Monday, December 05, 2011


The tale resumes, finally, this time with the help of my dad, whose narrative will appear in blue.

The Great Wall of China ranks first among the existing Wonders of the World. Petra ranks second. Built by the ancient Nabateans from the period beginning in the 6th century BC, it was "discovered" by the outside world only in the early 19th century, and locals (i.e., people who at least claim to be Bedouin) continued to live in the various caves and tombs until the mid-1980s. More recently Petra served as the setting for the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. For visitors to Jordan, whether on pilgrimage or not, Petra is “must see.” It is one of the great archaeological treasures in the world.

We left Kerak Castle late in the day and arrived well after dark at the town of Wadi Musa where the entrance to Petra is located. Very early the next day we began one of the longest days of our trip. We began our “entry” to the ancient city on horseback (Arabian horses they said), which carried us to the Siq, a long, narrow opening in the rocks through which we walked over half a mile. Proceeding through this Siq only added to the anticipation of what was to be seen, as well as displayed examples of the engineering ability of the ancient Nabateans, as seen through their various aqueducts. There were natural rock formations that also added to the wonder of it all.

Above, my dad is posing at a point along the Siq. Like many things from this ancient city, no one is exactly sure what its original purpose was, but the theory we heard was that it was a place where marriages were performed. The couple stood in the stalls behind my dad and the priest (?) stood where my dad is standing and united their hands (?).

After a long walk in the shade of the crevice, one reaches the opening as the sun shines directly on the most famous monument of Petra: the Treasury. It is not a structure, but rather it was carved from solid rock, as were most of the monuments and tombs of Petra. The architectural style reflects influences from several corners of the ancient world: Hellenic, Hellenistic, Egyptian and more, plus the execution of the sculpture reflect the skill and commitment of the ancient Nabateans. The "Treasury" is actually a misnomer. Like almost all the remaining monuments in Petra, it was almost certainly a tomb for royalty and/or the wealthy.

Beyond the Treasury one could see the Street of Facades, revealing a series of tomb monuments carved from the sandstone, the Theater, which could seat nearly 7,000, a series of Royal Tombs, including the largest of the Royal Tombs, the Urn Tomb. (See below.)

Above, the theater.

We also visited what little remains of “constructed” Petra. Certainly the Theater would be constructed, but there are remains of a Nymphaeum, the Great Temple, a Temple of Winged Lions, a beautiful Colonnaded Street and more.

Visiting these and other historical sites in Jordan required a good deal of walking (see for example, the “hike” required to visit Machareas). We enjoyed the walk through the Siq and through much of the open area. In order to see as much as possible in one long day, we “rented” two donkeys, who escorted us to the distant Monastery in about a third of the time required to walk, and then back again, carrying us to the Sextius Florentinus Tomb, the only tomb in Petra in which it is known for whom it was built. With stops for various sites along the way, we spent about five hours in the ancient mode of transportation. It saved time!

One of the stops on our donkey tour was the "Monastery," which is possibly more impressive than the Treasury. We were able to climb inside and look around, although there wasn't much to see besides four walls. It's theorized that this was once a temple.

No one knows what happened to the Nabateans, but they seem to have disappeared from history at some point. Their city, however, was not abandoned, as it was used by the Romans. Many churches were developed under the "Byzantines" (i.e., Romans), including the ones in the photos here. The 5th century churches in Petra were quite similar to the other ones we saw throughout Jordan on our pilgrimage, with the same type of mosaic work in the floors, inspired by contemporary trends. Above, for example, the floor has personified seasons, animals, etc.

Above, a small altar in what appears to be a side chapel. The altar as you see it has been reconstructed.

Another church from the period, built with columns of rare blue marble from Egypt.

The donkeys next to us up the High Place of Sacrifice, which -- as the names implies -- was quite a hike. We were grateful for the transportation. Above, my dad standing behind what they think was an altar for animal sacrifice. Below, my dad walking away from the altar. They think that the circle you see in the foreground was used to somehow drain blood from sacrificed animals.

Continuing from this point, we descended narrow pathways and stairways cut into the rock, which eventually returned us from above the Treasury to the area near the Colonnaded Street below. We thus hiked high and low for over four hours after leaving our beloved donkeys!

We walked back to the Siq from which we had emerged early in the day, at the front of the Treasury. It was difficult to turn your back on this beautiful site and walk away. By the time we retraced our steps back out through the Siq, the day was over.

We were unable to visit the site of Aaron’s tomb. Located at the top of a mountain accessible only by foot, it was estimated to be a four-to-five hour walk -- perhaps half that by donkey, but still requiring an additional day.

After a good meal of local cuisine, we slept soundly and got an early start for yet another long day: Little Petra and Wadi Rum.

For many more photos from Petra, click here.

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