Marwan and Layan are coming with us to visit Jordan’s most famous historical attraction. It’s a 3 hours drive from Petra and we can’t set off before getting our Jordanian coffee. We know it’s going to be a tough day. The sun is up high and the hiking will be demanding but the desire of visiting this beautiful place gets us very excited.
Petra, the fabled “rose red city, half as old as time”, is a well known ancient Nabataean city. Due to its breathtaking grandeur and fabulous ruins, Petra was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
Petra was the impressive capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC. The kingdom was absorbed into the Roman Empire in AD 106 and the Romans continued to expand the city. An important center for trade and commerce, Petra continued to flourish until a catastrophic earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water management systems around AD 663. After Saladin’s conquest of the Middle East in 1189, Petra was abandoned and the memory of it was lost to the West.
The ruins remained hidden to most of the world until the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab scholar, infiltrated the Bedouin-occupied city in 1812. Burckhardt’s accounts of his travels inspired other Western explorers and historians to discover the ancient city further. The most famous of these was David Roberts, a Scottish artist who created accurate and detailed illustrations of the city in 1839. The site was included in the Steven Spielberg movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989 and was chosen in July 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The entrance to Petra is a long, winding sandstone canyon known as the Siq (about 2km). There are minor carvings spotted here and there throughout the Siq, but the most impressive sights are the colorful and unusual sandstone patterns in the rock walls. There are also remains of terracotta pipes built into the sides of the canyon that were used in Roman times to carry water.
The site at the top of the mountain contains elaborate rock altars used for sacrifices. From the High Place, one can view much of Petra from above. Beautiful scenery. It can get cold and windy up there. The trek down the back side of the mountain reveals many interesting tombs and carvings that might be missed by the average tourist.
The Bedouin tradesmen around the area will display artificial “ancient” Roman or Nabatean coins which are rather large in size. If pressed further, they will generally have a hidden stash of small, authentic coins from various periods. However buying these coins encourages the illegal looting of archaeological sites. To supply you with a souvenir the local inhabitants destroy graves, tombs and buildings in searches for coins and other antiquities. The Antiquities Law of 1988 states that individuals who engage in illicit excavations and/or trading in antiquities are criminals.
Throughout Petra, vendors will offer bottles of decorative sand art. While they may appear similar to other such souvenirs found in other Jordanian locations, these are unique in that the sand used to create the art is naturally colored sand scraped from the rock walls of various Petra canyons and not artificially colored. The most common design displays a camel’s silhouette against a desert background.
We rest for a little while at a “bar” at the top of the hike and head back. It was a wonderful day which I will never forget.