I Love Petra

Weather in Petra can be unpredictable in January. A year ago–on January 26–it was snowing, but today, the temperature would reach 60o and the sky would remain cloudless. What better time to take a hike through history, and walk amongst one of history’s most remarkable endeavors.

With overnight accommodations at Movenpick–directly across the street from the Petra Visitor Center–access to the Old City was most convenient. We assembled early in the town center. The square was quiet except for shops looking for early customers,

and a stray puppy gnawing on a breakfast bone.

Our group gathered around a large map in town center to plan our hike.

Ahmad explained the many ways to get to Petra’s ruins: by foot, golfcart, donkey, horse, or camel. But the only road that takes us there–courtesy of George Lucas, who paved the way for a dramatic scene from Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–runs through a narrow gorge known as As Siq,

which is nearly a mile from Al-Khazneh, known as the Treasury.

Beyond the Treasury, it’s another mile past Temenos Gate to the end of the Colonnaded Street

that leads to Qasr al-Bint–Petra’s most intact structure and Nabataean temple.

Ahmad suggested we take our time by foot, but after that, we’re on our own–for as long as we like–and we can return by any means of conveyance.

Once we understood the plan, we started out: past Djinn Blocks–a series of three imposing funerary monuments;

an iconic, two-story Obelisk Tomb;

and a Bedouin musician who may have been busking to buy an extra string for his DIY rababah.

We followed the road through high walls of colorful sandstone, where rocks resembled elephant creations…

and human profiles,

with twisted stone rising upwards of 600 ft (183 m),

and narrow as 10 ft (3 m) across,

until we neared the end of the passage. Ahmad had us form a line and close our eyes as he guided us through the last bend in the gorge.

When the moment was right, we opened our eyes for the big reveal…

and it was a revelation! First light was streaming across the canyon walls,

and bathing the iconic façade with golden sunlight. It was truly a sight to behold! Ahamad declared, “I love my job!”

Petra has been written about to near exhaustion. There’s not much more I can add about the Nabataean Kingdom that UNESCO World Heritage Convention hasn’t already mentioned, so I will say it in pictures and leave the words to UNESCO:

Inhabited since prehistoric times, this Nabataean caravan-city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, was an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. It is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture.

Situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and inhabited since prehistoric times, the rock-cut capital city of the Nabateans, became during Hellenistic and Roman times a major caravan centre for the incense of Arabia, the silks of China and the spices of India, a crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges.

An ingenious water management system allowed extensive settlement of an essentially arid area during the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods. It is one of the world’s richest and largest archaeological sites set in a dominating red sandstone landscape.

The Outstanding Universal Value of Petra resides in the vast extent of elaborate tomb and temple architecture; religious high places;

the remnant channels, tunnels and diversion dams that combined with a vast network of cisterns and reservoirs which controlled and conserved seasonal rains,

and the extensive archaeological remains including of copper mining, temples,

churches and other public buildings.

The fusion of Hellenistic architectural facades with traditional Nabataean rock-cut temple/tombs including Al-Khazneh, the Urn Tomb,

the Palace Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb,

and the Deir (“monastery”) represents a unique artistic achievement and an outstanding architectural ensemble of the first centuries BC to AD.

The varied archaeological remains and architectural monuments from prehistoric times to the medieval periods bear exceptional testimony to the now lost civilisations which succeeded each other at the site.

© UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992-2023

Petra was a marvel. And it may have been the overwhelming feeling of awesomeness that gave us the energy to return to the plaza by foot and express our satisfaction. So too thought the young girl with special needs, who spontaneously shared the moment with Leah.

There was so much cultural, historical and scientific significance to absorb in a day, which led me to conclude that the worst thing about Petra was not having another day to do it all over again.

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