Petra is considered to be one of the new seven wonders of the world, and we eagerly anticipated coming here. To put it simply, it is something that must not be missed. It was the highlight of our trip thus far.
The ancient archeological city of Petra is located in southern Jordan about 300 kilometers south of Amman in the Al Sharah mountains. We left our hotel at 7 am and walked the 50 yards to the entrance— very nice!
The first of hundreds of things that our guide Mohammad pointed out to us was way up— Aaron’s grave at the top of a huge hill. It is white. So, after seeing Moses’s last known place yesterday, Aaron’s today, my question to Mohammed was " and where is Miriam buried?" Inquiring minds want to know. He did not.
Petra (meaning "rock") was the Greek name. The modern Arabic name derives from the name of the river that flows down the valley—the Wadi Musa (River of Moses). It was the capital city of the Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe descended from the Maccabees who literally carved the city into the sandstone mountains. The prosperity of the Nabataean kingdom reached its peak between 9 BC and 40 AD but different groups kept carving and adding facades into the sandstone cliffs for several hundred years.
As we started our 6 mile walk through Petra, we passed hundreds of rock formations made more interesting by the streaks of morning sun hitting different sections.
About ⅓ of a mile in, we reached a dam. A sophisticated system of aqueducts and pipes channeled water along the sides and sometimes above to deliver water to the city, but the dam was built to protect the valley from flash floods.
A narrow gorge called the Siq is 1.2 km long and presents a dramatic entry into the Treasury. It reminded us of Antelope Canyon in Arizona.
The Siq opens up into Petra’s most famous and magnificent structure called The Treasury, so named from a legend says that an Egyptian Pharaoh built it to house his treasure. It is almost 40 meters high and crowned by a funerary urn on top of the Corinthian columns. Even this early in the morning, it was packed with tourists, as well as donkeys, camels and golf carts to aid the weary travelers in getting to the other parts of the site. You might remember seeing it in "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade".
We kept walking on the mostly resurrected stone path, sometimes walking over the original larger stones.
We passed the Theatre, the only theatre in the world carved into the side of the mountain, and after a long stretch, passed the Royal Tombs.
At this point we were about three miles in and pretty exhausted. We walked down the Colonnaded street just in time to arrive at our lunch destination, a huge restaurant that accommodated the hundreds of tourists.
From this point, there are many trails (mostly unmarked) that meander through various sights. The most famous is the one that takes you straight up about 1.6 miles and over 850 steps to the Monastery, one of the largest buildings at Petra. Some of our hiking friends would try this in a heartbeat, but as we had 3-plus miles to walk for our return trip, we passed 😢😢.
We opted instead to go back on an alternate trail that led us upwards to The Church, a Byzantine church probably built in the 5th century, and mostly destroyed by fire or earthquake in the following century. It does have a famously preserved mosaic floor.
This path led us up close and personal to the four Royal Tombs (actually caves in the side of the mountain). We only went into the first one. Huge and empty, it was smelly with mold over the walls and ceiling. A fellow traveler reported a family of tribe members (who run the many stalls along the streets as well as providing the animals used for transportation) living inside one of other caves. Although illegal, some resist moving to the village built for them in the heights above Petra and prefer their ancient ways.
The rest of the trip back was very slow. Wendy was so exhausted that she broke down and took a golf cart back. Although the weather was not too hot, the last two miles were all uphill and mostly in the mid-afternoon sun. Jim braved the trek and actually arrived back at the hotel before Wendy who had to wait 40 minutes for the golf cart!
These amazingly preserved structures of the Nabateans are truly one of a kind. Petra is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1975. Although getting more touristy with stalls, camel and donkey rides and, of course, hoards of people, the majesty of these remarkable structures is a testament to this fascinating civilization.