A Magnificent Jewel among Jordan’s Tourist Sites
I visited this amazing site during my two day trip to Amman, the capital of Jordan recently. It was a long, tedious four-hour drive from Amman in a not so comfortable tourist bus which had seen better days. But it was well worth the visit.
Petra city is the capital of the Nabataeans. The city was built more than two thousand years ago in the heart of the Shara Mountains! It thrived in the first centuries BC and AD and was a vital link of a major trading area connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.
It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.
Trade then was mainly in frankincense, myrrh and spices. It was later annexed by the Roman Empire. Much of the city was destroyed in a major earthquake in 363 AD. It appears to have been largely deserted and abandoned partly because of a change in trade routes too.
Rediscovered by a Swiss Explorer
Thanks to the persistence, skill and cunning of a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt this wonderful place was rediscovered in 1812. Johannes dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.
As a result of this rediscovery, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating city. It also began attracting visitors in large numbers.
Gains UNESCO World Heritage Site Status
It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.Like the famous Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the equally famous Borobudur Temple Compound and Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Red Rose of Petra is a most worthy recipient of this prestigious award.
No mere description, photographs or even a video recording of this site can do justice to the wonder and glory of the Red Rose of Petra. In Petra, you actually get to see and marvel at great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features that truly merge in an awesome display of nature and human habitation at its best.
Why is it called the Red Rose?
It gets this name from the wonderful colour of the rock. I was informed that the many impressive sandstone mountains in that area contain iron and that also partly explains the colour.
Many of the city’s structures were carved from these impressive sandstone mountains. The same mountains also contained intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountainsides. The Nabataeans buried their nobility in these tombs.
After a four-hour journey, I finally arrived at the site. I saw a large, well-planned visitor centre with all the modern conveniences that are needed to make this walking tour a reality.
There are fast food outlets, restaurants, shops selling souvenirs, and more than adequate, clean toilet facilities. For those not so inclined to walking all the way through the various trails, they had the option of taking a horse ride ( part of the way only ) or a horse-drawn carriage all the way to the main attraction i.e. the Treasury.
The Treasury, Petra’s most magnificent facade soars almost 40 metres high and is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. The Treasury is crowned by a funerary urn, which according to local legend conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. No such treasure, however, was ever found.
Leisurely Walk Along the Trails
I was with a group of fifteen other Malaysian men and women and all of us chose to walk down the gently sloping trails to the Treasury. It was a cool afternoon when we began the 2 km walk and as we walked we were gently cooled and caressed by breezes that kept us comfortable.
We were advised by our experienced tour guide not to choose the horse-drawn carriage because it could turn out to be quite an uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Those with back problems especially had to be very careful.
Amazing Sights to Behold
The sights along the way were mesmerising, to say the least. The beauty, majesty and grandeur of those glorious sandstone mountains were a sight to behold. Over time, mother nature ( wind, rain, snow and earthquakes ) had taken turns to wear down portions of the rock.
In one particular place, as we passed, we could make out the side profile of a fish! As we passed that rock and turned back to look at it again, we could clearly make out an elephant with its trunk! At other areas, we could make out shepherds and even camels but nature had exacted its toll.
The Incredible Siq
This is a narrow gorge that leads visitors into Petra. The Siq actually resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain. A triumphal arch once spanned the entrance to it.
Two water channels run along both rock sides. What an amazing piece of imagination to have constructed such a water conduit those many, many years ago. It also presents a dramatic entryway into Petra.
Good Workout and Great Time
The walk back was a lot different.
Most of it was pretty easy going except for the few hilly portions. I could feel the perspiration on the back of my neck. But all of us in our group, including a senior lady who had knee surgery on both knees and who had the use of a hiking stick to ease the walking process, made it back with relative ease.
A seasoned traveller in my group informed me later that evening that the apps on his smartphone showed that he had taken a total of 11660 steps in all. Not bad for a pleasant and enjoyable afternoon workout.
Some Other Relevant Matters
Part of the trail we took was paved with limestone slabs from the time of the Roman annexation. These were meant to enable the Romans to drive their horse-drawn carriages over them. Over time, these limestone slabs had turned quite smooth.
We also had to put up with the smell of fresh horse dung which was liberally excreted all along the way. But the good thing is that there were workers around at certain sections to sweep these droppings. So we had to be careful and watch where we put our foot all along the way.
The other matter that annoyed me was that the horse-drawn carriages were using the same trial as the walkers. There was no separate trail for us. From a safety angle, this was bad because the drivers of the carriages were all out for the dollars and so they drove the carriages at speed.
Sometimes, they rudely shouted out warnings for us to keep out of their way. In such circumstances, accidents are just waiting to happen. I do hope the Jordanian tourism authorities will look into the matter and make it safe for the walkers.
Throughout our bus journey to Petra and also while cruising around in the city of Amman, I did not see a single motorbike. I checked with our guide Talal and he informed me that the government had some five years ago allowed for the importation of motorbikes but somehow it did not seem to have taken off.
There were no signs of the usual Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki small bikes nor of any big Harley Davidsons! Coming from S. E. Asia and especially in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, this was a pleasant surprise for me.
I would also like to commend the motorcar, bus and truck drivers of Jordan who seem to be very level-headed and responsible. Throughout the four hour journey to Petra and even in Amman itself, everyone seemed to drive in a responsible and careful manner.
There was absolutely no speeding on the highway and likewise, there was none of the recklessness you see on Malaysian roads and highways. I did not expect to witness such self-discipline by vehicle drivers in Jordan. But there were, however, some instances of double parking in the city.