Day 14: Rest Day: Exploring Petra
Friday June 3, 2011
At the crack of dawn I woke and quietly slipped out of the hostel dorm room. Today I had the whole day to see the ancient city of Petra. I only had one day here so the plan was to spend the entire day seeing as much as I could between the sites opening times of 6am-6pm. I arrived at the ticket office just after 6am and quickly got my expensive 50JD ticket.
Having wanted to visit Petra for quite a long time it was great to be standing here alone in front of the entrance to the Siq. Being 6 in the morning I had the entire Siq to myself and was able to walk along in silence. The Siq is the famous 1.2km passage through two large rockfaces. An earthquake many years ago ripped the rock apart leaving this narrow gap behind. It is the perfect build up for what follows at the end of it. After 10 minutes winding through this passage you get your first glimpse of the Treasury, an incredible tomb cut straight out of the rockface. It really is an astounding sight and you can see why people travel from all over the world just to see it. I had the whole Treasury to myself except for two guys setting up a cafe nearby. This meant I was able to go over the rope and have a sneaky look inside. The interior is pretty small and bare, which will disappoint any Indiana Jones fans!
After spending 20 minutes here just taking in this imposing facade I began my long walk around the city of Petra. Petra itself was the capital city of the Nabateans, an ancient race of peoples living in this region around 2,000 years ago. They carved a city into the rock, with amphitheatres, monasteries, homes and tombs all being built into the rockfaces around the city. The centre of the city is now mostly gone, all that remains are some Roman ruins from when Petra became part of the Roman empire in 100AD. These are impressive but it is the tombs carved straight out of the rockfaces that are the most impressive aspect of Petra. The amount of them is astounding and it would take 2-3 full days here to see them all.
In my 12 hours of walking I visited countless tombs, the famous Monastery, the High Place of Sacrifice (a sacrificial altar placed on the top of a mountain where the Nabateans sacrificed animals for the Gods) and found a great spot on the cliffs overlooking the Treasury. Exploring Petra was fantastic, between seeing the main sights I was able to go off the beaten track and climb unused staircases into mountains, seeing the less looked at tombs and bumping into no one. In the western world a place like this would be closed off with handrails and people there to ensure you don’t go off the marked path. Here you were left to your own devices and could explore to your own content. I could have easily spent another day or two here but I made the most of my 12 hours trying to see as much as I could in that time. Amazing as it is, it’s hard to describe Petra in words so I’ll leave that to the more skillful writers and leave it to (a few too many!) photos to describe the site.
With my legs beat from all the walking and a bright red face from the sunburn I retreated to the hostel as the site closed for the day. After a quick shower I enjoyed another buffet meal, devouring 2 more full plates of food. I got to bed relatively early ready for a long day tomorrow on the King’s Highway. It was an incredible day in Petra and unlike many historic sights this one fully lived up to it’s reputation, it was without a doubt one of the highlights of my trip so far and I hope to be back some day.