I penned these words in a dog-eared diary on 8 November, 1984. I was seated on the side of a canyon, trying to absorb a scene before me in the short time I had available and feeling totally awe inspired. The writing is a bit poetic, which for a non-literary type like me is an achievement in itself!
“Everything is so quiet, dusted by the faintest breeze.
Far below winds the path frequented by the occasional mounted donkey
And high above rise the mighty peaks of the canyons.
All is still…… seemingly waiting……. just waiting…….
Empty doorways gape out at the world with knowledge of times long gone,
Their day is past, their time is lost, as they pause with endless patience.
Forgotten are they who gave life and sound to this majestic city;
What filled their day, what form of need did they betray?
Was love wasted, left unwanted, cast aside?
Did children run and shout and play, or did the bonds of tradition hold them at bay?
Mighty cliffs be not unkind
Lend your knowledge, share your secrets to our young new world.
Speak your wisdom to those who seek to hear.”
To get to this place that had me so captivated, I had walked a kilometre through a narrow gorge (or Siq) where the cliffs on either side reached 70 – 80m in height – it was a long way up! The rock was reddish a sandstone, with many different colours blended into each face, perhaps due to the weathering of various elements and minerals. Incredibly beautiful wherever I looked.
There were no motor vehicles permitted in the canyon – the only way in is to walk or ride on a hired horse. So it was also very quiet.
The first suggestion that I was approaching a city was this fantastic silhouetted building. I could not believe that such a lovely and intricately carved facade would exist in a place such as this.
Moving forward beyond the narrow confines of the gorge, one gets to see this building in all its magnificent glory. It is called the Treasury – or Al-Khazneh of Petra. It is a large facade which was about 30m wide and about 45 or so metres high. The carvings are still in excellent condition, with minute details still visible. The weather in this area must be very kind to these types of structures for it to have lasted so long in such good shape.
Past the Treasury, the valley opens up and in the distance one can see the Royal Tombs. These belonged to the Kings of the Nabataeans and are quite spectacular as well. Apparently, there are in excess of 500 tombs in this city, but sadly, I was limited to seeing only these examples.
I had 4 very short hours to quickly visit this incredible place, but I have read that to see it properly, one needs 3 or 4 days. I can understand that and it is one of my biggest regrets that I was not able to spend more time absorbing the history and exploring the buildings, caves, temples and religious sites. But I did walk quite a long way into the city and was able to see a monastery as well as a number of what are now just empty caves (houses perhaps?).
Petra is in Jordan. It was populated some 2000 years ago by the Nabataean Arabian people. The city is in a wide valley which formed part of the Silk Route – the road by which goods were exchanged between eastern Asia and eastern Europe.
In its heyday, Petra had about 30,000 citizens and they were housed in a variety of caves, all carved into the cliff sides. About 20,000 caves have been found in the valley. I was intrigued about where the water came from to support such a large population – apparently it was delivered via a channel which ran the entire length of the valley, so the engineering feats of the day must have been as remarkable as their building skills.
Petra is located between Aquaba and Amman and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The site was actually ‘lost’ in the 16th Century and was not re-discovered until 300 years later in 1812!
For those interested in historical cities, there is an excellent and very detailed website (8 subpages including a map) provided by AtlasTours.Net. The descriptions and history of the various features of the city are well presented and it is a fascinating read. Petra is certainly on my list of places to re-visit, this time with adequate time to look at the site properly!
This article was posted in reply to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette. My first silhouetted view of the Treasury through the canyon rocks is a sight that I will certainly never forget.