Suitcase and World: Petra - The Treasury.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Petra - The Treasury.

Ancient beauty awaited us at the end of this day.

I awoke on Valentine's Day, 2007 to the faint sound of laughter and chatter but I was feeling so warm and snug under a thick wool blanket that I decided to linger in bed for a few minutes before getting up. I unzipped the tent flap to let the cold, damp desert air in. It was early morning in the Wadi Rum.

Soon enough, I joined some of group who had already gathered around the campfire for breakfast. It was the "traditional" morning meal that we had eaten pretty much every day but with a slight twist. The ayish was warmed over coals which gave it a smoky flavor. Although I was still stuffed from dinner the previous night, the enticing smell of the bread was difficult to resist. I made a small sandwich with the deli meat and that with a cup of the sweet tea was my breakfast.

After breakfast, we packed up our packs and loaded them into the SUVs. We then said good bye to our Bedouin hosts and headed out into the desert. A short while later, we were on the King's Highway, heading north towards Wadi Musa (Wadi = Valley, Musa = Moses).

At points, the road ascended to an altitude that we saw snow on the ground. The Highway wound its way through small villages. It was still early morning and store keepers were just beginning to open up shop. I knew we were nearing Wadi Musa when I started to see signs with the word "Petra"emblazoned on them.

It didn't take long for us to reach Wadi Musa. As usual, Daniel got us checked in and then briefed us on the itinerary for the day. We would be touring Petra in the afternoon but he would not be joining us so he gave us instructions on what to do to a) buy our entry tickets and b) hire a local guide (15 JD for a two and half hour tour). At 26 JD, the Petra entry ticket was comparatively pricey but it was good for two days.

From the hotel, it was about a 10 minute walk to the Visitors Center. Inside, we bought our tickets and hired the guide.

Our tour began immediately outside the Visitors Center where the guide showed us a map of Petra to get us oriented.

Petra means "rock" in Greek and is nicknamed "the Rose Red City" - a reference to the pinkish red hues of the rocks from which is carved. Petra is, undeniably, Jordan's most well known ancient monument.

Due to its breathtaking grandeur and fabulous ruins, Petra was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
I extracted the following description of Petra from

"Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC. The kingdom was absorbed into the Roman Empire in AD 106 and the Romans continued to expand the city. An important center for trade and commerce, Petra continued to flourish until a catastrophic earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water management systems around AD 663. After Saladin's conquest of the Middle East in 1189, Petra was abandoned and the memory of it was lost to the West.

The ruins remained hidden to most of the world until the Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab scholar, infiltrated the Bedouin-occupied city in 1812. Burckhardt's accounts of his travels inspired other Western explorers and historians to discover the ancient city further."

The only modes of transport allowed within Petra are on two feet or on four feet (camel, donkey, or horse). We chose to walk, ignoring all offers to hire any for legged creature. My favorite offer? From the donkey owner who shouted, "Taxi? Free air conditioning!" I politely declined and at the same time, could not help but laugh at his sense of humor.

We entered Petra starting with a brief hike down towards the as-Siq, the ancient main entrance.

Along the way, we passed the Obelisk Tomb and carved into the hill facade just beneath it, the Bab as-Siq Triclinium. Both structures are tombs, by the Nabataeans in the 1st century BC. The most intriguing part of this structure is the interesting mixture of Egyptian, Greco Roman, and Nabataean-styled architecture.

Lei walking past the Obelisk Tomb and the Bab as-Siq Triclinium.

On surrounding hills, there were more tombs.

These two simple tombs were most likely built for "commoners" as only the wealthy could afford to have carved tombs.

Soon we arrived at the as-Siq (the Shaft). The Siq is a winding, narrow gorge that's about 1200m long and only about 3-4m wide and is a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks.

The Siq is hemmed in by cliffs that soar up to 80m in height. Walking along the Siq, you see colorful and unusual sandstone patterns in the rock walls.... with vertical striations - something I had never seen before....,

....minor carvings....,

....and unusual carvings like this one - worned remains of the carving of a person leading a camel. According to the guide this carving was most likely used to indicate direction to guide travellers down the Siq....,

....and remains of terracotta pipes built into the sides of the canyon that were used in Roman times to carry water into Petra from the springs that surround Wadi Musa.

With so much to see above our heads, it was typical find someone with they head cocked skywards as Lei exemplifies in the photo below. The photo of Lei also shows the granite blocks that were laid down by the Romans to pave the Siq. The guide explained that original path of the Siq was simply desert gravel which suited the camels, donkeys and horses that the Nabataeans used for transport. When the Romans invaded Petra, they favored the use of carts which required a harder surface to move on and so they paved the Siq using granite blocks, quarried from hills around Wadi Musa.

We would find ourselves having to step aside to may way for donkeys, horses, and horse carts, all of which would be barreling up and down the Siq - not sure what they were rushing for but it seemed to be an exhilarating ride for many of the passengers.

As you make your way along the Sig, pockets of sky come into view.

Soon, you get a glimpse of something spectacular....

....and as you reach the end of the Siq, it appears in full view - The Treasury!!

Known as Al-Khazneh in Arabic, it is THE monument to see in Jordan. Overwhelming in size (43m high x 30m wide), the magnificence of the Treasury lies not only in its elaborately carved facade but also the color of the rock which, depending on the time of day, takes on different hues of red and pink.

Archeologists believe that the Treasury was carved for a Nabataean king in the 1st century BC. The guide told us that the elaborately carved facade was carved from top down because had it been done bottom up, the weight of the uncarved rock from above would have crushed any carved structure below. According to our guide, the rectangular indentations that line the vertical perimeter of the structure were used as anchor points for scaffolding. Inside, The Treasury is an empty chamber.

Leaving the Treasury behind, we continued to walk along the Siq and soon arrived at the outer Siq or Street of Facades which is a large canyon lined with the facades of various tombs.

Large tombs with carved facades.

Smaller tombs with plain facades.

At the end of the Street of Facades is the 7000-seat Roman Amphitheater, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. The Amphitheater was carved by the Nabataeans but later enlarged by the Romans.

Standing in front of the Amphitheater, from left to right, Daniel, Sandy, Lei, Dora, and Alex.

View of the Royal Tombs (Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, and Palace Tomb) that face the Amphitheater.

At this point, our guide left us. Several in the group decided to continue hiking up to the High Place of Sacrifice for a panoramic view of Petra from above. Lei and I decided to doubleback and spend more time in the Siq and at the Treasury.

On the way out of Petra, we stopped just outside the Visitors Center to treat ourselves to something to drink and for Lei, a bit of ice cream.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was late afternoon. Lei went in search of an Internet cafe while I used the one in the hotel. I then joined Kirsten in the lobby where she got the DVD player going and put in a DVD of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in which The Treasury is featured as the Holy Temple where the Holy Grail is located.

Soon, the rest of the group trickled back and we watched the rest of the movie together. Just a few of the scenes show Petra - there's a shot of Harrison Ford riding a horse down the Siq and a couple of shots of the facade of the Treasury.

From bottom left it's Lei, Daniel, Laura in blue shirt and Alex behind her in the vest. Next to Laura is Kirsten and Dora is sitting in front of her. To the left of Dora is Zdena, Sandy, Daniel and sitting at his feet, Bridget.

After that, we headed out for dinner and and then it was bed for me. I wanted to get a good night's rest because we would be back at Petra the next day to finish seeing the sights that we did not get to today. I couldn't wait to go return!!

Here are Lei's memories of our afternoon at Petra.