Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Jordan - Petra

Much has been written about Petra. To many of us it is the "Treasury" that we most associate with this important site. Yet there is so much more to Petra than the glowing red facade of its most recognised feature.

The name Petra is derived from the greek word meaning 'Rock'. The term is definitely describes the environment in which this special place evolved.

Petra is surrounded by sandy plains, highly susceptable to erosion. It has been deeply scarred with channels and wadis where the heavy winter rainfall runs.

Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been described a the eighth wonder of the ancient world. It is Jordan's greatest tourist attraction and, consequently, perhaps its most valuable treasure. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled there more than 2000 years ago. They turned it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked china, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

To protect Petra from a hostile attack a site was eventually established a little way from the main city. That site is known as Little Petra today and became the place where the trading of goods took place without exposing Petra proper to spies and bandits.

Petra has featured in a number of movies most notably "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".

Visitors to the site enter it through a circular courtyard and then follow a path which leads down to the Siq, a narrow canyon which eventually opens up in front of the building which has been erroneous called the Treasury (erroneous because that was never its function!).

On the second day of our visit to Petra we turned off before reaching the Siq and took a trail around a part of the site that is rarely seen by visitors. This is hardly surprising as the majority of visitors go down through the Siq and some never go any further. Most go on a bit further but few do the challenging hike that we undertook. Even Lonely Planet advises against it.

Petra has a huge number of features that are worthy of a visit. I will try to organise my photos in some reasonable order. This will be challenging as we passed through some places three or four times. On each passing there were different light conditions so the features appeared altered. Also, coming from a different direction changes how something is seen.

The entrance to the site

Apart from the ticket office and an entry gate, this area contains a number of shops, a visitors centre which is being revamped and was not open, and a round plaza with a fountain.

Once through the entry gate visitors are confronted with a path and beside it a track that is used by horses and horse drawn carriages which can ferry people to and from the plaza in front of the Treasury. These days the entrance ticket to Petra includes travelling on a horse from the entrance to the plaza or back. The handlers still expect a tip over and above the fee that has already been paid. Trevor and I decided that walking along the Siq provided much more time to appreciate its splendors so did not take up the horse riding option.

On the second day we turned off part way along this path onto a track which took us around the back of the site

One of the horse drawn carriages
The path runs along Wadi Musa.

The Petra area is natually defended by a chain of high rock walls broken soley by the narrow passageway cut through by the waters of the Wadi Musa. It offered a safe haven to numerous people from the Neolithic period on. It is probably the site of Sela, the Edomite capital city of the Old Testament.

An example of the high rock walls

Eventually the path takes you into a narrow canyon, the Siq.

The Siq

Along the Siq are a number of notable items.

The Djinn Blocks. These consist of three square towers hewn out of the rock

The Tomb of the Obelisks

Sami explined the significance of this site. The holding of the hands was the important bit.

The exit of the Siq

Finally, the so called Treasury appears

This series of photos were taken on four separate occassions.

This building stands some 40m high and 28m wide. 

The facade is cut into the rock face directly opposite the exit from the Siq. Unfortunately it is no longer possible to go into this building.

Leaving the Treasury ... there were many things to see.

Tomb of the 17 Tombs

Below is part of the Street of Facade, tombs built on 4 levels

Petra's Theatre dates from the 1st century A.D. and has 33 tiers and a stage that measures 50m at the widest point

 At this point we started to come aross startling colouration in areas that had been cut into the rock.

The colours in the rocks were sometimes quite spectactular

The ladies loos were in a cave with a spectacular ceiling ... worth the visit!
Across from the Theatre was the Petra church complex. While part of it has been excavated work is continuing on the site. This complex is listed in our guides as the Urn Tomb as it was first a tomb and later taken over by the Byzantines and the church complex was constructed around the 5th century A.D.

The church is currently covered by a protective roof to ensure that the mosaics are not damaged

Here is a sample of the mosaic floor

The baptismal pool was housed across the courtyard from the body of the church

A patch of fresco still clinging to the wall
Some of the decorations on the stones used in the building

The courtyard
Leaving the church site, we needed to take a bit of care as excavation work was in progress.

Lunch came next. It was a welcome chance to sit down.

Note the green drink. This was a great tasting drink of lemon and mint.
We moved on to an area dominated by Roman ruins.

A fallen column
 Oasr al-Bint came next. This was a temple complex. What we saw was the entrance leading in to the sanctury. 

By this stage the camel and donkey people were busy plying their trade and attempting to tempt visitors to ride their animals either further into the site or back towards the entrance, at a fee, of course. The best offer was "air conditioned donkey". That made us smile. We were nowhere near finished for the day. There was still lots more to see and do.

We were let loose on our own. We could have headed back to the start or, as most of us did, continue on to a monestry perched on the top of a ridge and also take in some terrific views across the bumps and ridges.

El Dier - the Monastry

El Dier was a christain monastry which was still in use in the 13th century.

Ed Deir (the Monastry)

On to "the best view" and "the best view in the world".

Who were they kidding? The views were good. But the best?

On our return from the high point of the day we ignored the offers of donkey, camel and horse rides and plodded on through the warm afternoon marvelling at the wonderful colours and incredible formation that nature had created with wind and water.

Advert for a sure footed animal to carry the weary down the mountain. The donkey was standing of the edge of a precipice.

Goats eating vegetation on the canyon wall

Look at the layers of rock in the "eye"

As we neared the entrance we were surprised to see a number of large groups entering the site. I doubt whether they would have had time to venture beyond the Treasury.  OK, that is the thing that Petra is reknown for but what a pity that that is all that they would have got to see.

On the second day at Petra we had a latish start. We were hiking to a point overlooking the Treasury. Here is a series of photos of the walk and scramble that we underwent. The scenery was awesome.

Can you see the lizard in the middle of this photo?

The group cautiously going down a slippery slope

Finally there ... looking down on the ants (people) a long way below us

Trevor and Lorraine with the Treasury in the background
16 members of our group made it to the top including 79 year old Louis. Sami told us that we were the biggest group that he had ever got to the ledge overlooking the Treasury and then we all went on to complete the next challenge.

From our high vantage point we climbed even higher to reach The High Place. This was a place of sacrifice to the gods.  On a peak near this site were the ruins of a castle. It is a little unclear who built it but is has been assumed to be Nabataean in origin and possibly Crusader.

Bother ... and here we were hoping to have a cup of tea but no-one was home

And finally we arrived at High Place

The alter at the High Place
The hike was not over. We had to get from our high level down to the floor of the canyons. This did involve scrambling.

The party dribbled into our lunch place.A couple of the girls actually went back along the track to check on the stragglers. Everyone eventually arrived.  It was getting well into the afternoon and the area was almost completely devoid of other visitors.

After lunch we were free to do whatever we pleased and most of us slowly made our way back to the entrance and on to our hotel. Some took the opportunity to ride horses, donkeys or camels. Trevor and I walked, pested all the way by people who were anxious to encourage us to take a ride on their charge for a fee, of course.

Some of the paving dates from Roman times

Petra was definitely worth the two days that our tour allocated ot it.

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