To recap: we’ve strolled through the Siq and gazed upon the Treasury at dawn. It’s roughly 7am and there’s just us, a small pack of squabbling stray dogs and the city of Petra ahead of us. In short, life could be worse.
We tore ourselves away from the Treasury, safe in the knowledge that we’d see it once more at the end of the day, and wandered on into the city. The canyon is impressive, but in the city’s prime it would have been around six metres deeper – thus the Treasury and the other large tombs around the city would have been raised significantly from the ground in an even more impressive display of status.
The sun was just properly rising over the city as our guide poured another coffee from a stall down his throat before getting us on our way. Admiring the sheer number of caves and tombs carved into the sandstone, we stopped at the city’s amphitheatre, where (if I’ve remembered correctly) the people of Petra (or Sella) would gather to celebrate the lives of those who passed. When the city fell into Roman rule, and became known as Petra, the theatre would have also been used for entertainment typical of the Roman Empire.
We moved on to speak to a shopkeeper selling frankincense and myrrh (as well as other oils and spices), who showed us the difference between the fake products often flogged to tourists and the real deal. I still didn’t buy any, but his shop smelt great. If anyone needs some nativity props, I recommend this guy!
Leaving the myrrh and frankincense behind, we climbed to some of the grander tombs on the right hand side of the valley. They have not been as well preserved as the likes of the Treasury as a result of their exposure to the elements, but are impressive nonetheless. You can also explore the interior of a couple of these tombs, some of whose walls and ceilings have been weathered into stunning natural patterns. It was by now 9am, and we were standing in what was to be our final shaded area for the day – the rest of our exploration of Petra would take place under the hot 35° Jordanian sun. Suncream rigorously applied, we pushed on.
We passed through the remains of the Roman city of Petra, which is currently undergoing restoration as another building was discovered very recently in this area. Looking down, we spotted some camels wandering along the Cardo Maximus with the impressive remains of a Roman temple behind. We were to pass by again later, so we pressed on, heading for the steps to the Monastery. After refusing a donkey ride for the long climb, and passing a restaurant run inexplicably by Crowne Plaza, we began our ascent. In short: it was long, it was hot, but it was great, with photo ops at every twist and turn. Eventually, we made it to the Monastery, which once again we had more or less to ourselves.
And what a building it is! Throughout my time in Petra and to this day the scale and craftsmanship of these landmarks has never ceased to amaze me. The above photograph will hopefully display just how much of the rock would have been carved away in order to create the masterpiece that is the Monastery. We wandered up further to a vantage point, again swarming with kittens and a man selling soft drinks at what his sign claimed was ‘The Best View in Jordan’. It’s definitely high up there, but he might want to tell that to the man running a stall which looks out over the desert round the corner because they currently have the same marketing campaign!
After a spot of lunch (which we had bought in a supermarket and made up in the hotel that morning in order to save money*) we climbed back down the steps from the Monastery, said goodbye to a few members of our group, then continued into the valley to climb the ancient pilgrimage route and see the Treasury from above – all of which will be coming up in Part 3!
*As well as food, we also bought several bottles of water – I had a full pack of twelve in my backpack and I got through all of them over the course of the 10 hours or so that we were walking around Petra. Thirsty work, but someone’s gotta do it!
See ya in Petra Part 3 (I did not mean to make this into three parts, but it’s just that good!)