Arrival to Petra took a few hours of driving from the Dead Sea —with stops in Mount Nebo & Madaba along the way— but no matter. Petra is Petra & worth it. The area just outside the entrance to the archaeological site is geared toward tourists while locals hang out a bit further uphill. Although we ventured out, in the end we decided to eat at the hotel & rest for a busy next day.
Nothing prepared me for the size of Petra. We knew we’d be walking a lot but what I never realized was how much there was to see. The entrance to the complex is via the necropolis, so it’s tombs & more tombs. You know how I hate that ;-) We started at 08:00 with our guide when very few other people were around… an absolutely magical start to the day. The horse/donkey ride from the entrance was included in our tour package, but we opted out & walked the whole way. Boxy Djin tombs led to Greek inscriptions & a giant, obelisk covered tomb. So fantastic, & this was only the beginning!
Soon we were at the Siq —a narrow fissure that guided us directly into the heart of the site. Walking on original cobblestones laid by the Nabateans at the beginning of the Christian era, we paused at eroded prayer niches carved into the stone. What colors! Also eroded but easy to distinguish were two giant reliefs of camels & their herders. All this & a covered irrigation system. Simply amazing.
Of course, the “wow” moment is the first full glimpse of what’s called the Treasury. More likely a temple, it’s the postcard image of Petra. They’ve excavated a bit underneath & found a whole other level underground. But money comes in slowly & the lack of tourism due to unrest in neighboring Syria means that it will be a while before any further excavation is done. Still, the current political situation worked in our favor because instead of being invaded by at least 1,000 tourists each day, we only saw a few hundred. At times, we had Petra to ourselves.
Even more tombs lined the street of façades. Divided between soldiers, wealthy citizens & nobility, the amount of burial spots is unbelievable. A theater carved into the cliffside was certainly impressive, but I think I enjoyed the peek into what would have been normal, everyday homes. Who needs wallpaper when you have such beautiful natural designs?
After about three hours, our guide said goodbye & instructed us how to get to the monastery. It was still relatively early so up we went. Quite a hike but not impossible, gorgeous rock formations on all sides took my mind off the number of stairs. Tip: Avoid the donkey ride up if possible; the views are better on foot. We stayed & gawked at the monastery a long time… as well as had our photo taken by an Argentine couple. Small world.
After descending & eating a tasty buffet (best falafel of the trip), we decided not to explore the Great Temple in order to see the Byzantine church & its mosaics. Well, maybe I decided that.
Then we wandered along another row of gigantic tombs, saw the inspiration for the Treasury up close & wandered inside the Urn tomb with its many arches. The excitement & beauty of the place kept us going even though we’d already had a crazy day. Again, more amazing colors.
Even though I learned a lot that day, I left wanting to know more. And after so much walking, the return to the hotel seemed to take a long time. But we stopped & pondered the Treasury again, watched local kids pushing to sell postcards, & basically took our time returning, reveling in the fact that we’d actually seen one of the most incredible sites on the planet. Could the trip get any better?