Friday, July 5, 2019

Day 13: The Petra Zero

Karolina volunteered to write the guest blog posts of our zero days on the trail, and today was our zero day at Petra, and thus, here is Karolina's guest blog post for the day! =)


This is the Siq, the narrow slot canyon that leads from the main entrance to the heart of Petra.

The previous night, Ryan and I agreed that we would wake up early and enter Petra Archeological Site as soon as it opens for visitors in order to avoid the crowds of tourists that would flood the site later. We would miss breakfast at the hotel so relied on our own food stores instead. And, shortly after 6am, we were already walking down the Siq. We weren’t the only ones who got an early start – at the entrance gate, we met a bunch of other hikers from our Jordan Trail group.

I enjoyed walking down the Siq a lot. The Nabateans smartly used a very impressive natural gorge as the entrance to their city. We passed several interesting carvings in the colorful rock on both sides of the gorge and followed along two water channels used in the ancient days to supply the city with water.

At its far end, the Siq opens up onto Petra’s most magnificent façade: the Treasury, or Al Khazana which many of you might recognize from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). The façade is truly impressive – it is almost 40 meters (131 feet) high and intricately decorated with Corinthian columns and various mythological figures associated with the afterlife such as dancing Amazons or the Castor and Pollux twins. The references to life-after-death are related to the Treasury being originally built as a mausoleum and crypt.

The Treasury
The Treasury’s façade is crowned with an urn which – according to the local legend – conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. The urn is damaged by bullets because at the beginning of the 20th century Bedouins frequently shot at it in hopes of breaking it open and spilling the said treasure. What they did not realize back then was that the building itself is a treasure and someday millions of tourists would be willing to pay a rather high fee (50 JD for 1 day, 55 JD for 2 days or 60 JD for a 3 day visit in 2019) to see it and the rest of Petra.

The Treasury is beautiful but what impressed me most about it was an engineering wonder – a system of channels that the Nabateans constructed around and behind the façade in order to divert rain water away from it. Lama, our Jordan Trail guide, told us that once she visited Petra during rain and while all the rocks around The Treasury were completely wet, its façade remained dry -the system totally worked! And it has been saving the façade –carved from sandstone! – from erosion. Otherwise, it might not have survived so well preserved to our times.

From The Treasury, Ryan and I proceeded towards the Royal Tombs. There are four of them: the Urn Tomb – which owes its name to a jar crowning its pediment; the Silk Tomb – remarkable for the swirls of multi-colored rock that makes up its façade (this was my favorite tomb); the Corinthian Tomb – whose upper part resembles the Treasury but is much more eroded; and the Palace Tomb with its grandiose five-story façade.

As we were walking around we watched Petra wake up – and I don’t mean here that more tourists started flowing in – not yet at least. I mean that the inhabitants – human inhabitants! – of the Archeological Site were waking up. In several places, we walked past Bedouins who were sleeping on mattresses spread on rocks behind souvenir stalls or inside chambers. I was surprised to discover that there were actually people living on the premises of the Archeological Site!

This is the Urn Tomb, one of the Royal Tombs
Past The Royal Tombs, we started to climb a series of steps that would lead us to the top of a rock from which we were hoping to get a great top-down view of the Treasury. On our way up, we passed small herds of goats feasting on whatever little plants they could find growing between rocks. We also saw two fat lizards basking in the sun and were followed by a dog. There were many stray dogs wandering around Petra that made me quite nervous – they didn’t seem aggressive or anything but, I didn’t feel like risking contracting rabies, so I kept my distance.

The views were nice – not just at the top of the hill but also along the way. We got a good view of the theatre and the way we came from yesterday. We could also see the Tomb of Aaron on Mount Hor in the distance, where the brother of Moses is said to be buried.

By the time we were back down, Petra was bursting in seems with tourists. They were everywhere! Walking, talking, sightseeing, buying souvenirs, riding camels, donkeys, horses and chariots. It was times for us to escape!

We weren’t done with our tour of Petra, though, so we continued through the Byzantine Church with a very fine mosaic floor, the ruins of The Temple of Winged Lions, the Great Temple (where we sat on the stairs and had a snack for lunch) and finally up another series of stairs towards the High Place of Sacrifice.

The Byzantine Church
The High Place of Sacrifice offered another series of splendid views. From here, we could see Wadi Musa, the town built near Petra. For those of you who might be interested, Wadi Musa means “Valley of Moses” in Arabic. It is believed that Moses passed through this valley in his way towards the Promised Land and that he struck water from a rock for his followers at the site of Ain Musa - “Moses Spring.” It is from this spring that the Nabateans carried water into the city of Petra through a series of channels.

Walking around Petra took us all of about 6 hours at the end of which we were quite tired but happy. On the way out Ryan talked me into taking a horse ride on the long stretch between the Siq and the Visitors Centre that he found fun and I found a little scary. He also got himself two new scarves because – hey! They are so colorful and pretty and it is really hard not to buy them!

The remainder of the day we spent in the hotel resting, reading, catching up with emails etc.

Before I sign off I want to mention one more thing – the Archaeological Site of Petra is huge and in those 6 hours we did not see all there was to see. We will still be returning to Petra tomorrow – the Jordan Trail will take us to the Monastery (Al Deir) and we will exit it through the back door. And although there is really a lot to see in Petra, only about 30% of the original city is excavated and available to the visitors – the remainder rests peacefully under layers of dust and soil, protected from weathering and erosion. In this way, the archeologists want to preserve the legacy of the Nabateans. They agreed that of all further discoveries, only those which change our way of thinking about the Nabateans will remain excavated – everything else is buried again. 

The Urb Tomb
The Silk Tomb
The Palace Tomb, which is also the largest of the structures carved into the stone.

The view of the Treasury from up high.

The Treasury

Ryan buys a couple of new scarves because a man can't have enough scarves. *nodding*

The outside of the tombs are magnificent, but the insides are quite impressive too. Imagine all of the work it took to excavate the rock that this room was carved out of!

On our way back, we rode horses. Because... why not?! =)

Oh, it was so tempting to buy a bullwhip.... And an Indiana Jones hat!


Anonymous said...

I've seen several PBS specials on Petra and it is amazing. Although if we get there, we will be most likely part of the horde of day tourists.

-di and her guy

Arlene (EverReady AT 2015) said...

Just reading your posts on the Jordan thru hike and I am really enjoying them. Today I really loved the clip with you arriving at the base of the Treasury with background music! Too funny.