Petra Part 1: the Candlelit Canyon

I know that I said I was going to talk about the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, Madaba and Karak – but here’s what you need to know:

  • The Dead Sea: a Bucket List activity which I’m delighted to have ticked off. ‘It’s fun, you can twirl, you can – you can move in it’ as Kristen Wiig’s character says about nothing to do with the Dead Sea in Bridesmaids. (I was convinced that she also said ‘it’s floaty’, which would have made this a bit more relevant). Also, it’s due to dry up in about 50 years so go soon, or click here to find out more and if there’s anything you can do to prevent it.
  • Mount Nebo: Probably more exciting if you’re religious (Christian that is), although looking out over the valley towards the Jordan River, Jericho and Jerusalem from where it is believed that Moses saw the promised land makes for a fantastic panorama shot.
  • Madaba: You’re ushered in and out very quickly from the main mosaic, a mostly damaged but still quite spectacular mosaic map of the region which was discovered when a church was built on top of it. It may have been nice to explore more of Madaba, as I doubt I’ll ever be back.
  • Karak Castle: No idea what the situation currently is here following the incident in December, but it’s basically a Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Islamic castle at a strategic point on old trade routes. A fantastic history lesson which I don’t want to butcher by attempting to re-tell here, so make sure that you take a tour guide because you’ll need someone to make it come alive.

If you’d like to know more about the above attractions, definitely let me know. For now, onwards to Petra!

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View from Mount Nebo towards Jerusalem and Jericho

We arrived into Wadi Musa, the village outside Petra, in the late afternoon, and after a quick but hearty dinner we set off for Petra by Night, a candle-lit 2km stroll through a natural canyon (the Siq) to the Treasury under the stars. It was just as wonderful as that sounds. We had arrived late and therefore missed the crowds, so we were able to walk through in relative calm (aside from our own outbursts of ‘aaaah this is bloody amaaazing’) and just appreciate the moment. Obviously, my iPhone wasn’t quite up to the task of taking a good photo in the dark, but thankfully my group was full of budding photographers who captured the moment beautifully. In particular, the photo below was taken by Tom, who is not only a brilliant professional photographer but also extremely passionate about his craft and a great guy to top it all off, so you should check him out. And just wait ‘til you see his photos from camping under the stars in Wadi Rum!

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The Candlelit Siq – http://www.tomchaplin.net @tomchaplinphoto

The walk was followed by a ceremony in front of the Treasury. The ceremony is just standard tourist fare, but the Treasury is everything you want it to be and more, especially when you first round that final corner in the Siq and see it peeking out at the end. The ceremony was made better by the number of cats and kittens strolling around and cuddling up to us, and my memorable anecdote of the evening was a mildly hysterical American woman picking up a limping cat and making a huge fuss about the fact that she ‘gotta find a vet, this cat needs treatment, this is animal cruelty’ before coming to her senses halfway back to Wadi Musa and then walking back to the Treasury to return the cat to its kittens. (She also definitely heard us laughing about her, but seriously, ma’a,m, what were you going to do – pay for a wild cat to get vet treatment in a Jordanian village at 10pm on a Monday evening?) The best part about having to walk 2km through a candlelit gorge to get to the Treasury? Having to walk back 2km through a candlelit gorge to get to bed. Pretty damn magical.

But, no time to dwell, it was straight to bed so that we could be up before dawn in order to be the first people back through the gates of Petra in the morning. And, as I said before, unlike other tourist attractions of a similar ilk, we WERE the first people through the gates of Petra at dawn. By a long shot. We inherited a pack of dogs who occasionally fought with each other but thankfully knew not to bite the hand that might feed it at some point. Once more, we were walking through the Siq, but this time we were able to see the buildings and caves and water systems and steps and images and statues and temples carved into the rock on the way!  The Siq is a natural wonder, split apart by tectonic activity and carved out by water when the valley was part of the seabed (you can still see dead coral under some rocks). The city of Petra was built at the end of this canyon by the Nabateans for strategic advantage in the case of an attack. The canyon was the main entrance to the city for caravans from other cities on the trade routes. Furthermore, it formed the beginning stages of a pilgrimage route, which we followed over the course of our day.

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Approaching the Siq at dawn

Eventually, we rounded the final corner and took in the Treasury in all of her daylight glory, completely alone (save a couple from Ireland and the owner of the café next to the Treasury that you don’t see in photographs). It is incredible to see just how much rock was chiselled away to carve the Treasury into the rock, and it has been preserved and restored magnificently. The carvings on the Treasury, though damaged, display that Nabatean culture was inspired by both Hellenistic and Middle Eastern worlds, with representations of Egyptian, Greek and Nabatean deities carved into the sandstone. It is actually unknown what the purpose of the Treasury was, although it is assumed that like the majority of the intricately carved buildings in the city that it was a tomb. Apparently, the people of the city lived in caves and spent much of their lives building impressive tombs for themselves. But, more on that later!

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One of our new pals posing in front of the Treasury

I had intended on covering Petra in one post, but as I was there for ten hours and am currently still in Hour One, I’ll save the rest for another day!

Chris

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