First off, a disclaimer that this post isn’t particularly research focussed so if you’re allergic to fun turn away now…still with me? Ok. Last week I returned from a fantastic adventure to the Middle East where I visited one of the ‘New Seven Wonders’ of the world – the ancient Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan. It was such a brilliant trip I thought I’d write a wee blog post about it to share some of the photos…
On the first day we were up at 5:30am to hike into the site from the town of Wadi Musa before the bus loads of tourists arrived, it was worth it.
Getting to the main site requires a trek or, if you’re me, brisk walking interspersed with theatrical galloping on my invisible horse. We couldn’t find any coconut shells for hoof sound effects but we did sing the Indiana Jones theme music most of the way down the winding ‘siq’, which is essentially a steep sided dry gorge. We emerged from the siq and caught our first glimpse of the Treasury, it was an amazing feeling to step out into the surrounding courtyard to realise we were the first ones to arrive at the site that day.
The site is absolutely enormous and because we were there so early on our first day we really pushed to cover as much ground as possible. We passed the amphitheatre and the King Tombs fairly quickly and headed straight for the Monastery, which itself was another hike, this time up a narrow path to a plateau near the top of the surrounding mountainous cliffs. It took us about an hour to hike up there because even though it was still early, once the sun was up the heat was pretty intense, around gas mark 4 give or take a few degrees.
We chatted about it again and again on the trip and I think for both of us the Monastery was our favourite part of Petra. There’s something about the journey of the hike up to it combined with the colossal first impression when you get to the top and walk up to the enormous façade that makes it feel special and almost as though it’s an adventure in itself.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the further reaches of the site, including a very steep ascent filled with the peril of slippery worn steps, narrow winding paths and vertigo-inducing drops to the High Place of Sacrifice.
The next day we focussed our energy on the vast area of the King Tombs, which consist of phenomenally huge façades cut right back into the rock cliffs.
As if the architectural ingenuity and skill wasn’t beautiful enough to take in, many of the tombs reveal the stunning surface of the natural rock, with swirling arrays of bright colours.
After another day of hiking, exploring and singing the Indiana Jones theme music to death we found a spot above the Bedouin caves to watch the sun set and bring out all the reds and oranges of the rock. Exploring was brilliant, but taking a bit of time to sit and study the site from a distance gives you another perspective altogether. Once you get your eye in you begin to notice all the tiny details and realise that there are staircases and carving and caves and façades and pathways everywhere.
Sounds dreamy right? Well it was until we were chased back to the road by a group of hungry and irate goats. But that’s another story.
I’ve heard a few people describe the ‘Wonders’ they’ve visited. Each time no matter the site – the pyramids at Giza, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, etc – I hear the same words: “it’s just, really big.” And that’s Petra too, it’s enormous. Not just in the scale of the individual monuments, but in the fact that those intricately carved façades are countless and spread over such a vast area.
But my experience and love for Petra isn’t based on the individual monuments themselves. Sure the Treasury and the Monastery were breathtaking, the King Tombs and the High Place of Sacrifice were beautiful and the natural landscape was incredible, but the journeys that tie those sights together are what really stuck with me. Petra is a site that makes you work for your monuments, it can’t be experienced passively as an observer. I have my photographs to remember the intricate detail of the carved rock, but the memories that will stay firm in my mind will be the scramble up endless rock-cut steps, following a path up a gully and pulling myself up on worn ancient hand-holds to see if it leads anywhere, or getting lost in a maze of anti-chambers and caves. Petra can’t be experienced as anything other than an adventure. No wonder Indy came here.
On that note…