16th Oct 2012 - 17th Oct 2012 - Egypt & Jordan
Had an early morning wakeup call at camp, whereby we packed up and headed the short 20 min ride back to base camp where breakfast was served. From Wadi Rum we had a 2 hour drive to Wadi Musa the town just outside of Petra, our next stop. En route, we stopped twice at lookouts. The first was the highest point in Jordan and we could see for miles all the way down into Israel. From the second lookout we could see mountains surrounding Petra but not Petra itself as it is well hidden within the mountains, leading to the “lost city”. We drove down into Wadi Musa, then out the other side en route to Little Petra. This was where the Nabataeans held a staging post for people coming to trade with them at Petra. There would have been restaurants, supplies and places to leave the camels. Still visible at the sight was the reception and restaurants, some complete with a VIP section. All buildings had noticeable Greek, Roman and Egyptian influences, believed to be in an attempt to make visitors feel welcome. There was also a Treasury style building with columns carved into the sandstone and still perfectly intact. At the far end of the site was a Siq (a naturally formed crevice in the rocks) which we could walk through. At the far end of it were steps up that took us to a viewpoint where we could see views over the rocks and the route the traders would have taken to Petra where they would have sold their wares. After, followed lunch in a local restaurant and a trip to the local supermarket to buy snacks for our day tomorrow, which will be very long since we have a 5am wakeup call and will be walking in excess of 8 hours. Because of this we had the afternoon to ourselves and we predominantly all spent it chilling in our rooms.
The next morning was the big one – what was promised to be one of THE highlights and the reason many people took the trip. A visit to Petra, voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. We left our hotel at 6 with the promise that we’d be the first tour group in front of the Treasury. First stop, however, was the bakery to pick up some bread to go with the snacks we’d bought the day before. Whilst food is available within the site, it is all very overpriced so Zuhair suggested we brought our own in. The Petra site is spread over 3.5km with the main highlight being the Treasury. This is what you think of when you think of Petra and it is what 95% of Petra photos will be of. However, Petra itself is a whole city complete with Roman ruins, tombs and religious buildings. No one is 100% sure of what Petra was used for. Whilst many believe it was a trading post for the Nabataeans, there is also a school of thought that it is a cemetery due to the high number of tombs present, some of them belonging to royalty. Petra was lost for around 1500 years until a Swiss explorer by the name of Jean Louis Burckhardt “found” it in 1812. Excavations are still going on to this day and many believe there is plenty still to be discovered.
From the entrance we walked down a pathway with tombs on one side and the Djinn Blocks on the other. Nothing much is known about them other than they were huge monuments built by the Nabataeans in approximately 1AD. From here we entered the Siq. This is on a much grander scale than the one at Little Petra but is still naturally formed. It stretches for 1.5km and at times the rocks on either side are 80m high. Down either side were two water tunnels, although only one side would contain water safe for drinking. Part way along the Siq was a large stone that it is believed the Nabataeans worshipped around in a similar way to the Black Stone worshipped by Muslims in Saudi Arabia. A bit further still were worn down carvings in the rock that showed a man and his camel. This adds weight to the theory about Petra being a trading site. Further on and Zuhair pointed something out high up behind us. We all turned round and strained to look moving further and further backwards in the process. Suddenly, he laughed and turned back round so that we were facing the way we had been going. We all did the same and there, peeking through the end of the Siq, was the pinky orange sandstone belonging to our first glimpse of the Treasury. 10m further and we were out of the Siq and had a full view of the imposing Treasury. And what a site it was – if the Nabataeans wanted their visitors to be awe struck and full of wonder for them, well they would have succeeded. The building has 43m high columns carved into the rock (of which only one has been rebuilt as it had been destroyed when Petra was found) and, like Little Petra, had noticeable influences from around the world – Egyptian, Greek and Roman in most abundance. Carvings on the front of the Treasury include 1 Urn – believed to represent 1 year – 4 eagles (four seasons), 7 wine chalices (days of the week), 30 flowers (days of the month) and 365 cubes (days of year) leading some scholars to believe the building was in some way used as a calendar. There were statues on the wall with some believing they include the sons of Greek God Zeus, Egyptian Goddess Isis and Roman Goddess of fortune Tyche. The building was originally built as a tomb for King Aretas IV but the Bedouins saw the orb on the top of the building and believed treasure to be found inside. This led to the name Treasury. The Bedouins shot at the building and the bullet marks can still be seen today. Zuhair had done us good as, although a few individuals had already made it to the Treasury, we were the first tour group there meaning we could get good photos with no one else in them.
When we had finally finished at the Treasury we walked along the Outer Siq and down the Street of Facades. There were many tombs to be soon along here, some of which had the most exquisitely coloured rock on the inside. Opposite was a Roman style theatre that would seat 700 although it had been carved out the rock by the Nabataeans not the Romans. We saw three Royal tombs – the Urn tomb, the Silk tomb and the Corinthian tomb each one carved in the first Century AD. We turned onto the Colonnaded Street which was Petra City Centre and was very Roman in design. At the end of the Street was the Great Temple which was badly destroyed by the earthquake of 106AD but still has a few columns left standing, one of which has a lovely elephant sculpture on the top of it. On this street is also the only free standing structure remaining in Petra – the Qasr al-Bint – dedicated to the Gods. It was from here that we began our first hike of the day, up to Al-Deir, also known as the Monastery. Although less famous than the Treasury, we were promised that the 800 steps we would have to climb would be worth it as it was bigger than it’s more famous sister. The trail containing the steps wound its way through the valley, up and up, with very impressive views indeed. As we rounded the corner after the final set of steps we saw the building that was indeed bigger than the Treasury and, arguably, more impressive. Built as a tomb, it is believed to have been used a church in Byzantine times. Beyond the Monastery, there is another trail that takes you up to another viewpoint looking out over the entire valley and down towards Israel and Palestine. We spent some time up here before heading down and looking smugly at those people still making their way up!
After a spot of lunch, we started on hike number 2 which would take us to a viewpoint over the Treasury. The hike started behind a Byzantine church which had an impressive mosaic on the floor. We would come to see plenty more mosaics over the next couple of days. The trail took us behind the Royal tombs and through some scrubland, before coming out to a perfect view of the Treasury from above. Although the view was amazing, the one thing we all commented on was the noise and hustle and bustle that was coming from below us and it really made us appreciate how lucky we had been to have been there early in the morning before the crowds turned up. It’s not often I’ll appreciate the benefits of a 5am wakeup call. We walked back down to the church and had 45 minutes of spare time. Given that it would take us 35 minutes to get out of the site and we were knackered from all the walking we’d already done we decided to head back to the entrance. As we walked back through the Siq, the number of tour groups still pouring into the site amazed us all. It was 3.15 and aside from the Treasury, they wouldn’t have time to see anything. Zuhair called them “Jordan in a day” tourists from Israel and Egypt who get up early, visit the Dead Sea, the Treasury, drive through Wadi Rum briefly before dining in Aqaba or Amman depending on which way they are going and they only spend one day in the country. To be honest, they are missing out big time. That evening we were absolutely shattered but we made it down to Wadi Musa town centre for dinner, although with our table right on the street our dinner was constantly covered in petrol fumes. However, we’d done so much walking that we would have eaten a horse right then (or more aptly, a camel).