Thursday, February 14, 2008

Petra – My Last of the Seven Wonders

I plan to wake up for breakfast at 6am. With no alarm clock and phone dead, my only time source is my laptop, so I have an Outlook appointment set with a five minute reminder. Anyway, waking up I find it’s 7:30am! How could I have overslept so much? I throw some clothes on and march downstairs for breakfast. Hang on, it’s very quiet. And dark outside. And the streets are empty. Back in my room I check… laptop was on UAE time, two hours ahead. It’s 5:30am! No wonder the guy was surprised when I went to bed yesterday, it was probably about 6pm!

Breakfast is pita bread with jam and cheese, and a boiled egg, washed down with Turkish coffee. Then we get a lift to the site, as included in the price of the room. I had assumed the site was far away, but in fact it’s just at the bottom of the town, 1.5km away. Walk-able really, though it’s quite steep going down (I’m thinking of the return journey, though with no source of time and no idea how long I’ll be, it’s not possible to arrange a time for the return journey).

At the ticket office, I find it’s an expensive 26 dinar entry (19 UK pounds) for 2 days or 21D for the 1. I go for the two. You’re supposed to write your name on the ticket, though they don’t check ID anyway, and there are no bag searches or anything.

With the ticket, I march down the stony road which leads to the site. I’m not really sure what to expect, but people have told me it’s much bigger than you imagine. There are horse-drawn carriages, horses, donkeys and down in the site, camels, all available to shuttle you about if you don’t feel like walking, if you feel like negotiating a price with one of the sleazy Arabic guys hanging around. There are a couple of tombs on the way down, dating from the 1st century AD.

Obelisk or Nefesh Tomb

The first part where things get interesting is the “Siq”, a gorge which narrows and deepens until one feels like the rock is closing in on you.

The start of Al-Siq

This was cut by water which is now diverted into Wadi al-Mudhlim, via an 88m tunnel cut for this purpose.

The tunnel

Al Siq is 1207m long and 3-16m wide.

It’s a natural gorge, which the Nabataeans widened in places. They and the Romans built water-management features including covered channels running down the side of the road to carry clean water to the site in a managed way.

It was paved in the 1st century BC, and again later by the Romans.

At the end of the Siq, one reaches the money-shot, i.e. the defile of the Siq opens up suddenly, revealing the “Treasury”,

The Treasury


the scene that Petra is famous for, and was used in Indiana Jones.

The Treasury

There’s a relatively small chamber inside which you can’t actually enter.


It starts to snow! No wonder my toes are freezing. I might have to do socks with sandals tomorrow!

Looking back from under the columns to the mouth of the Siq

From the side

Yes, I really woz ‘ere!

From here, I head along past more tombs,

this part named The Street of Facades,

and reach the large Amphitheatre, before climbing up the rocks behind up to one of the “High Places”, this one called “The Sacrifice”,

an area used for ceremonial sacrifices, with a pool hollowed out to collect blood.

Nearby are a pair of obelisks.

I drop down using a slightly unconventional route to the dry Lion Fountain

The Lion

and then to the Garden Hall and Tomb of the Soldier.

Down to the Tomb of the Soldier

Inside the tomb

The Garden Hall, apparently sans, err, garden

I should mention that until now I’ve been almost alone, except in front of the Treasury and passing the occasional local tat-seller, who exist all over the site.

Not a good idea to be scrambling down sheer rock faces on your own?

Example of the beautiful polished patterns in the rock

Cutting across again, I eventually reach a road, which I follow for a while before deciding it wasn’t leading anywhere exciting, following Umm al-Biyara round.

The rock faces on all sides are littered not only with decorated tombs, but also caves and smaller enclosures, some of which are still used today by families who I presume are responsible for the tat stalls.

There’s a lot of walking about involved here, and I’m saved from possible boredom by having grabbed all the latest BBC podcasts in Dubai – R4 Choice, Broadcasting House, Start the Week and lots of Today in Parliament episodes accompany my walk.

Getting busy finally

No really – the tour group lot are rolling in

Car park Petra-style

There are some restaurants in the site, and all the tat sellers try to encourage you to drink tea with them, presumably for a price. There are a couple of small museums too, containing some artefacts recovered from around the site. They’re not especially interesting, though one of them does have some informative text. At least most of the bigger tombs around the site have information boards nearby.

The Monastery
Next up, the climb up to the “Monastery”, which is a bit of a trek, despite the cold I end up taking my fleece off before reaching the site, tucked away high up in the hills at the back of the site.

The view

The Monastery

And worth every step – what a magnificent structure! With a bit of sunshine sneaking through gaps in the cloud, I take a seat and enjoy some dates.

Standing at the base

On the march down, my leg starts to hurt slightly, I think my knees haven’t forgotten the Kilimanjaro punishment and are keen to ensure it’s not repeated!

Next, I head across the Colonnaded Street,

passing the Upper Market and the Great Temple,

before climbing steps up to the Urn Tomb,

The Urn Tomb

the last of the big hitters in the Petra Site. The inside is hugely impressive – a room of such size with an unsupported ceiling.

The central Petra site

Enough temples for today!

I walk back, enjoying a last look at the Treasury before making my way all the way up to the hotel. I stop at the automatic bakery to pick up some freshly baked bread, and at Al Arabia some hummous and a shwarma wrap. Dinner is sorted. At the ATM, I wait calmly as someone just pushes in front of me in the queue. Politeness is not a virtue in the Arab world.

So my plan is to head back early tomorrow morning before the tour groups arrive again, have a couple more hours just looking at my favourite bits (though I think I’ll skip climbing up to the monastery again!) then I’ll head to Amman to see what I can do about getting to Syria for Valentine’s Day!

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