Posted on: Aug 11, 2008
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The Treasury from above
The Treasury from above
The narrowing canyon walls in the …
The narrowing canyon walls in the…
Nabataean style columns
Nabataean style columns
From the ascent to the High Place …
From the ascent to the High Place…
Finished my first climb
Finished my first climb
The lion fountain
The lion fountain
Colorful sandstone formations
Colorful sandstone formations
Colorful painted pottery
Colorful painted pottery
Petra is paved with ancient pottery
Petra is paved with ancient pottery
Yes, it can be pretty steep
Yes, it can be pretty steep
These cats chased after us down a …
These cats chased after us down a…
View of the Jordan Valley and a vo…
View of the Jordan Valley and a v…
gulp........
gulp........
The strange rock cubes at the entr…
The strange rock cubes at the ent…
Why people come to Jordan...
Why people come to Jordan...
The Monastery from afar
The Monastery from afar
The city center and amphitheater
The city center and amphitheater
Tombs and hovels dot the mountains…
Tombs and hovels dot the mountain…
hiking hiking hiking
hiking hiking hiking
Petra
photo by: vances