In the desert water is king and the Nabataeans were geniuses when it came to harnessing that precious commodity. As we entered past the visitor’s center after declining the horse ride included in admission price, we approached the Siq, a cleft between two towering mountains. Here, we got our first inkling of the cleverness of these ancients. Along both sides of this Siq they have carved channels in the stone to direct and control the flow of water down the passage.
As you begin the trek, you see many simple tombs that appear like caves with carved entries. These were the earlier Nabataean style tombs. The Obelisk Tomb is one of the first really elaborate tombs you see just before you enter the Siq. It displays traces of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman styles. The partially visible figure of a man in a cloak, probably the owner of the tomb, and four obelisks, clearly Egyptian, indicate that there were five people buried here. The tomb rises high above another carved building known as the Bab el-
As you journey down the Siq, there are niches carved in the walls of the cliff at random places. Some display early gods others are empty. Our guide told us these empty ones were for the many travelers who came to Petra to use as a temporary repository for their gods’ statures while they visited Petra. He explained that before the Romans, Petra was the main center of commerce along the spice route. Petra was only open to the highest ranking visitors. Lesser folks would camp outside. As he pointed out, camel caravans with as many as 700 or 800 camels could not fit through the narrow Siq.
About half a mile int the Siq, Mohammed led us over to examine a niche in the wall. Then he led us across and pointed out a feature on the other side of the canyon after which he told us to turn around. There it was peeping through the narrow opening at the end of the canyon. My first glimpse of the famed Treasury was a rosy segment framed by the canyon’s limestone walls. It took my breath away. We covered the remaining distance rapidly drawn by that shining beauty awaiting us at the canyon’s end.
Set into the face of the mountain, the intricate detail of the workmanship done with primitive tools by a people not long into the Iron Age shames the work of most modern carpenters and artisans who have command of the most powerful and technologically advanced tools ever produced. Carved capitals adorning perfectly round columns raise the eye to the heavens. To make this an even more unbelievable feat, these were constructed as tombs not homes.
The Treasury is the most magnificent and best preserved of the buildings thanks to its surrounding mountain walls. When you gaze at it you understand why Petra is often called The Rose Red City. The stone has a pinkish cast that makes it even more beautiful.
The Urn Tomb, perched high on the mountainside, is one of the Royal Tombs. Some archeologists believe this is the tomb of Nabataean King Malchus II who died in 70 AD. Others think it is the tomb of King Aretas IV. No matter who is the resident, the structure is magnificent not only for its elaborate design but its sheer size.
The Romans left their mark in the city. The amphitheater was originally constructed by the Naboteans but later Romanized to fit their needs. Roman structures built of limestone rather than carved into the rock did not withstand erosion and earthquakes as well as the Nabataeans’ but there are still remnants of the Great Temple and other buildings.
By this point you will have walked about two miles. Petra has over 800 monuments, spread out over 102 square miles. And this is only what is already excavated. Our guide told us there is so much more that is still buried and will one day reveal more mysteries. The scale of the buildings is immense.
It feels like a city built for giants. Petra offers a nighttime candlelit walk but you will see so much more by day. My advice, skip the night walk and spend at least two days exploring Petra. Do wear good sturdy walking shoes as the old roman roads and sand surface are rugged especially if you plan to climb to any of the higher tombs.
You will pass several snack shops and lots of stalls and roaming venders most selling silvery bracelets selling at best for four for a dinar. Just past the Great Temple, we arrived at a full service restaurant, The Basin. After the long walk, we were ready for refreshments. The buffet is good, filled with typical Jordanian dishes. They serve a variety of soft drinks and several kinds of beer. You will not leave here hungry.
After lunch, we were on our own. Some of the younger more ambitious people chose the 850 steps up the mountainside to the Monastery. A good choice if you have the energy. I didn’t so I ambled back through Petra taking in all the details I had missed at first pass. Also a good choice as I noted a lot I had missed. Like a tiny blue headed lizard sunning on a rock, some of the birds that seem to make Petra home, and lots of detail in the carvings.
By the time I reached the Treasury, I was ready for a cold drink at the refreshment/souvenir shop located there. There is a large square in front of the Treasury where a lot is going on. Those who choose to ride the donkeys or horse carts are coming and going here. I sat and contemplated the amount of labor that went into carving the Treasury, watched the visitors ride the camels and noted a few of the cats you find everywhere in Jordan. They seemed quite at home in the little shop and among the ancient ruins. It made me wonder if they were direct descendants of cats that might have helped keep the ancient Nabataean city rodent free over 2000 years ago.
I was happy to return to my lodging, the 5-
Petra should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is a place you will never forget and cannot fully visualize until you see the real thing.