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.

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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.

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The treasury

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

The ancient city gates of Jerash

The ancient city gates of Jerash

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 view of the Promise Land from Mt Nebo

A view of The Promised Land from Mt. Nebo in Jordan

What Moses saw from Mt Nebo

What Moses saw from Mt Nebo

The Pope viewed the Promised Land

The Pope viewing 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.

Mosaic floor of church in Mt Nebo

Mosaic floor of church in Mt Nebo

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.

See the mosaic floor

See the mosaic floor

What the entire mosaic looks like

A depiction of the mosaic of the Holy Land 

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.

20 responses to “Petra – A Jewel Between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea”

  1. Ursula says:

    Thanks for this article with great photos. Up to now Jordan is a white spot on my travel map, but Petra is a destination I should put on my list.

  2. Stunning images! I can’t wait to get here myself. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Pete Hueseman says:

    CarolSue:
    Looks just beautiful, exciting and very historical. I love to see and learn about the things of the long past history. You are on a trip of a lifetime. Enjoy it.
    Pete.

  4. vicky says:

    Great post and photos, thanks so much for sharing with us. We visited Petra about 6 years ago and still think it is one of the best and most stunning places we have been to. Keep enjoying your travels. We have just spent 2.5 weeks in Cuba and loved it, now in Costa Rica for one month.

  5. I have heard a lot about dead sea. It is in my whishlist. Nice blog! Very well informed!

    Thanks and regards,
    Siddharth Malkania
    Indian Travel & Street Photographer
    http://siddharthmalkania.com/

  6. Susan Ullis says:

    Petra has been on my bucket list since I first saw it on my nephew’s travel blog years ago. It looks absolutely amazing. And, if I don’t make it for some reason, your descriptions are so vivid I felt as if I was walking down As-Siq myself, then raising my eyes to see the towering Treasury revealed before me, as shown in your more of your splendid photos. I did not realize, however, (or I forgot) that it is a facade. Did the Nabataeans live in tents or other structures?

    Now your travels have added Jerash and Mt. Nebo to my Jordan must-sees. I find your blog so very enjoyable to read. Thanks again.
    Blessings on your future adventures,
    Susan

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Susan, Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and compliment. I am so glad that you liked my post on Jordan. As you are a writer yourself, your praise of my writing is most humbling. I wish it were easier for me to do and that I had more time to devote to it. But then I expect to have a long life so there’s plenty of time. Thanks so much for following our travels. I hope you keep reading and commenting. Best always, CarolSue

  7. Dave and Tami says:

    Isn’t Jordan simply AMAZING?? We loved it, and found Jerash MUCH better preserved than other spots like Ephesus, Troy, or Pompeii.
    Really glad you had a great time!!

    • CarolSue says:

      Thanks, Tami. Petra and Jerash were real surprises. And not crowded at all. I guess a lot of people are reluctant to visit there. That’s a mistake in my view. We felt super comfortable visiting Jordan. Loved it.

  8. Lisa Llewellyn says:

    We will be back in Vicenza, Italy later this year so if you are 45 minutes Northeast of Venice between November 2015 & 2016, you’ll have a place to rest your weary heads! (assuming we aren’t off on our own jaunt)
    Love reading your stories!
    Love, Kauai Lisa

    • CarolSue says:

      Lisa, thank you so much for your comment and your offer to rest at your place near Venice. I would love to do that but I think we will be in Egypt in November or will have just left to go back to the States. Plans don’t yet extend past our month in Rome in October. I know you are excited to return to Italy. Stay in touch. Love hearing from you.

  9. Di says:

    Did you ride a camel at Petra ? imagine being a traveler on the Silk Trading Route!!
    Love the blue headscarf!!
    Di

    • CarolSue says:

      Oh no, no camel ride for me. I have ridden one before in Morocco and find them terribly uncomfortable! I was shocked when mine went down on her knees to let me dismount. Horses don’t do that – haha. I did imagine being part of a camel caravan on the Silk Road, traveling through that gorge in Petra. It must have been fascinating. Glad you liked the scarf the girl tied on my head. I haven’t had my hair done in 2 months now and should be wearing a scarf all the time to hide the mess. I’m holding out for a hairdresser in Paris when we get there in 2 weeks. Think I’ll be able to afford it there??

  10. Donna says:

    Jordan is definitely on my bucket list! Your pictures and description are wonderful, as always!

    • CarolSue says:

      Donna, you will love it! Thanks for your comment. Best, CarolSue

    • Wayne Miller says:

      Did PETRA in Sept ’16. Excellent. Your first view of the Treasury is amazing. We did not do the 1,600 round trip steps. Note: The downhill walk thru the Siq into the Treasury is simple. This the walk out is UPhill and becomes hotter as the day goes along. If you’re not a serious walker or are a senior, senior, consider taking a horse drawn carriage out from the Treasury. Or, a horse if you are experienced. And, ladies, wear sensible shoes! Also, visit Wadi Rum closer to Aqaba.

  11. Splendid story and reporting. I would expect a book sometime soon with all of your wonderful travels.

    The memories you are building now will last a lifetime and you and Phil will enjoy these times over and over again.

    God speed and care for you.

    Aloha, Bob

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Bob, for your nice comment. I know that you and Kimmie are big travelers, too, so you know the benefits. Take care yourselves and enjoy your life on Hawaii.

  12. Steve Hoch says:

    More awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing!

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