- I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Petra, the Jewel of Jordan.
Travel Date 24th March 2008.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
As I mentioned earlier, Jordan was a serendipitous inclusion on my itinerary. It was a fortunate accident where the coincidental addition of Royal Jordanian Airlines to the One-World group met my need for a way to fly from Delhi to Cairo without having to go the long way around via London.
I decided to add a few days in Jordan after rearranging the itinerary. In hindsight I am so glad I did. Unfortunately, after I had done that, I found that some bright spark had held a competition on the world wide web to list the greatest surviving wonders of the Ancient World and Petra was on the new list. Suddenly all the prices went up and so did the crowds. Ah, well, everything has a price.
Jordan was expensive and seemed even more so when arriving from India. I think three nights in Jordan cost me more than double my week in India. But it was worth it. In planning the trip I used several web-sites, but this one was the most useful: http://www.go2petra.com/
We arrived late in the day in Wadi Musa after wandering down the King's Highway. I had booked the Crowne Plaza via Agoda. At the time of booking I thought US$139 for the night was a bit steep. However, on arrival I found that to be very reasonable when compared with the alternatives. The hotel was first-class and could not have been closer to the entrance to the ruins. If you decide to book it, be aware that the lowest two floors use stairs with no lift but they are closest to the old caves. In the hotel room I found a complimentary pack which included, among other things, a water bottle and a cap for the next day's outing. It's a nice touch; I had chosen the right time of year but even in late March it is a hot, dusty place.
I ate at an acceptable restaurant “downtown” (or tourist central) which was a pleasant walk of a few hundred meters from the hotel. I needed to transfer a full XD camera card to disc; that turned out to be very expensive indeed at about $8 per disc.
The next morning I started out bright and early to see Petra.
There are many myths about Petra, some with a basis in fact, most not. Partly for that reason I won't attach labels to the pictures because there is still argument about the appropriate names and whether they are tombs, living areas, treasuries or palaces. I'm just fascinated by their age, architecture (is it still architecture if it's carved out of the rock?) and design.
Each section is interesting. The ancient site starts with the Siq. This is a long winding path, about 1200m or 3/4 mile long, naturally slashed through a ragged cleft in the surrounding sandstone mountains
When in the Siq it is easy to see what a great defensive entrance it was for the ancient Nabateans. The Siq is a natural geological formation resulting from the frequent earthquake activity in the region for millennia. The Nabateans cunningly used it for a defensive entry and also to be part of their hydraulic and plumbing system to divert every drop of water that fell near the city to supply their needs. Notice the channel on the left in the last photo of that set and the detail in this photo.
The shape of the Siq and the hydraulic system may be the reason for one of the myths or legends. People from the mists of time believed this was where Moses struck the rock to secure water for his wandering people after the flight from Egypt (see Exodus 17:6 or Numbers 20:8). Thus the Jordanian town which now services the Petra tourism industry is Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses. Apparently the valley was named by Baldwin, the Crusader King.
After the Siq you come quite suddenly on the opening to Petra itself; see the photo at the top of the page. That is the astonishing first glimpse of Petra as seen by every arriving traveller for the past two millennia. The scene was made famous more recently in the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
Petra has not always been just the remains we see now, carved out of the rock. In the past there were also many free standing buildings but, over time, they have been lost to earthquakes. Many were lost in a major earthquake in 363; the few standing ruins that remain from that time have suffered severely from weather, pillagers and antiquity robbers.
The origins of the Nabateans are a bit vague. Some believe they were the descendants of the Edomites mentioned in the Bible, others that they were nomads from Arabia in the south who defeated and supplanted the Edomites.
They first appeared in historical records around the sixth century BC. Their influence grew over the next few centuries until the Romans arrived in the region in the first century BC. At their peak they controlled all of the land between Yemen in the south and Damascus in the north. They profited greatly from all the trading caravans that moved through their district and the associated merchants who used their cities, including Petra, to trade. Their own traders travelled too, as far as India, China and Rome, but most of their wealth came from closer regions. Their government was a monarchy but with a strong democratic flavour and they did not keep slaves; unusual at that time.
Rome became their nemesis. They initially repulsed the Romans in 63 BC but had to accept their nearby presence and slowly came to hate them. The rulers made a mistake by becoming Parthian allies when the Parthians warred against the Romans. They paid dearly for that and eventually Herod, as a puppet of Rome - yes, that Herod - occupied their territory. Roman trade routes slowly moved away from Petra and the city declined slowly from that time on.
Eventually, over the following two millennia, the city was claimed by the desert and the nomadic Bedouins until it was “discovered” in 1812 by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
I made the mistake of trying to save a few dinars by ignoring the various transportation options along the way and walked all day. If I go again, I'll spend the money. There are really four long sections for footslogging. The walk starts at the entrance gate, with an option of a pony ride or buggy ride. Then there is the Siq, with the same options, then the long and dusty site itself with camels available and finally, if you have the energy (I didn't) the climb to the Byzantine Church. Then you retrace all that and walk home again, mostly uphill. I saved about $70 and my poor feet regretted that for a week.
For the rest, just wander through the pictures and click on those you find interesting. I had a long, fascinating, dusty, footsore day and enjoyed every minute of it. We drove back to Amman in the late afternoon and dusk via the faster, but less interesting, Desert Highway.
One of the modern conveniences lacking in the long valley of Petra is, er, conveniences. I met these two beasts of burden while searching for one, or at least for some privacy. There was sufficient evidence of their, or their masters, past presence in the cave that I was not embarrassed to follow their lead. I later found a restaurant at the far end of the valley; much too far at the time.
The following day I departed to Cairo.