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Petra, a ‘rose-red city’, is in neighbouring Jordan and very accessible from Ashkelon…


We took a bus south, climbing and crossing the desert of the Negev, then rapidly descending to the bottom of the Great Rift Valley at 400 metres below sea level, just south of the Dead Sea. 



It’s incredibly hot and dry down there among the saltpans.
We passed through Sodom without noticing, but found it quite believable that Lot’s wife should have turned to a pillar of salt!
It is strange then to ascend to sea level as the valley from the Dead Sea gradually lifts out to Eilat, a town on the Gulf of Aqaba.
That’s the left ear of the Red Sea Donkey, the part we didn’t get to sailing, -apart from visiting Sharm el Sheikh on the southern end.
Eilat is a resort and dive town, immediately adjacent to the Egyptian border.
A little more time there would have been good… our 10 minute stay was fully taken haggling for a taxi driver to take us to the Jordan Border, -we knew we were back close to Egypt!
Crossing into Jordan was easy, we were 2 of about 6 people going over at the time, it was uncomplicated and fast, (unlike our return to Israel at a crossing further north…)
We completed formalities at 2.15pm and the last mini-bus for Petra had left at 2, we had no choice but to hire a car and driver,although probably would have done so anyway, it is a very reasonable way of getting around long distance in Jordan.
Like Eilat, we were disappointed not to see a litte more of the town of Aqaba, its Jordanian counterpart, but time didn’t allow it.
The scenery was identical to the Sinai Peninsula, very rugged and mountainous desert and even the same red rocks with black bands. 


We crossed the lower end of Wadi Rum, a wide valley of flat sand with small patches of green and dramatic rock ‘mountains’, monoliths of a size to rival Ayer’s Rock. 


Lawrence of Arabia wrote of Wadi Rum in his ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, it was also the location for shooting much of the movie in the 60s.
Today, the more notable rock mountains further up the valley are in a protected area and tourists go by 4 wd vehicles to experience desert… but we were not tempted to see more! 

We continued on and wound uphill to a plateau where at about 1000m altitude it was cooler. We stopped to look at the view back down over the wadi and for our driver to refresh himself… 


Although he seemed a nice man, as were all Jordanians we met, we found him to be something of a maniac behind the wheel. As we got nearer our destination he drove faster and unfortunately the coffee and cigarette break did nothing to help! 

Petra is off the road, Wadi Musa is the service town above it and where the tourist hotels and facilities are. 


Both towns are on the plateau, Wadi Musa is higher and Petra over the edge deep in the amazing sandstone rock mountains below.
(Wadi Musa is ‘Spring of Moses’ so named because of its fresh, clean spring in the town centre which is said to have been the rock which Moses tapped with his stick to bring forth water for the children of Israel. But this is at least the 4th of his springs we’ve seen so far…) 

Our hotel was in Wadi Musa, we enjoyed it in every way, the location, the food, the accommodation and the people. 

It is about a 2 km walk down the hill to the now gated entrance to Petra, many tourist shops and expensive hotels… 


and who was first, the Movenpick? or the Pick and Move…?
(Bedouins  have a quirky sense of humour, don’t take themselves too seriously and we enjoyed it…but we HAD just come over the border from Israel…) 


From the gate it is more walk/camel/horse/buggy ride, 500m down the dry riverbed of Wadi Musa, seeing the first cave tombs, dwellings and the Djinn Blocks (aka ‘God Blocks’ -they made them as somewhere for the evil spirits to live) 


and the Obelisk tomb above with its banqueting hall beneath. 

Petra is an area inhabited since the very start of civilisation, excavations date people living here 7000 years ago.
The ‘rose red city’ however, is the work of the Nabataeans, a particularly clever Arab culture who moved in from the Arabian Peninsula around the 6th century BC.
The place was strategic as a point on the trading routes between east and west, the Nabateans took control of that and became wealthy. Over the next 500 years they were able to build their fantastic city.
King Herod over-ran them for a time, but it was not until around 100 AD when they lost their dominance over the trading routes that they really lost their power to Roman invaders.
The city continued to grow despite that and the Roman influence is plain to see. Although for a time there was some further growth with Christianity during the Byzantine rule, there were several destructive earthquakes and the city fell into decline.
During the 12th century there was some activity with the crusades, but subsequently,it was a place just inhabited by the local Bedouin, they kept it secret and it was lost to the western world. It was only rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss man masquerading as a Muslim!
Since then it has been a hive of archeological activity and lately, increasing tourism. The Bedouin continued to inhabit it until 1985 when because of the pressure from visitor numbers, they were forced to move into a purpose built village, as off-site proprietors.

Even without the old city, Petra is an amazing bit of sandstone landscape.
What is more amazing however, is the ingenuity of the Nabateans in building their city, -although it wasn’t really ‘built’, it was a process more of ‘subtraction’ than ‘construction’.
Until the Romans came along they constructed little using blocks, rather, they selected their piece of sandstone landscape and removed everything that wasn’t a wanted part of their design… massive amounts of rock were carved away to create fine architectural features.

All the old structures in the city were created in that way, the obelisks above the tomb and the Djinn blocks are no exception, they can be seen to have been part of the original landscape, with unwanted bits removed… 


(The ‘unfinished tomb’ within the city shows their building process most effectively, the top part of the tomb facade has been cut out and even fine detail completed, while the lower parts are still solid rock, a handy scaffold for the builder to work from as he carved his way down. For some reason this tomb was never completed) 


Beyond the Obelisk Tomb and the Djinn blocks is the Siq, the true entrance to the city and the most incredible feature of the whole place.
It is a 1.2 km long ‘canyon’ (although not truly a canyon made by erosion, it is just a big crack in the rock), as narrow as 2 m in parts and with walls up to 200m! 


