Petra, the last Wonder of the World
There is a destination, which has been on my bucket list for many years, and I was finally able to spend two days exploring its every nook and cranny. The location was Jordan’s Petra Valley, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the only one I had not seen.
For those unfamiliar with Petra, it is located in the southern part of Jordan, about a three hour drive from Amman. Part of the desert of Jordan, it was for many years the capital city of the former Nabatean Kingdom, a race which ruled the Middle East for centuries.
The most recognizable monument in the site is Al Khazneh, a temple with an ornate, Greek-style facade, and known as the Treasury. It dates back to 300 BCE and is carved entirely out of the pink coloured sandstone. One can immediately see why it is nicknamed the Rose City.
I drove from Amman to arrive early in the evening, and had enough time to check into my hotel, the Movenpick, directly across the road from the entrance to the archeological wonder. I quickly made my way across the street, to view the advertised light show, which happens once or twice a week, and I did not want to miss it.
Not knowing too much about the site, I purchased my ticket and walked through a narrow passage, bound on each side by extremely high cliffs. The pathway was dimly lit by small paper bags, filled with sand and a candle. I was grateful for the flashlight on my phone, as I was not aware the trek was two and a half kilometres long.
It was extremely eerie, as the path was about 3 or 4 metres (10-12 feet) wide with paths, which were quite uneven. I walked for what seemed an eternity, and came upon an opening which revealed the dimply lit temple before me. It was massive, but the hundreds of people, transported on buses from cruise ships in Aqaba (two hours away), had little respect for the historic element of the place, and were more interested in talking selfies and stepping over other people to find a seat on the soft Jordanian sand.
The light show was about 20 minutes late in starting and began with 30 minutes of chanting. My interest diminished as I sat in the dark, surrounded by many tourists listening to what became a very repetitive sound. I then realized all these people would all be leaving at the same time, causing a rush and decided to give the rest of the performance a miss.
I woke early the next morning, and was at the gate at 7 AM. I met my guide there and we began to explore. Whatever preconceived visions I had conjured up in the darkness the night before, had not prepared me for the vast beauty of what was before me. Cliffs, hundreds of metres high, rose straight up and seemed to almost come together at the top. The sides were smooth, with carvings along the way, made by a civilization nearly 2,500 years ago.
The area looked totally different in the daytime, and was nearly void of people, as cruise ship passengers would not arrive until noonish. We walked briskly along the 2.5 km stretch, and came upon an opening which revealed the Treasury building, bathed in morning sunlight. A few camels were resting in front of it, and donkeys and the odd horse could be seen with their masters, in the event visitors needed a ride.
The view was emotional, as the sheer magnificence of the place mesmerized me. We climbed the surrounding cliffs to get different views, and my camera was working non-stop. After half an hour or so we continued on, gaping at dozens of temples all carved into the rock walls.
My guide explained the carving began at the top and the ancient workers made their way down, slowly etching amazing details as they progressed. The dryness of the desert, coupled with the secrecy of the place, had kept the city nearly intact.
Petra has been settled for nine thousand years, and was a major trading route during the 4th century BCE, when the current city was constructed. It was then settled by Bedouin people until 1985, when the government relocated them to the surrounding city, and made the site part of the Unesco Heritage program.
The entire site is seven kilometres long, but walking it took me all day and 30,000 steps (which is equivalent to 21 km). The temperature was in the mid-thirties, and sunscreen and my hat were my best friends. The end of the stretch was marked by an ancient monastery, and my guide neglected to tell me there were over a thousand steps, all carved from the rock, leading to the top.
It was worth the climb, as the views were spectacular and the accomplishment noteworthy. Every few minutes I would be passed by a donkey or two carrying tourists, unable to make the climb on foot. My guide warned me that ride was about $20 but they would charge another $20 to get people off the beast. I was also saddened when I saw the little donkeys climbing the steps burdened with tourists.
I passed a large Roman-built amphitheater, as well as hundreds of temples. Lunch was in a small, makeshift restaurant, with surprisingly tasteful food. All in all the day was spectacular and I was so grateful to have been able to explore Petra at leisure with a knowledgeable guide. I was however, glad to see my hotel, and after a rest and dinner, made my way across the street to the newly opened museum, where I filled in the gaps from my education during the day.
Petra is one of those places you have to experience to get the full effect of its sheer grandeur. Having thoroughly visited the place, I can see why it was added to the Seven Wonders of the World list.