Bedouin & Goats & Caves
Yaser & Friends
Petra. I have heard about this place most of my life. It is Famous. It is Big, and I finally got to see it.
We caught a car down the hill and were dropped off at the main gate. It did not seem that far from our hotel and only took a minute or so to get there. Knowing this was a UNESCO site we were worried that it was the wrong spot. No this was it. Walking past unopened stalls (It was about 6:45am) and the donga for the guides we made it to the front entrance, only to find that we couldn’t get our tickets there. Apparently we had walked past the ticket office, so we backtracked to the donga, and found another one that sold the tickets. We tried asking if we could use a multi day pass with a break in between. I.E. a two day ticket that we use on Sunday and Tuesday. Having monday off. This did not go down well, we could get a one day ticket, two day ticket or four day ticket. Trying again, do we have to go each day, or can we take a break? You can get a 1 day ticket……… We ended up buying a two day ticket. This was a mistake, but it was early! Back at the main gate we got our named ticket scanned and hole punched. We were now allowed in.
Just inside the gate you can take the free pony ride to the Siq. We had been warned about this. Apparently the price of the ride is included in the ticket, but the 25JD expected tip at the end isn’t! We decided to skip it and walk.
It is a nice walk down to the entrance of the Siq, and as it was so early there was nobody there, in the cool quite. No-one trying to sell us things, and only the occasional cleaner sitting there having a quiet cigarette in the shade. At the Siq itself there is a new dam to divert water away from the site in the same fashion and on the same site as the Nabateans. A single store that was not yet open, and a crack in the rock. This crack is the way into Petra, and called the Siq. Apparently it was formed by a massive earthquake centuries ago. It is very narrow and very tall. The lines in the rock swirl around like a tiedyed scarf on the local hashish. and in places massive boulders have fallen to the ground, making the already narrow trail smaller. There is evidence here that the Nabateans were experts in using water, as there are two channels. One on either side of the path, with a very low gradient to let water collected in the Siq flow through and out, without causing problems. Further along the pink dusty trail are cobblestones. These are apparently from original times.
As the cobblestones are so old and worn they are quite uneven, and it was better walking on the sand. But we were making good progress through the 1800m narrow slit in the rock walls around us. Towards the end, there is a slight curve in the Siq, and peeking out from around the rocks is part of a rock carving.
It is big. Impressive, and rosy. This is the Treasury building. Walking a few meters further forward it is revealed in all its glory. A massive construct carved directly from the face of the cliff. Big is an understatement. We were dwarfed in front of it. An insignificant spot of sand on your welcome mat, looking up at the front door. There are the remains of some carvings out the front, and a covered area where they are doing excavations below current ground level. Sitting there in the pale glow of morning, with a couple of camels lying almost straight on to the main entrance was brilliant. The Treasury is 43m high and 30m wide. It is apparently the tomb of the Nabataean king Aretas III. Created between 100BC and 200AD. You have to love archeology. It is called the Treasury as there is an old story of an Egyptian Pharaoh storing his treasure there when chasing the Israelites.
Due to this legend, the locals used the stone carved Urn for target practice trying to reach the fictitious wealth. You cannot go into the carved chambers any more, but apparently, and noted later, there is nothing inside the tombs. Just an empty rectangle with all the decorations worn off, or covered by centuries of fires to keep the local bedouins warm at night. However the carving on the outside more than compensates for this as it is amazing. I have seen pictures of this in the past but it does not do it justice. The only issue, before describing it, is that they have repaired the pillars. Some of these were broken off at ground level, and as the building was carved directly from the rock they were hanging in mid air, attached at the top. The repair job was well done, but still noticeable. The rest of the carvings are becoming somewhat worn over the centuries, but you can still make bits out, and the decorations around the lintels and at the tops of the pillars are still in good condition. As mentioned, it is carved directly from the rock. They think from the top down, making the ornamentation at the same time as carving the building from the stone. You can still see the scaffolding marks on the sides of the building, and we couldn’t help thinking of what the OH&S rules were back then.
The perfect place to have breakfast of flat bread and cheese. A few people came through at this time, and the shadows were retreating from the building as the sun rose higher in the sky. This made the colours come out more, and we had the opportunity to sit there in the relative peace and quite watching this show unfold in front of us like it has done for centuries. As more people were arriving, and the peace was shattered we started to move on. The peace was broken by a chariot with two Americans. The horses and donkeys were not happy this morning, and we had heard the braying at the main entrance. Here the horse was defiantly not happy. It started rearing up and had a good tantrum. The guy jumped straight out, but the woman was still paralysed in the cart. The driver was trying to calm the horse down, and people were running up from all directions. Eventually they got the horse under control, and the lady was allowed to escape. Seeing all this made us even happier that we had decided to walk.
