Petra (November 3, 2019)

Word for the day: Nabataean.

Petra, two square miles in size, was the capital of the Nabataean Empire. It was through their influence, hard work, ingenuity, and business savvy that Petra prospered. The Roman Empire annexed the city early in the second century AD and added their imprint. At its peak, Petra was home to upwards of 30,000 people with temples, theatres, gardens, tombs, villas, and baths. Until a Swiss explorer rediscovered it in 1812, it had been forgotten for centuries. The last residents were Bedouins making their homes in the numerous caves. They were involuntarily resettled as late as 1985 when UNESCO designated the site.

Before coming I’d read that parts of this remarkable city hand-sculpted into sandstone mountainsides remain remarkably preserved while others have been ravaged to various degrees by wind, weather, and floods. We were excited to see for ourselves. Per our guide’s advice we were out the door and headed across the street at 7:00 to beat some of the crowds. A very good plan. 

We approached the ancient city on foot by the mile-long Siq Gorge, a narrow, winding passageway at times no wider than six feet with red and pink rock faces on either side as high as a four-story building. It is paved with original, huge rocks in some places and a new smooth surface in others. Parts of the original dam system and water channels are clearly visible. At the end of the Siq, as promised, stood one Petra’s top three or four most extraordinary monuments, the towering Treasury building (a tomb) that rises over 130 feet. This iconic structure, the centerpiece of most promotional material, was carved into the face of a towering sandstone wall. The carvers worked from top to bottom.

We were taken with the size of the Treasury and how well preserved it is. After drinking it all in we walked at a slow pace another mile and a half with something new to see at every turn: a partially columned Roman thoroughfare; numerous caves, small and large;  an amphitheater; tombs stacked up the side of a hill; small and large monuments; and Roman roads.

There were also lots of opportunities to shop along the way. One of my three favorites was a man that looked like a character in Pirates of the Caribbean demonstrating the difference between a poor excuse for kohl and the real deal: Jordanian kohl. Marguerite van Geldermalsen was manning her own stall where she sold her book, Married to a Bedouin, which tells how she, a New Zealand-born nurse, came to be married to a Bedouin souvenir-seller from Petra. My third favorite stall sold three dozen kinds of frankincense from various places.

Slowly walking the Siq and the following mile and a half, a zillion pictures, shopping, and gasping filled the morning. We enjoyed a buffet lunch in the ancient city at a small hotel  with an outdoor restaurant and nice restrooms. After lunch we had the choice of lingering, returning to the hotel, hiking some of the trails, or going up 850 steps to see the largest monument, the Monastery. Sandy, Alan, Dan, and I chose the Monastery which, by the way, is actually a tomb. In spite of the steep climb, uneven path, sheer drop offs in places, heat of the day, and thoughts of coming back down the sometimes sand-slippery path, we were delighted with the reward of the stunning Monastery! Talk about delayed gratification. It makes a gal wonder if the Nabataeans meant for us to work so hard for every gorgeous view. A snack shop was across from the Monastery, so we took advantage of the perfect vantage point and enjoyed a cold drink before heading down.

Once down we slowly made our way the three miles back to the hotel thoroughly satisfied with our day. We had spent eight and a half hours exploring. According to my smart watch, we had walked 11 miles and climbed 47 flights of stairs!

Dinner was at Petra Kitchen where we divided into groups of seven and learned to make a traditional dish or two. My table made baba ganoush. Once everyone was done cooking, we shared the meal and then went back to the hotel and crashed!

Today was my favorite day of the trip. There were a lot of close seconds, but this was my number one. 

… For What it’s Worth …

The late afternoon sun turns Petra a deep pink.

Petra mean rock.

For those uninterested in or unable to walk, there are
horse-drawn carts and mules for hire.

Way back in the day, an estimated 11,000 camels were required
to handle just the yearly trade in frankincense.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusaders, countless music videos, and at least
a dozen video games have used Petra as a centerpiece.


2 thoughts on “Petra (November 3, 2019)

  1. Such an amazing day, Schele! And I hope you are proud of what great shape you are in to hike up to the monastery, as well as all of the other miles you walked! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻



  2. I now really, really want to go to Petra—LOL

    Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
    Engineering Management Office
    PMP,ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA, PPO
    5159 Federal Blvd., San Diego, CA 92105
    • 619.266.5675 (ex. 55675) |( 619.822.4661 | •


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