" .. . match me such a marvel, save in Eastern
clime A rose-red city, half as old as time."
Petra by Dean Burgen
Nothing quite prepares you for Petra, not the famous poem quoted above,
not (as we did) reading numerous guide books and looking at photographs.
Not even this page will suffice, but we will try to give you a taste of
what to expect.
The sheer size of the site is mind-boggling. Having spent half an hour
getting to the famous Treasury, it is tempting to think that you have
'done' Petra, but there's much, much more. In fact, guide books recommend
at least two or three days, including at least one evening. We had a single
day and no evenings, but what a fantastic day it was!
|Petra - which means rock - is located in a natural fortress. It is surrounded
by steep sandstone cliffs and mountains. The only way in is through a
narrow crack in the 150m high cliffs. This channel, known as the Siq,
is 1200m long and only a few metres across. Being so fortified made Petra
an ideal place for a secure city, and it was very prosperous some 2000
years ago when the Nabateans made it a centre of trade to equal the likes
of Damascus. It eventually deteriorated when trade routes moved to
the East, and none of the original buildings has survived. What has lasted
for two millennia, however, are fantastical, gigantic facades cut into
the rock itself, sometimes with caves behind and sometimes just facades.
These look like grand houses, but are much too big. They may have housed
tombs, or could simply have been monuments.
Our carriage awaits
The start of our journey through the Siq
On arriving at the gates of the site, you can choose to walk the few
hundred metres to the Siq entrance or take a horse. Both of these
require you to walk through the Siq itself. A third alternative is a horse-drawn
buggy which is the only vehicle permitted to go through the
Siq. We took a buggy and it was a very bumpy ride - not recommended
if you have back problems. The passageway's floor is mostly sand,
though presumably full of stones, but occasionally the original paving
stones appear and these parts are even more bumpy. The main advantage
of a buggy ride is its speed, so worth trying if you are short of time.
We approach the final corner of
the Siq, then finally . .
. . emerge to see the magnificent and gigantic
Rounding a corner at the end of the Siq, we got our first glimpse of
the Treasury, glowing pink in the morning sun. This is the image that
appears in all the guide books, but it is still a stunning sight first
hand. It is very difficult indeed to convey is how huge the Treasury is. Take
a look at the the picture below and then marvel at how big the doorway
is. This is the building that featured in Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade, though unlike in the movie there is actually very
little behind the facade itself.
We waited by the Treasury - not really a treasury, but the place where
legend suggested that treasure was stored - for those on our tour who
walked through the Siq. This gave an opportunity to have a cup of sweet
sage tea, and sit amongst the camels whilst listening to excited Americans
from cuise ships that call in at Aqaba.