As we continued walking the area around us opened up the reveal the walls of the valleys around. This is where most of the royal tombs are. There is also a roman Colosseum carved into the coloured sandstone around the corner and just in view. The reason we had gotten up so freakishly early is that we wanted to do some of the walks up the hills. The first one starts here, and leads to one of the sacrificial areas of the city. This is a major hike. We had not been given any information on buying our tickets, and the signposts here only tell you where you are going. This is frustrating, as we did not know how long or steep the climb is. The walk turned out to be both. As we start the ascent, we are overtaken by a few people, and more people on one of our many rest breaks, but eventually we make it all the way to the top. Past stalls selling jewelry and coloured rocks, offers for tea, which we tried to politely decline and a big refreshment tent near the top. As it is off season, most stalls were closed, only leaving planks of wood, or metal structures without the blankets attached, but there were still enough. The view from up there is amazing though. We had been following the sacrificial trail, where they used to have processions up the mountain to do blood sacrifice.
Most people think it is only animals, but some say there were also human sacrifices as well. There is an alter up here with small channels carved around it to collect the blood and move it down to a larger area, but most of the building is gone now, with only a leveled section on top of the mountain to show that it even existed. Anna did her own sacrifice of water to appease the gods, and make sure we don’t die of dehydration before the end of the day. It worked, we are still alive to blog another day. You can see out over the valley and the entire region. We made our way back to the refreshment tent that straddles two peaks and took the other way down the hill. This is definitely the path less traveled. Everyone else went back the way they had come, but we thought that was pointless. This is a long and winding path that shows off the colours of Petra really well.
The rock here is made of sandstone. This makes it very soft, and you can rub it apart with your fingers. It is very easy to carve, and explains why they could make such monuments. However it also means they don’t last. The stucco on the insides is all completely gone, with only the one little section in one tomb in Little Petra remaining. Although the site is massive, and they have not explored it all, so there could be more out there somewhere. Here though the colours are stunning. The sandstone is mainly pink, but there are swirls of bright orange, yellow, gray, purple and blues. With all the faulting from earthquakes and the uneven build up of sediments and erosion, they make the most fantastic pieces of modern art. Anna would like to take a section and frame it. We will have to do with lots of photos though.
Coming down the other side of the mountain, we cross multiple water channels and come across a lion carved into the rock. This used to be a fountain with the water poring down a clay pipe from the reservoirs at the top of the mountain to spew from its mouth. This is ruined now, as somebody has removed the head in the past. Probably to preserve it in some basement of a museum or private collection. Further down the hill we start to see more tombs on display. There is one that is supposed to be a garden complex, where you can see the water outlet in a stone wall that is a huge water tank. There are dotted around the landscape and I don’t think the original inhabitants waisted one drop of the precious liquid. There is the tomb of the soldier, so called as there is a carving still mostly visible of a soldier in the centre of the structure. Across from this is a banquet hall. I am not sure how they decide on if it is a tomb, banquet hall or house, as I think each place has been completely cleaned out of everything. Still it is good to wander around. Towards the bottom of the walk there are many caves. Most of these are still inhabited by the bedouin in the area. There are still around 25 families living in the area, and the rest have moved to the bedouin village nearby. I think this is a good thing for the main structures as they are deteriorating quickly. The buildup of soot in the caves themselves, and being the home for goats you can imagine the smell. Not all of it was goat though.
Further along it the Renaissance tomb. This is clearly a tomb, as there are a number of grave like structures carved into the floor, and although looted, there were the remains of skeletons still inside. Although all the other buildings are called tombs, this is the only one with any proof that they are. The city had a population of about 30,000 people at its trading hight, and you need a lot of graves for this many people, but I am not convinced.
Especially as the amphitheater is in the middle of the best area. Still, I do not know what they are for. We had now made the treacherous decent and were now on the far side of Petra. Here the valley opens up, and you can see massive structures all around the hillsides. You can imagine the scale of the city back then, as this area would have all been housing and streets. Markets with vendors standing outside to get your figurative statue of the sacrificed mongoose, carved Ostrich eggs, and the latest in bedouin head-dress. H.G. Wells is standing off in the distance waving at us to return to the current time.
Wandering through the valley we come to a solitary pillar at an intersection. This marks out different places and times in the old city. From here we can go East to the Snake monument. We never went that way, as this is where the majority of the bedouin still live in the valley. South to a large hill with the remains of a crusader castle built in 1116 by
Baldwin the first. Blackadder was deposed by then. West to the roman city, and North back to the original Petra. We decided on the big hill called Al-Habis. Climbing more stairs. This time very well made and modern, we come to the peak of the hill. It is now lunch time and we clambered around the rubble at the top. The castle is completely destroyed.
