I read about Petra (means rock in Greek), also called Baṭrā in Arabic, long before it was voted as a new World Wonder. This UNESCO World Heritage site has a long history and trysts with multiple civilizations. Today, the ancient city sees over one million visitors a year. After years of anticipation, the moment I reached Petra and saw her architecture; I was simply enamoured by her.
History of Petra
It is not precisely known as to when this city was built. It is believed to have been built in first century BCE, with speculation as early as fifth century BCE. Petra, also known as Raqmu, was the capital of the Nabataeans, originally an Arabian nomadic tribe. The city’s proximity to trading routes enabled it to become a major trading hub and to prosper. Being in the middle of the desert, the location doesn’t seem ideal for a city. However, extensive irrigation knowledge coupled with engineering skills to divert floods kept the city afloat.
The kingdom, along with the city was later annexed to the Roman Empire in the first century CE. Petra continued to remain important till an earthquake destroyed much of the city in the fourth century CE. By the middle of the seventh century CE, the destruction from the earthquake and changes in trade routes, led to Petra being abandoned. Only the local Bedouins remained in this once thriving city. Petra remained hidden till 1812, when she was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer.
Logistics to and at Petra
As I was part of a tour (why was I on a tour), we reached Petra from the Dead Sea by a minivan. Private vehicles and public buses are also available from Amman. Though I did not use them, JETT buses seem to be a good option. The bus stops right next to the visitor centre in Petra. Read more on tips to visit Petra.
Most hotels in Petra are within walking distance from the main entrance. My tour included only a single day ticket to Petra. We were going to stay in the town for only a day and half. I chose to pay extra and get the two-day visitor ticket. This was despite the fact that I would get only two or three hours on my second day. Given my love for architecture and the large area, I would have ideally spent three or more days in Petra.
Entering through the Siq
My companions and I met our guide at the visitor centre, before proceeding to the entrance. The ticket includes a guide and also a horse ride from the Visitor Centre to the entrance of the Siq. The Siq is the gorge that provides access to the ancient city. It is also possible to get carriages and golf carts to reach the Treasury from the Visitor Centre. Ethically, I choose to never use an animal as a mode of transport. That and the desire to explore slowly, made me walk to the Wonder. If you do not need any assistance, I recommend walking since there is a lot to see and enjoy on the way. The distance from the visitor centre to the treasury is about 3 km.
I separated from the group to walk at my pace. Treading past the Djin Blocks, Snake Tomb and Obelisk Tomb, I reached the entrance to the Siq. Here, I regrouped with my companions and guide. Walking through this massive geological fault, engulfed in the rose, red and purple hues of sandstone was mesmerizing. It is very difficult to not just stand and stare. Our guide kept telling us about Petra while occasionally stopping to point out something in the Siq. We walked past the dam that was built to stop floods. As we reached the end of the Siq, I was awestruck by the first glimpse of the Treasury or Al-Khazneh. Petra had already proven to be beyond my expectations.
Beyond the Treasury
Our guide told us the history of the city and pointed out everything that we could see and do. I sauntered around to explore as much of this place as possible. From the Street of Facades, I climbed up to the Royal Tombs. After spending time at the Palace, Silk, Urn and Corinthian Tombs, I decided to go up to see the view of the Treasury. Following the Al-Khubtha Trail, I climbed up. There weren’t many people on the trail. I stopped to get a look at the Roman Theatre from the top and proceeded on the trail.
The route to get to the viewpoint is not clearly marked. Checking with a few people going back down, I continued on the trail. Finally, I reached the viewpoint from where I could see the Treasury. Due to my fear of losing balance, I have trouble walking down on smooth slopes and uneven steps. Hence, going down, especially towards the end of the trail was getting a lot more difficult for me. Thankfully, I met a kind Chilean couple, who helped me walk down while we conversed in whatever Spanish I could manage.
I visited Petra in September, and it was still hot. There is barely any shade away from the cliffs. I took a short break at the bottom of the trail to enjoy some ice cream. After cooling down, I continued to the Byzantine Church and the Temple of Winged Goddess. Like most tourist places, there was hardly anyone beyond the main attraction – The Treasury. I crossed the Qasr-al-Bint and reached the starting point for the Ad-Dier Trail to the Monastery or Ad-Dier. My original plan was to do the Al-Khubtha and Ad-Dier trails on day one and the High Place of Sacrifice on day two. Taking the heat into consideration, I chose not to hike to the Monastery that day.
Walking back through the Colonnaded Street, I stopped at the Great Temple. This grand seven thousand sqm complex is what remains of the amalgamation of Nabataean and classical architecture. Leisurely, I explored the massive theatre carved in the rocks and reached the Treasury. I waited until sundown when the crowds started to disperse, to head back. My only companions while walking at sunset in the Siq were golden hues on the red sandstone and the occasional locals. I lingered in the streets of the modern day Petra wondering how different they might have been years ago.
Day Two at Petra
Having walked over 20 km the previous day, I slept through my alarm. Due to the lost time, I had to abandon my plans to hike to the Monastery the next morning. Possibly, I may have been more motivated to wake up, if I didn’t have to walk 8 km of the same route as the previous day. Resigned, I leisurely walked through an empty Siq to an equally empty Treasury. I sat down, watching the sunrays drop on the massive rock cut structure and the tourists filling in. After about an hour, I walked out and decided to buy my usual souvenirs – postcards and a magnet. Before heading to Wadi Rum, heeding to my request our driver stopped at the Post Office at Petra for me to post my cards.
Since the day Agatha Christie introduced me to Petra; Petra has had a special place in my heart. Walking through her beautiful rose-red landscape left me wanting more. I wonder how much knowledge the stones have retained of the bygone times and how they must be dying to tell their tale. I bade farewell to her with a promise to come back.
Visited: Sept 2018