It is a great natural defence, but there’s not a lot of light gets down there, is full of echos, adding to the mystery of what might be coming…
At the far end, climactically, there it is, 


the picture on the front of every tourist brochure, the ‘Treasury’. 


This was built as a tomb for Nabataean King Aretas around the time of the birth of Christ but has become known as the ‘Treasury’ after there was a rumour spread about an Egyptian Pharoah using it as a hiding place for his wealth. 


In its relatively sheltered position at the end of the Siq it has been protected from the elements, the fine detail of soft sandstone carvings well preserved. 



It is undoubtedly the focal point of Petra, perhaps the whole country.

The following morning, Jordanian TV was there, live filming the breakfast programme with a pretty lady presenting 


and a military band dancing… 





From the Treasury, the Siq opens into the ‘Street of Facades’, 



lined with tombs, (Mesopotamian features they say) 



and then the ampitheatre, carved out of the rock before Roman times, -the Nabataeans beat them at their own game! -although the Romans came and built the bit with columns in front later. 

Further on, the valley opens out widely, 


the hills around are lined by the facades of tombs and dwelling caves 


 (and distant,on the hill above, is Umm Sayhoun, since 1985, the concrete town for the Bedouin) 


There’s the Colonnaded Street built after the arrival of the Romans in around 100 AD 


ending in the Temenos Gateway 


and to one side the remains of the Great Nabataean Temple. 


Qasr al Bint is one of the few free-standing structures built by Nabataeans, it was a very important and ornate temple built BC, but sadly destroyed in about the 3rd century AD.
On the hill above it is the remains of a Crusader Castle built by King Baldwin in 1116 AD, there’s not a lot left now other than platforms, steps and views… 


back over the Colonnaded Street and Great Temple 



and in the other direction, over the narrow Wadi Siyagh.
Everywhere there are dwelling caves and until 1985 they were used by Bedouin. 


These were natural formations, or natural with modifications making use of natural structures with dramatic effect and enhanced by the colours of the sandstone… 






Behind the grand external facade of the Nabataean tombs 



there often isn’t a lot to see, the caves disproportionately small and left bare, but with a few exceptions. 




where decorative columns and capitals have been carved from the rock by their excavation process. 


They were also incredibly clever with water.
For most of the year there is no rain and never is there much, but when it falls it floods.
They carved systems of channels from the cliff faces to collect water in cisterns, enough to irrigate small gardens and provide a town water supply at the public fountain, the Nymphaeam.
Because it is at the lower end of the Valley of Wadi Musa and just a narrow channel, the Siq has always been prone to flash flooding.
To lessen that danger, in about 100 BC, their engineers built a low dam across the entrance and a diversionary tunnel about 100 metres long through the hill to one side to carry the flood waters away, around the mountain and into the town by another route.
They also carved channels, still visible now, to collect and conduct water from the rock walls for the whole length of the Siq, -amazing stuff for their time!

Although there are tombs and dwelling caves spread over a wide area, the centre of the City is the Colonnaded Street and adjacent temples, it was the centre of public life.
There are ruins of 2 more recent, Byzantine, churches, 


the Blue Chapel (for its blue columns) 



and the one known as the Petra Church, notable for its mosaic floors, surprisingly only discovered in 1992. 


More modern additions to the town centre needed with increasing tourism are a small museum of largely Nabataean relics; 


a handful of small restaurants, shops 


and many  ‘taxis’;  camels for about the town 


but donkeys carry the hot and tired to the high places… 


There are many high places, but there are 2 climbs on every tourist itinerary, up stairs, hot and dry and unless a donkey is used, the day has to be planned around the best time to make the ascents.
The ‘High Place of Sacrifice’ is the more accessible, about 40 minutes step climb above the theatre.
There the Nabataeans levelled off 2 mountain tops, 


-first, one to create a couple of ceremonial obelisks


and secondly, to make a broad level pan with low altar and channels thought to have been for the collection of sacrificial blood…
(where there is now a very friendly bedouin selling curios)


Just over the brim are bird-eye views down onto the main street and ant-like tourists below



and the line of grand Royal Tombs.

There’s another, more circuitous route down, fewer steps and meandering through houses and tombs with little gardens in rock crevices,

water collecting channels, cisterns and the (now) headless lion fountain carved from the cliff face, so placed that water would spout from its mouth.

The other high point and the supreme achievement for the unfit and hot is the climb to the ‘Monastery’.

This is an ancient processional route of 800 tortured and worn stone steps, past bedouin distractions of the retail kind, to a plateau, where the Monastery is the only other monument to rival the Treasury in Petra.

This is bigger and grander, not as intricately detailed,

but similarly, has been carved out of the mountain.

(and bedouins on its top-most urn trust it not to fall!)
Although called a ‘Monastery’ probably as a result of its use during Byzantine times, the original purpose was as a tomb for King Obodas in the 3rd century BC.
The flat area in front once had a columned ceremonial square, now there is a strategically placed drinks tent for refreshment

and bedouin keepsakes.

There’s a nearby cave with tomb ‘468’, notable for a well preserved door to nowhere.

Around the Monastery plateau are higher viewpoints

to the east in the middle distance can be seen Wadi Musa

and to the west, barely visible through the haze of the day, is Wadi Araba, the Great Rift Valley and Israel. 

48 hours in Petra to us was the minimum. There is more to see by hiring a bedouin and walking further -but in cooler seasons.
Although not as hot as the lowlands, the midday sun beats down, it’s hot, dehydrating and on very rough  terrain, easy to get into trouble.

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