If you are lucky you can make out the remains of an occasional wall here and there. The top is treacherous, with many loose stones and boulders. There is not a handrail in sight. Working our way around centimetres from the cliff and certain death we get to the top. Here there is a small cave. It aligns perfectly to the roman town looking back at Petra. A perfect place to have more flat bread and cheese. In our (old) guide book, there is supposed to be another way down on the other side of the peak, so we make our way carefully over there. Here there is less rubble, and the rocks drop off to nothing. Overcoming our vertigo we have to go right to the cliff edge to see if there are any stairs around, as you cannot see them unless you are right on top of them. They don’t exist. Tens of thousands of dollars creating a stairway to Heaven. No to nothing.
So after a long backtrack we ended up at the base of the stairs. Going further on around the hill we tried looking for the disappearing staircase. There was nothing to be seen. All over the hills are bits of staircases sticking out here and there. Not this hill. We came across another house though, and thought we could keep going. Climbing down the rocks we find it is a dead end again, and there was no way down to the valley floor. We had to backtrack again. This time we ended up going down the scree at the front of the hill. Here we came across a surprise. There were a couple of interesting monuments here. The first one we stumbled across was down the scree, covered by a few shrubs. It was the Columbarium. As everything to an archeologist is a tomb this had to be a place to store the cremation urns of dead people. Or to house lots of pigeons. It is definitely not the second, and we think it is a cellar to store the wine.
The second surprise was the immensely important unfinished tomb. This is vital for archeologists, as it shows the construction of a tomb in progress. It has been carved from the top down, but only for a few meters before something caused them to stop building it. This was completely fenced off, and housed a flock of goats. Here we startled a young bedouin man on his donkey. This is where he lives. He was nice and we had a bit of a chat. We also ran into him a few days later. At the bottom of the hill is a massive stone structure that is called Qasr Al-Bint. It is probably the main temple of the Nabateans. It is also the only free standing building to have survived. Built around 30BC. 23m high and three floors. Not much remains except for a massive archway.
Time was slipping away now, and we wanted to go to the monastery, which is a good 2 hours from where we now were. We thought we could do the roman section of town on our way back. A little further from here is a restaurant and the museums. Going in there was a lot of information on the Nabateans, how they controlled trade in the region for hundreds of years, and only loosing out when they sided with an opponent of the romans, and were quickly conquered. A few small statues and the standard pottery shards. We met up with David and Sophia here, as they had also been wandering around Petra for most of the day. They had been invited to go to a natural spring further down the valley. We passed on this as there was still too much to see, and we had been told that Sunset at the Monastery was not to be missed. We had run out of time though, and would not make it all the way to the monastery, so we decided to save that for tomorrow.
Our new plan was to walk back and see the royal tombs. We had skipped these, as we went over the mountain in the wrong direction. Now we walked down the roman section of town. We had been going through column withdrawals lately and it was good to see them again. There were a number of sections to the town. The typical colonnaded street, temple complex and marble flooring. Other than this, there is not much left, other than to look around and enjoy the splendor of the place.
Walking on to the royal tombs we met more young men. These guys talked us into having tea at their Aunties shop. This was back a bit from where we were, and we were not allowed to walk. We had to go by Donkey. My donkey was Flower, and the guy that owned her had made the saddle himself. It was also his swag. At the shop, we had our compulsory three cups of tea, and a long talk. We were invited by Yasser to go with him to the bedouin village and out to Wadi Araba. We passed on the accommodation, and want to get back to him about the Wadi. But that is tomorrows story. The shadows were creeping up now, and we still had to see the tombs, so we left them all, and wandered over. The colours were changing and the shadows getting longer, but we had a look at the ornate royal tombs. Not as good as the Treasury, as they are a lot more weathered, but still very impressive. There are archways that are being reconstructed, and more intricate carvings on the outside. After the quick checking out up close, we went to a nearby hill to watch sunset. There was a group of people at the top of one of the tombs watching sunset from there, as it set over the hills in the west. We were in a better position as we could see that, as well as turning around and watching the colours change on the tombs themselves.
This happened quickly, and there were bursts of orange and pink, lasting only a few seconds. It was something to see. As the sun set behind the mountains it started to darken quickly now, and we had to head back out. Walking back to the Treasury to get some more photos at this time, then on through the Siq. This was great.
It was starting to get dark, and although we had no light we were not too worried, as there would be people passing through at some stage, if we needed.
I am glad we left when we did though, as it was quite dark by the end. Even with the full moon shining down.
As we left the park, we decided to walk back to the hotel. It did not take us long to get there in the morning, so we thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. 3km, and a few wrong turns later we eventually made it up hill #3 for the day, and, utterly exhausted fell through the doorway of the hotel. Only to repeat this again tomorrow. That is why we wanted the day off!