The Lost City of Petra

28 10 2009


Flocked on either side by my Mum, Dad, brother and our friendly, energetic guide Mahmud (who has been showing us across all of Jordan), I took a deep breath, excitement filling my lungs as I started the 1.2km walk through the narrow gorge called the Siq, to Petra’s finest, the Al-Khazneh, the treasury. The Nabataeans, the people who inhabited Petra, were clever and practical. As they were open to outside cultural influences, they absorbed and added them to their own native touch so that the final outcome meant that they had many cultures captivated in Petra. A short walk down Petra makes this evident. Scanning my eyes over the Siq, showed me the Greco-Roman influence, the water harvesting systems, as did the Al-Khazneh, the huge pillars standing clear to that fact. All around me were influences including Egyptian and Mesopotamian intertwined in the local.

                Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself, the 80m cliffs soaring either side of you, their vibrant colours and patterns a breathtaking sight. Even though you read about the lost city of Petra, a departed race possessing nothing in common with modern civilization, nothing truly prepares you for the wonders as one of the greatest ever formed by nature and man.

                Craning my head back in a fashion as to see all of Al-Khazneh’s glory, a massive front wall carved from the sheer dusky pink rock-face, dwarfing everything in sight, the 43m high and 30m wide façade was glorious. Carved how? It’s hard to imagine such a huge yet beautiful creation was carved in the early 1st century, possessing the important role of the tomb to the significant Nabataean king, showing to some extent the engineering genius of these ancient people.

                Although Petra was such a vital part of the key trade routes between Arabia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, rising up more than 2,000 years ago, it’s almost unfathomable that the vibrant trading heart, located in a series of desert canyons in Southern Jordan, which vanished from maps at the turn of the seventh century A.D.

                And now, I say my profound thankyou in my head, to the Swiss scholar, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as a Bedouin trader who identified the ruins in 1812 that lay beneath a thousand years of dust and debris.

                Some people revel more in the comfort of riding a horse or donkey camel through the vast expansion of the Nabataeans’ ancient world. I dawdled, awe-struck by the pure size of the regions towering red sandstone cliffs, slowly falling behind my brother, Mum, Dad and Mahmud. The city’s buildings, including temples, tombs and theatres cascaded around me, all their beauty and historical content to offer.

                After spending three hours already in the dry heat, exploring many caves, we were summoned by a group of Nabataean men to one of the many caves, to enjoy a traditional lunch of homemade bread and a dish made out of tomato, onion and spices. Complimenting the traditional tasty lunch, we had a small glass full to the rim of sugary tea, just what you need on a scorching day. Trying to understand the group of local men (quite an art really!) finally grew tiresome, so we again ventured and explored through the hundreds of rock formations.

                Skipping to the top of an 823 step hike with my brother (yes, we counted!), my parents lagged behind in exhaustion. Mahmud did not even bother with the climb saying, “I’ve seen it many times before, many times. Now I rest.” Obviously overwhelmed with our enthusiasm as to see as much as possible, we climbed Ad-Deir Mountain. Captivating the unimaginable mountain scenes on your ascent doesn’t even compare when you encounter one glimpse at Petra’s second most famed attraction, Ad-Deir, the Monastery.

                Monstrous in size, yet beautifully awesome, the overall design resembled that of Al-Khazneh, the only different that the architectural embellishment was only simplified. Unknown that Ad-Deir was a tomb, temple or possibly both, the Deir used to be an important pilgrimage site, the climb up the mountain serving as a processional route. In Byzantine time, it changed its use again, to that of a church.

                After visiting the High Place of sacrifice near Ad-Deir, we continued our descent down the Ad-Deir Mountain. Reaching the bottom, I glanced back up the mountain, hoping that one day, hopefully in the foreseeable future, that I would be back again to explore more of Petra.

                Edging on closing time, we did one quicker round of Petra, quickly visiting one of the theatres, a Greco-Roman influence shining through, then to my favourite caves, holding more to explore, passing over a tomb or two, and back to the treasury, soaking up its last pieces of glory from the sunlight afternoon.

                Distressed that we didn’t have enough time to explore Little Petra, we were still excited that we had seen so much of such an amazing place. Needing three days to venture through all the vicinity of Petra, only having enough time for one, I was still exuberant that I’d had the chance to investigate the magnificent place. But it wasn’t all over yet, tonight, I’d be back at the ‘Petra by Night’ expedition, exploring more, by the naked moonlight.


By Nighthawk




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