The Ancient City of Petra

23:01 Alyson Tart 0 Comments

I don’t really keep a formal bucket list of world travels, although I probably should. And if I had been, for the last 3 years, Petra would have been at the very top. While in Turkey, we never went despite the close proximity. And finally, after over 2 years overseas, I found myself there.

I was a bit worried that I’d be disappointed, like we were with Israel. With such high expectations, it’s easy to feel let down by the weight of your aspirations for a place.

And yet, my expectations were exceeded even! While parts of Petra could be a let down, with crowds of people all herded down the main road towards the site, avoiding giant clumps of horse and donkey droppings along the way, other parts were spectacular.

The first day, we arrived in the afternoon but decided to visit anyways. With it only being 5 more JOD per person for the second day, it was worth it even for a few hours.  We made the long trek down the siq to the treasury,  with many heading the opposite direction toward the exit after a long hot day around the site.  The Treasury, the most famed and photographed portion of the site was still crowded with tourists, so we grabbed a quick glance, then continued on with plans of coming back early the next day.

As we wandered, we came across some nearly unmarked steps leading up into the mountain, and after seeing a couple coming down, decided to follow the steps up to wherever they lead, which even with a map we weren’t certain of.  We climbed and climbed, taking some stops to allow me to catch my breath and drink some water. We didn’t pass many tourists, although we did pass some local Bedouins, some hawking goods, others simply playing with children or piping a tune on a lute. It felt a bit like stepping back in time. When we finally found ourselves at the top, we realised we had stumbled upon the walk to the High Altar. In addition to the altar, it afforded fantastic views over the colonnade below. We watched the other tourists, like little ants following a trail, and gave our legs a rest before heading back down and to our hotel.

Only perhaps an eighth of the way up to the top
The next day we had big plans. I had so much I wanted to see and to see before the crowds! The park opens at 6, so we made sure we were there by 6:45 (it was a vacation after all). We were nearly alone on our walk into the siq, before the buses came and dropped off the crowds, and got a great view of the treasury coming in.  The next thing to tackle, before it got too hot, was the Monastery. This is another of Petra’s long walks, all the way to the far end of the site. An hour walk and 800 steps up, some people pay for donkeys to get them to the top, but we chose the old fashioned way. There isn’t much to see on the way up, so other than a few quick stops, we powered our way through. We arrived just as the sun was peeking out from behind the monastery – not great for photos, but it made for a breathtaking site.

For the afternoon we headed back down the main road, which was in its heyday was wamped by markets and town halls. Now, it’s still a main thoroughfare, perhaps not quite as full of the hustle and bustle of its past, but still busy with tourists and vendors selling magnets, scarves and little camels. We had lunch on the hill next to some of the old churches, then went up towards the hillside tombs. Before we got there, we found yet another set of steps leading up, just to the left of the first tomb. So, our spirit of adventure high, Paul convinced me to make the climb despite my tired legs. He had to remind me throughout the climb that it would be worth it. We made it to what we thought was the top, only to find more climbing ahead of us. Finally, we were at our finish, all alone, enjoying stunning views down onto the treasury. With no one to block our views, no one to hassle us for horse rides, we spent some time taking it all in and amazing at what you can find just off the beaten path.

The tombs
After finishing up our day in Petra, we grabbed some food then wandered back to Petra in the evening one last time. The part I had been most excited about was Petra by Night – as they light up the Siq and Treasury with candles, it seems a bit like it would have been thousands of years ago before electricity and tour buses. Unfortunately, they don’t do any crowd control, so we found ourselves herded through the Siq with 250 other people. While the scene was still eerie, the ambiance wasn’t as tourists talked through the Bedouin music and afterwards played with the candle bags til they caught fire and burned out. Paul and I hung around waiting for that final moment of silence before being ushered out by the staff and back on our way.

While I wish my final impression of Petra was more magical, I still loved my time exploring the city. It has something for everyone; history, geogology, nature, architecture and the mystery of an old time. It certainly deserved its spot on the top of my bucket list and hopefully it’s made the top of some of yours!

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