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Jordan: Ajlun, Amman, Aqaba, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Dead Sea, Jerash, Karak, Madaba, Mount Nebo, Pella & Umm Qays, Petra, Wadi Rum
Petra, Jordan: The Lost City
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
It is a vast unique city, carved into sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab civilization who settled here more than 2000 years ago. Petra became an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
We checked into the Movenpick Hotel the night before. It was a Monday evening giving us an opportunity to experience Petra by night. The self guided night tour starts at 8:30 PM and ends at 10PM. The night show happens only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. There’s an entry fee of JOD 20 per passenger. Over 2000 candles are lit illuminating the path through the 1200 meter long Siq. At the end of the Siq is Al Khazneh (The Treasury) – the most elaborate façade around. Visitors need to sit down on mattresses as a Bedouin musician plays music amidst lit candles. The music goes on for about 30 minutes. And that’s about it. It’s a walk back. For those tired of walking can skip the show and save the energy for day touring of the Lost City.
After reaching its historical peak though, Petra was gradually abandoned and after the 14th century it was completely lost to the west, until a Swiss traveler named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812… albeit by tricking his way into the fiercely guarded site by pretending to be an Arab from India wishing to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Prophet Aaron!
The Nabataeans were clever and practical people. They were open to outside cultural influences. A walk down Petra attests to this. One can see classical Graeco-Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and local styles all fused into one unified artwork. Prior to being lost, the city was throbbing with life, crisscrossed by paved roads, agricultural terraces, water harvesting systems, temples and theatres.
The next morning, after breakfast we were ready to explore Petra by day. Entry is JOD50 per passenger. The ticket includes a one-way ride on a horse up to the entrance of the Siq. I recommend taking the horse on the way back, simply because the return journey is slightly uphill. The horsemen expect a tip. JOD3 should do the trick.
Petra is all about extensive walking. The walk begins from the Siq itself. Elderly and the needy can avail the facility of a horse cart that drops the passengers at the end of the Siq. The cart charges JOD10 per passenger. Once at the end of the Siq, options are available for all visitors to choose a donkey, horse or a camel for that matter to explore this fabulous city. Drink and snack kiosks and public facilities are few and far between. It would be a good idea to carry a hat and water. It really gets hot out there.
I was ready to walk.
Serious tourists can easily spend 3 days exploring the entire ancient city. However, we had time only till lunch and were eager to cover most of the important sites. On the way to the Siq entrance we crossed the Obelisk Tomb & Bab As-Siq Triclinium. It’s a beautiful monument and a perfect example of the artistic intermarriage of styles between east and west. The Triclimium is a chamber with three benches being used by the Nabataeans to feast in the honour of the dead.
The Siq is a long, deep and narrow gorge hemmed in by cliffs soaring up to 80 meters. Passing through it, one gets to see all the typical Petraean features, bizarre-looking geological formations, colourful rocks, agricultural terraces, water channels cut into cliffs, dams and niches carved into the rock. At places the Siq is only 3 meters wide, making it a challenge for the horse carts to negotiate through the crowds!
By 10AM we were at the end of the Siq, standing tall was the majestic Al Khazneh. This breath taking façade stands 43 meter high and 30 meter wide. The architectural site of it was quite unique in the ancient world. The main inspiration being Hellenistic, Alexandrian combined with Nabataean artistic touch. It was carved in the 1st century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataean king; some scholars believe it was later used as a temple.
Past Al Khazneh and the adjacent outer Siq, we came to Street of Facades – rows of Nabataean tombs with intricate carvings. Further down, was an entire theatre that could hold 6000 people was carved into solid rock. Theatres worked as an assembly point for all important functions, notably funerals. It was mandatory for the inhabitants to attend city’s funerals.
Up on the right were Royal Tombs. We saw it from down below as we wanted to avoid climbing up the rock-cut stairs. Before erosion took its toll, these tombs rivaled well with Al-Khazneh.
We walked for about a km more looking left and right to the tombs. I had the energy to climb a hill to an old church that had ancient mosaics on display. From the top, I got a good view of the colonnaded street below, the Temple of Winged Lions, Qasr-al-Bint and other tombs located on the hills beyond.
Had we the time and the energy we would have surely walked all the way to Ad-Deir a monastery located on a hill top. Good to know that there were 900 steps to be negotiated. We began our return journey, stopping a while at a kiosk to quench our thirst. As recommended, I took a horse from the end of the Siq up to the visitor center. Our hotel was just a short walk away.
After a delicious buffet lunch at Movenpick Hotel, we were ready to explore starry nights at Wadi Rum.
Petra Image Gallery Photo viewer
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