Petra – A Jewel Between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea
Nothing prepares you for the the experience of walking the length of the As-Siq gorge in Petra, Jordan. That experience pales, however, compared to what happens when you first peep, and then view full-on, Al-Khazneh, the Treasury.
As-siq – the Gorge
As-Siq was the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra, used by camel caravans some 2000 years ago. The Siq is 3600 feet long with deep and narrow cliffs towering as high as 240 feet. These cliffs hem you in as you walk the path. It’s easy to imagine caravans of camels and traders, dwarfed by these same cliffs, as they too walked this path centuries ago.
The natural beauty of Al-Siq is stunning with its red, white, pink, and sandstone colored cliff faces that change hues as light from the sun finds a perch. The light changes throughout the day as the sun moves across the narrow opening overhead.
Just as you get accustomed to the size, the colors, and the hundreds of inscriptions, niches, alters, reliefs, sculptures, and channels carved out for water, the Siq narrows down to about 15 feet wide. It was at this point that our Arab Christian guide tapped me on the shoulder and directed my view straight ahead. What I saw opening up was astounding.
The Treasury is the gift you see. But it’s not a treasury at all. Nor is it a building with an interior. This imposing 90 x 140 foot structure is merely a facade, carved into the rock face in the 1st century AD. It was likely created as a tomb for an important king of the Nabataean people and later used as a temple.
Nabataeans were an ancient and enterprising Arab tribe that came to Petra more than 2200 years ago. Their business had long been the control of camel caravan routes, levying tolls and protecting caravans, laden with incense of Arabia, silk from China, spices of India and African ivory and animal hides.
They were a clever and practical people. They created dams and conduits for water, making Petra a kind of artificial oasis, thus allowing for a large settlement of their people. They didn’t adhere to a strict cultural code, rather they incorporated outside influences from the various cultures plying the Silk Road Trading Route and blended these cultural influences with their own. You can find monuments in Petra in a variety of styles, classical Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian as well as local styles.
The Nabataeans were later conquered by the Romans and, though they continued to prosper for many more years, their home in Petra was gradually abandoned. All trace of it was lost by the 14th century. Petra was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss traveler who, in order to gain entry, disguised himself as a Bedouin coming to make a sacrifice. Today only 15% of Petra has been excavated, with another 85% still underground. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Are you curious why is it called the Treasury? There is a giant urn carved above the doorway. Later Bedouin tribesmen thought that it held coins. It bears the marks of hundreds of gunshots they fired, trying to dislodge the so-called treasure.
It was a treasury of sorts for Hollywood a few years back. In a final scene of one of the Indiana Jones movies, Harrison Ford and Sean Connery burst forth from the Siq and head deep inside the Treasury in their quest to find the Holy Grail. No matter that there is no deep inside.
Ad-Deir – The Monastery
After the amazing and heady walk through the Siq, and time spent milling around the Treasury with the camels and Bedouins offering rides, you need to get your second wind for the climb up 800 steps carved into the rock. Hopefully, it’s still morning when you do this climb, as the sun can be very hot later in the day.
The climb will take you to Petra’s second most famed attraction, Ad-Deir, the Monastery. It too may not live up to it name as it was probably not a monastery, according to experts. There is said to be an inner chamber of a temple behind the facade with a large area for dining and a kind of podium in back. It may have been plastered and painted in its day. The face of the Monastery isn’t as ornately carved as the Treasury. It appears more Classical in design but with the unique way of the Nabataeans.
Seen from the cliffs higher up, people standing near the Monastery look like tiny specks. From those same cliffs, you get an unforgettable view of the Jordan Valley in all directions.
The climb down requires an additional 800 steps – so it’s 1600 steps in all for anyone who’s counting….For the trek down you can enjoy a pomegranate known as the “fruit of life” or buy yourself a souvenir, like my burnt camel bone necklace, from a beautiful young girl to celebrate your adventure. Or get a new look with your scarf from an expert in this fashion.
jerash – another ancient roman city in jordan
How old is ancient? The ancient city of Jerash was continuously inhabited by humans for an unbroken chain dating back more than 6,500 years. One of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world, it was hidden in sand for centuries. Its paved and colonnaded streets, hilltop temples, theaters, public squares, plazas, baths, shops, fountains and city walls have been been excavated and restored only during the last 70 years. It’s another of Jordan’s amazing sites to see.
where moses viewed the promised land
Mt. Nebo is where God showed Moses the Promised Land. Moses was never permitted to enter it, however. It is said that he died and was buried here. From the top of the mountain you get a panoramic view of the Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem – the Promised Land.
A Byzantine church and monastery, built in the 4th century, was discovered in 1933 underneath which six tombs from different periods have been uncovered. This building is currently closed for renovation but 2 mosaics are on display in a covered tent.
Additional mosaics can be seen in the nearby city of Madaba, including a 6th century mosaic showing the entire Holy Land. With two million pieces of colored stone, the map shows details of the Holy City in the 6th century, including the church of the Holy Sepulchre and colonnaded streets of Jerusalem.
Have you visited Jordan? What were your favorite places there? If you haven’t been, is it on your “bucket list”? Why and when do you plan to go? I’d love to hear your comments. Please write them below, or email me. I’d love to hear from you.Tweet