A trip to Petra was without doubt the highlight of our recent stay in Jordan. I’d been gawking at photos of the Treasury peeking out of the canyon walls of the Siq (the narrow gorge entrance) leading into it for years. That moment was indeed a thrill; emerging from the shady, enclosed walk into the open area in front of the Treasury was everything I had anticipated, but Petra was far more expansive and impressive overall than I expected.
Deposited in that Treasury plaza of sorts, we found ourselves surrounded by visitors, camels, donkeys, and vendors. It felt like we’d practically had the Siq to ourselves, so even the minor crowd at the Treasury made it seem bustling. We soon left the small swarm behind, however, as we moved on quickly, figuring we would have this famous spot to ourselves later in the day after the I-came-to-Petra-just-for-a photo-of-the-Treasury cruisers went back to their ship.
We wandered the “outer Siq” with a guide, getting a brief history lesson and the lay of the land for our own exploration. For those who want a smattering of history, Petra dates back as far as the 5th century BCE and was the capital city of the Nabatean kingdom for hundreds of years, as well as a caravan center for many trading routes between it and Arabia, China, India, Egypt and Syria. Set in rose-red sandstone, Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and contains tombs, temples, sacrificial high places, and a remarkable water system, all in an incongruous but stunning fusion of Hellenistic, Roman, and Nabatean architectural styles. A number of factors (a decline under Roman rule, an earthquake) left Petra in near ruin for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 1800s by a Swiss explorer.
We left our guide at a 500-year-old pistachio tree (I’m not sure why, but this was one of my favorite things at Petra!) and began what turned into a marathon of walking under the broiling desert sun.
I am a diehard walker, but my companion was the ultimate “Quién es más macho” type, so that meant we were going to cover everything here in one day, top to bottom, on foot, no resting allowed, so help us God.
We started with the 45-minute climb up some 800 stone steps to the Monastery. Like the Treasury, this edifice carved into the variegated white/pink/red stone bursts out of nowhere in the sandy, rocky landscape. The obligatory pictures were snapped, but Mr. Macho was rarin’ to continue on a path up to the (three) “Best Views!” at Petra, all mini-peaks overlooking the Arava desert on one side and the small rocky mountain we had just climbed up to the Monastery on the other. This lengthy diversion did reward us with spectacular views of the Monastery from above, a much better vantage point than head-on from a touristy snack stand.
Back down at the Monastery a dusty, sweaty hour later, we fortified ourselves with a shared Snickers bar and a minutes-long rest, then immediately descended the 800 steps and the rest of the path down to the main street. Here, Mr. M decided we needed to hike back up to another area – the Street of Facades – to get a better view of the houses, tombs, and carvings … exhaustion be damned! I note begrudgingly that it was worth the walk, and I was even able to buy the biggest, freshest, most appealing bottle of water I’d ever seen at the top of one of the myriad sets of stairs.
Back in the outer Siq, we made our way back to the Treasury (wonderfully quiet as the afternoon sun and crowds waned), back though the Siq and, almost at the collapsing point on my part, back up the long, hot, dry slope to the town and our hotel. We saw it all, we saw it on foot, and it was well worth the effort. I’ve seen a good number of the various Wonders of the World (natural, new, etc.) and Petra stacks right up there with the best of them. Roving through this immense, once-lost city in the middle of the desert on a hot day was a great way to get a feel for how impressive a construction job this was all those centuries ago.