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The Silk Route - World Travel: Petra, Jordan
americas asia & far east africa & middle east europe

Jordan: Petra & Wadi Rumm
2000

Petra Bab as-Siq & the "Treasury" Street of Facades, Royal Tombs & City Ruins
Jabal al-Najr - The High Place of Sacrifice Ad Deir - The "Monastery" Wadi Rumm
Ed Deir - the Monastery

Having made a very brief visit to Petra several years before, in unbelievably cold conditions, we were so amazed that we knew we had to return. In 2000 we came back to spend 3 days exploring this incredible place and making a trip to the desert of Wadi Rumm.

 

Petra

taybet zaman
Taybet Zaman

The earliest settlement at Petra is probably around 7000BC. In the Iron Age, 1200 - 300 BC, the area was known as Edom and there were certainly Bronze Age people here called Horites (Deut. 2:12,22) hunters who lived in caves. The Book of Job describes splendid tombs, great wealth, gold, silver and ancient treasures. The Petrans were known as keen gardeners, cutting irrigation channels through the rock.

taybet zaman
Taybet Zaman
taybet zaman
taybet zaman

At the death of Alexander Petra was sandwiched between the territory of two of the three generals who carved up the empire - these were Seleucus who founded the Seleucid dynasty in Syria, and Ptolemy, founding the Ptolomeic dynasty in Egypt. After around 100 BC both these dynastic empires declined and Petra began to flourish, gradually extending its dominion into the Negev, east to the Euphrates and south along the Red Sea.

taybet zaman
Taybet Zaman
taybet zaman
One morning at breakfast one of the staff was picking figs from the trees in the garden below our table - he brought me a dish of them, they were gorgeous!

The Petrans became wealthy providing safe passage for the caravans plying the various trade routes which passed through their domain.

taybet zaman
Our rooms at Taybet Zaman.
taybet zaman

We flew into Amman very late at night and were met by a driver to take us to our hotel near Petra. This was a rather scary drive - we discovered that this was the driver's fifth such journey of the day and he looked in danger of falling asleep, when he wasn't eating, drinking or trying to get his mobile to work. We talked to him as best we could to try and avoid disaster!

taybet zaman
taybet zaman

Our hotel was wonderful: Taybet Zaman - one of my all time favourites. It is a village which has been completely converted to a hotel. Guests stay in the village houses and ours was superb - a living room with deep sofas, marble bathroom and huge bedroom. Beautiful, comfortable and air-conditioned. A wonderful place to stay. We did most of our exploring in the mornings and spent the afternoon by the pool - introducing the locals to an eastern version of a chip butty - fries in pitta bread!

We took the shuttle bus to Petra and bought a three day ticket at the new Tourist Office at the entrance. We got there as early as possible each day and left around mid-day or earlier, if we could, as the walk out can get tremendously hot.

 

Bab as-Siq & "Treasury"

treasury
treasury
The siq gorge.
treasury

 

 

The tombs and temples carved in to the rock, for which Petra is justly famous, are the work of the Nabateans over 2000 years ago. It was unknown to the western world until 1812 when Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer, rediscovered it, and John William Burgon immortalised it as a "rose-red city half as old as time itself".

treasury

The main entrance to the site is through the siq - a defile of fantastic high cliffs, narrow in places, over 1km in length, itself with many remains including the lovely obelisk tomb which leads to the most atmospheric view o al-Khazneh (the so-called "Treasury" for the legend that the urn contains the pharaoh's treasure).

 

Street of Facades, Royal Tombs & City Ruins

Petra
rock colours
petra

Exiting the siq and turning north the main route through Petra extends for about 1km and takes a good few hours to explore thoroughly.

street of facades, petra
Street of Facades

The street of facades, on the left after the Treasury, are four levels or "streets" of over forty tombs carved out of the cliff face followed by the Greek-style theatre which could seat upto 8500 people.

petra

The colours in the rocks are very beautiful and are due to the presence of iron oxide, carried by water. Shades range from deepest red to yellow with deep pink and white striations.


Petra
rock colours
rock colours
rock colours
petra

Further along on the right and raised above the street are the so-called Royal Tombs: Urn, Silk, Corinthian, Palace and Tomb of Sextus Florentius. It is uncertain whether these were actually tombs or temples - or even homes!

silk tomb
Silk Tomb
urn tomb
Urn Tomb

 

petra
Palace Tomb & Corinthian Tomb
urn tomb
Qasr al-Bint Faroun or Castle of the Pharaoh's daughter at the west end of the Cardo Maximus. Remains of an impressive free-standing Roman temple which dates from around the time of Christ.

 

Opposite the Royal Tombs the street takes a sharp turn into the City Ruins on the Cardo Maximus. This colonnaded street was built by the Romans after their conquest in 106AD.

cardo maximus
Cardo Maximus looking back to the Royal Tombs.
urn tomb
urn tomb

This area to us was the least interesting - there are far better Roman remains elsewhere.

 

Jabal al-Najr - the High Place of Sacrifice

Petra
Climbing up to the High Place of Sacrifice.
We had come up behind the rocks on the right and descended the Nabatean rock-cut steps before beginning to climb again.

