It seems no word of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Nor saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
(Petra was the main topic in John William Burgon’s Poem Petra. Referring to it as the inaccessible city which he had heard described but had never seen. The Poem was awarded the Newdigate Prize in 1845)
Our dream trip to Petra
Nothing could have prepared us for Petra. We’ve read about Jordon and had been looking forward to seeing Petra for 7 months. Let me say that when we started down to Petra we’d expected it to be very hot and dusty. Instead the day was glorious, it was warm with a slight breeze coming up from the Wadi (valley). Most of the original road remains and horse and donkey carriages carry more physically challenged, however, the wait for the carriages is long and the drivers do not provide a guide tour.
We have an excellent guide on our tour. The site is approximately 80 kilometres northeast of Aqaba. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra is one of the most enigmatic places in the Middle East.
According to legend, angels swept through Petra and stained the cliffs with brushes dipped in pastel colours from heavenly palettes. While the rugged terrain indeed displays a rainbow of purple, pink, and orange hues, the scientific explanation attributing pigment to rich mineral content is more plausible. We started our walk from the Intercontinental Hotel, where we’ll have lunch. The entrance to the site is called Siq al Barid (ravine of cold) and leads between two steep cliffs to the ruins. This road is approximately 1.5 kilometres, the road is mainly original. The walls along the pathway are approximately 80-90 feet high, many with smooth faces while others show intricately carved excavations to reveal a rich society. As we get closer to the city the walk way narrows from 12ft to 8ft in sections. The warm breeze still continues and with the high walls we’re shaded from the sun.
As we walk I hear our guide saying to stay to the left – I couldn’t believe my eyes it was just awe-inspiring and the hairs lifted on every part of my body. The first site stood between 2 large cliff faces and the striking Al-Khazeneh or the treasury appears in front of us. This is perhaps the most famous monument and indeed the most magnificent. The 43 metre high facade marks the entry to the tomb of an important Nabataean king. (the treasury was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Nabataean society was a Greek, Egyptian, and Semitic hybrid. Their 4th Century BC capital was later absorbed into the Roman Empire. Many merchants from all directions brought their own cultures to Petra and while most the the 52 square kilometre city remains buried, many wonderful carved figures reveal a society highly skilled. hat is known is that buildings were created from the top down. So they must have had highly intelligent architects to ensure buildings were measured from the top down.
The buildings were done by tradesmen using hand tools (no electrical drills or hammers for these guys). On the side of each building you can see little holes in the walls used for builders to climb. It’s thought that perhaps a wooden scaffolding method was used but there is no evidence to support this theory.
As we leave the treasury building to enter the city we are in awe of a civilization built out of rock. There’s stores, houses, tombs, a sacrifice alter which Gerrit decided to climb – I think he got up about half way when he decided to come back down. Many of the roads are still original. Many of the more physically challenged take camels to ride to the bottom of the city, which is approximately another 1.5 kilometre in length. Much of the city remains unexcavated towards the bottom of the existing road. We climbed many of the buildings and were amazed to see other buildings behind those on the main street. Work continues on this site and we’re sure it will continue for some time to come.
Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of the “40 places you have to see before you die” We are so pleased to have had the opportunity to come and see it. We hope when we’re in this part of the world again we’ll visit to see the progress archaeologists have made.