Petra. It was everything I could do to tear myself away from staring transfixed at the treasury. Al Kazneh. The most impressive tomb, which has come to be the iconic representation of this UNESCO World Heritage Site had lived up to every aspect of magnificence that had been built up in my heart.
Continuing on from Part I of my experience at Petra, Jordan – The Nabatean Mystery, the Siq and the Treasury, we were to continue on into what is a vast, deep and endlessly expansive site where this civilisation once thrived.
The Street of Facades
Following the sand and pebble path to the right of the Kazneh, we left behind the enclosed entrance and got our first glimpse of the vast open space of the region. This too, I was to later discover was no standard of measure of the whopping size of this site. Rock faces that fell in perpendicular lines, with beautiful striated designs in the naturally rose coloured rock flanked our walk. A couple of Bedouin sat behind low lying tables of silver and copper trinkets. Mules, camels and their masters, milled about, ready to provide a more comfortable mode of transport to cover the large area. Another fascinating feature unique to Petra. The bedouins have retained the rights to manning the site, ensuring employment, and that it holds on to its authenticity without the introduction of too many modern conveniences. Save for a couple of rustic cafes, a smattering of souvenir tables selling dusty antiques the focus remains on the ruins.
The sun sparkled overhead as we collected before the theatre. Our guide had already given us a crash course in telling Greek theatres apart from Roman ones. This one looked massive compared to the ones we’d just seen in Amman. In true Hellenistic style, it was cut from the mountain (keeping the sun off the spectators as long as possible) literally wiping out a row of tombs to make space at the back. It was later refurbished by the Romans, and more recently by restoration.
The Royal Tombs
While this site sits immediately after the theatre, I explored it only on my way out. Standing before the massive and impressive collection of decorated caves cut out of the rock looming high above my line of sight, I weighed my options. I had already decided to give the Monastery a skip since it would have been a rushed and precarious visit on a mule. I looked up at the 300 odd stairs ahead of me, carved out of the stone, burning under the mid-day sun. My lunch threatened to leave my stomach and decorate the steps, as I gulped in nervous anxiety, and gingerly put one foot forward. Slowly, lugging my tripod, camera bag, water bottle and other gear, I made my way past bedouin children playing and shrieking with enviable energy. Passing the oddest of wares on sale like large old bones and dusty rusted amulets, I made my way to the most impressive of them all, the Urn Tomb. A courtyard or terrace of sorts before it was kitted out with mattresses and chairs, a small convenience store and a solitary shopkeeper. From up here, I could tell Petra stretched as far as the eye could see. Watching tourists milling about now, I wondered what this view would have comprised during the Nabatean heydays. Named after the Urn that decorates the headstone, this structure dates back to 70 AD, has burial niches and also served as a Byzantine church. The striations on the rock within, lead me on to the Silk Tomb, named for the beautifully odd colour of the rock, it was definitely the most dramatic of the lot. While I didn’t explore all of them, I did inspect the Corinthian tomb and the Palace tomb from below. Climbing back down, I was more than ready to ride a mule back to the Treasury.
The Colonnaded Street and Temple
As the road curved away from the Royal Tombs, we began walking along what most definitely looked like a Roman street. Turns out it’s seen several avatars before, but this was the very heart of shopping and commerce in Petra. Large stone tiles clicked loudly underfoot as a caravan of camels passed us, a sweet young Bedouin boy selling us a ride in his finest English accent. Ahead, three arched gates led us to the final mile we’d walk to lunch. Walking past the temple of Qasr Al Bint, we licked our lips in anticipation of some much needed shade, cold fizzy drinks, and scrumptious food.
The way back was easier, since I picked a mule to ride to the treasury and then a very bumpy horse carriage to the visitor centre. The sun had let up a little bit, the Siq was empty. The visit however, has still left me completely perplexed about the actual size of the site, and I’m pretty sure while I saw the main focal area, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the wonders of this one of the seven wonders of the world. Which works out in a way, because I needn’t go looking for excuses to return to the dramatic, impressive and extremely moving Petra.
This post was made possible by the Jordan Tourism Board. Opinions as always are our own.