Petra
Sacred pillars.
Petra

 

 

My absolutely favourite spot in Petra. Not too difficult a climb if you're reasonably fit.

The Nabateans used this route to reach the High Place; where the going was difficult they carved steps from the rock.

Petra
Petra

Jabal al-Najr occupies a double summit. The lower summit has been levelled by the Nabateans to leave two 7m pillars of stone. These are the sacred pillars representing the male and female Nabatean deities Dushara the god of strength and Al-Uzza the goddess of water and fertility.1 A huge amount of rock has been shifted to leave these imposing obelisks standing on a wide flat terrace.

Petra
Could this large pit, carved out of the rock, once have been used as a ritual bath for cleansing before the ceremonies?

The actual summit, the place of sacrifice, is quite a small area and it doesn't have an obvious route onto it - a bit of a scramble but well worth it. It's very atmospheric - the only ritual sacrificial place of this type we've seen to date.

Petra
The Altar.
Drainage channels run from the top of the altar down the steps to a wider channel in the platform.
high place
The shallow stone in front of the altar was probably used to present bloodless offerings.
The drain from the main altar, cut into the platform to take away the blood from animal sacrifices, is clearly visible in the centre foreground to the right of this stone. Whether human sacrifice was practiced here is not certain.

high place

 

The altar, where sacrifices were made, remains intact, as well as a shallow stone in front of it for bloodless offerings such as edible produce and precious objects. All of the features were carved from the top down out of the original rock and are therefore not free-standing.

Petra
The four shallow steps lead up to the main altar. The raised area in the background, also reached by steps, has two concentric indentations, the inner indentation having a drainage channel through the rock.

 

high place
high place
high place
The views from the High Place of Sacrifice are immense.
petra

 

petra
In a very harsh landscape plants manage to survive.

 

 

From the top and on the walk down via Wadi Farasa there are wonderful views both down into Petra and out into the wider landscape.

 

soldier's tomb
The Roman Soldier's Tomb.
petra
petra
petra
petra
An almost-Biblical scene.
petra
petra
The Triclinium
triclinium
Interior of the Triclinium.

The Triclinium opposite the Roman Soldier's tomb has the only carved interior in Petra and is very intensely coloured.

petra
The Roman Soldier's Tomb.
soldier's tomb
The Roman Soldier's Tomb
petra
More colourful stone





view

 

Ad Deir - the "Monastery"

to the monastery
To the "Monastery".
descent
The Lion Triclinium on the way to Ed Deir - there are rather weathered carvings of lions either side of the entrance at ground level.

 

A more strenuous climb is to the Monastery. It is quite steep in places and involves climbing hundreds of steps. Some people went up on donkeys and I did feel sorry for the poor animals as some of the tourists were quite hefty.

The climb itself provides wonderful views and has other sites along the way, such as the Lion Triclinium.

cave tombs
ed deir
The stone carving remains crisp. Within the alcoves are carved reliefs of columns and the discs below the pediments are still very sharply outlined
the monastery
Ad Deir

The view that greets you when you finally exit the narrow rock corridor into the courtyard in front of Ed Deir is astonishing. Measuring 45m by 50m this is the largest facade in Petra and the building is thought to have been a temple. the area in front has been levelled and could accommodate a large crowd of people.

 

ad deir
ad deir
ad deir

descent

descent
The descent.

 

Wadi Rumm

wadi rumm

 

Forever associated with T.E. Lawrence and his campaigns in the First World War, a visit to Wadi Rumm was, for us, essential. Lawrence was travelling through this area to make attacks on the railway line south of Maan to draw Turkish troops into its defence and thus leave fewer for attacks elsewhere.

wadi rumm
A spring located here was probably visited by T.E. Lawrence.
wadi rumm
wadi rumm
A natural rock arch deep in the quiet desert of Wadi Rumm.
Khaz'ali Gorge
Khaz'ali Gorge
Khaz'ali Gorge
The rocks of Khaz'ali Gorge are the most beautiful deep colour.
wadi rumm
wadi rumm

We hired a car to take us there and then a driver to take us deep into the desert.

wadi rumm

wadi rumm
Supposedly Lawrence's house!


wadi rumm

This is such an atmospheric place. We stopped several times to walk and experience the perfect silence of the desert - and once to push the jeep out of the sand!

wadi rumm

The sand is deep red in places and your guide will obligingly point out Lawrence "landmarks" - the authenticity of some, such as "Lawrence's house" is questionable.

wadi rumm

However, the springs are probably correct. Robert Graves describes the journey to Wadi Rumm in 1918:

"Towards sunset there was a break in the cliffs to the right, leading to water. They turned in here and found themselves in a vast oval amphitheatre floored with damp sand and dark shrubs. ... A little path zigzagged up to the ledge and there, three hundred feet above the level of the plain, jetted the water-springs."

Here they watered their camels.

 

wadi rumm

 

References

  1. National Geographic Mysteries of the Ancient World: Petra