Thursday, December 5, 2013
An unforgettable day in ancient Petra
Petra, the world wonder, is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2,000 years ago, turning 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.
This is an awe-inspiring experience by day or night. A massive façade, 30m wide and 43m high, carved out of the sheer, dusky-pink rock face and dwarfing everything around it. It was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean king and represents the engineering genius of these ancient people.
The Treasury is merely the first of the many wonders that make up Petra. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings. Unlike the houses, which were destroyed mostly by earthquakes, the tombs were carved to last throughout the afterlife and 500 have survived, empty but bewitching as you file past their dark openings. Here also is a massive Nabataean-built, Roman-style theatre, which could seat 3,000 people. There are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets, and high above, overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery – a flight of 800 rock cut steps takes you there.
Inside the site, several artisans from the town of Wadi Musa and a nearby Bedouin settlement have set up small stalls selling local handicrafts, such as pottery and Bedouin jewellery, and bottles of striated multi-coloured sands from the area. Since the sun was beating down and it was very hot, Seamus bought a shemagh to keep the sun off his head. The lady kindly tied the scarf in true Arab fashion for him. We were very happy to buy some water from her as well, we were parched.
It was lovely to sit down at the restaurant and have a most refreshing pomegranate juice. Since we were running out of time Seamus went ahead to a viewpoint that was even higher up. There were actually two lookout points. Unfortunately, I took the other fork in the road and climbed towards the huge Jordanian flag where I was rewarded with a magnificent view over the desert and mountains. I returned to the restaurant, but no Seamus so I decided to start out on the steep return path. By the time I knew I was nearly halfway down, I was getting worried as I still hadn't spotted Seamus. Finally, I reached the lady who sold us the shemagh and there was Seamus sipping mint tea with her and discussing her goats, who soon would be living in a cave on the mountain for the winter. It is amazing that the goats can survive since there is practically no vegetation at all.