Petra Day One : Today, I devote to getting to know Petra and hopefully reaching the first two of three must-see sights, the Treasury and the Monastery…
The adrenaline has been pumping so despite a sleepless night, I leap out of bed at dawn eager to get into Petra. It’s like being a child again on Christmas morning. As I wander through the initial route, my guide recounts fascinating tales of Petra’s history that only add to the wonder.
THE SIQ: As we stand at the entrance to the Siq, the excitement is overwhelming. This is the kilometre-long dark, very narrow gorge that leads to the predominant and most iconic site in Petra, the Treasury.
The inevitable images of Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones flash through my mind as I realise it really does look that extraordinary inside. Remarkably, the Siq actually developed as a geological fault and has remained as such; a fissure of entry into the mysterious site. Plunged into near-complete darkness from the towering sides, I soon forget feelings of claustrophobia, wrapped up in sheer awe.
At dawn, it’s magical. The colours of the sun magnificently highlight the streaky sandstone walls, casting shimmering pinks and burnt orange reflections as pathway.
The Siq is the most fitting and dramatic portal to the moment of suspense; catching glimpse of the Treasury.
At the final bend in the Siq, I spot a piece of the grand building, peeping through the narrow gorge. Excitement heightens and I bolt towards it, eager as ever, camera poised. But the Siq is a master tease, slowly revealing the Treasury through it’s every curve, before wowing you by it‘s full splendour.
The Treasury, or ‘Al Khazneh‘ as it’s known in Arabic, is Petra’s most elaborate ancient sight, and the easiest to reach. It’s striking as not only are the building and colours a marvel, so is the fact it’s been carved out of a sheer sandstone rock face. Here, I begin to appreciate the 2000-year-old architecture and intricacy so synonymous with Petra. The Treasury is estimated to have been built between 100BC and 200 AD; an architectural feat.
Past the Treasury, it’s a long amble past historical sights such as the Royal Tombs, Byzantine Church, Hardien’s Gate, Amphitheatre and Street of Facades.
Hundreds of caves, once lived-in by the Bedouin people, surround the path. I climb up into one to nosy around. The natural layering of fresh summer colours radiating from the sandstone defies nature… and time.
If it becomes too hot for comfort, there are several tea tents along the way for (expensive but authentic-style) refreshments.
There are more than a thousand burial structures and monuments in Petra. It’s thought they were assigned for families and groups which means they could have held thousands of people. Individually, the caves and tombs are huge towering structures with considerable climbing of steps and one could easily spend a day just exploring this section of this Petra. Inscriptions adorning the walls and sides go some way to proving that they were built by the Nabateans, from around 60BC.
At this point, my guide introduces me to Mohammd, a native Bedouin. He’s to assist me up to the Monastery, some one thousand steps uphill in the stifling desert heat, to lend the proverbial boot as and when is sure to be needed.
During the ascent we inevitably become friends swapping stories and sharing laughter. Did I mention it is sweltering at this point? With little shade from the Sun, sunscreen and sun hats are vital gear. Midway, we both stop to catch my breath. He asks me to sit a while under an imposing sandstone wall, which provides much-needed shelter from the sun. Before us, incredulous caves, stacked atop each other, are carved into the steep rocky walls at graduating indents. This is like something out of the Flintstones; difficult to believe they’re natural. The semi-circular formations are unique to Petra and are, mostly, empty.
Mohammd points up towards a large cave at the top. Creeking my neck up to the sky, I spot it; colourful streaks of natural stone paint it, an air of cool within; a sweet natural shelter from this prickly desert heat. ‘That was my home. I was born there and grew up there with my ten siblings.’ Mohmmd is born and bred Bedouin. The Bedouin people lived within the thousands of caves natural to Petra for generations, once calling the more recent,y designated UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘home.’ In the 1980s they were moved into Government homes. Mohammd since saved up enough money to buy a larger house.
He recounts many happy and sad memories of cave life, namely the fun of playing with his brothers, sister and neighbours jumping across the rocky surfaces, playing hide and seek. He also recalls later losing his father who suffered debilitating fractures from falls in old age on those hazardous rocky surfaces. He died at the remarkable age of 107. Even more incredible is the age at which he only very recently lost his father-in-law, a stonking 130!
We then laugh out loud when he details his Father’s love life; he took 3 wives resulting in one of his half-sisters being older than his own Mother.
Awkward but hearty roars of laughter flow. Time becomes timeless on this roller coaster of emotions listening to Mohammd’s tales, in this most surreal serene surrounding.
Eventually, we make it to the top. From here, I’m on my own to be greeted with the sight of a magnificent Monastery engulfed in a hazy afternoon rose-red hue.
Preserved just as beautifully as the Treasury, the Monastery, or ‘Al-Deir’ is a sight I’ve waited years to see. Irrespective of the photographs and words i’ve seen of others’ travels of the years, the actual sight, in person, is a heart-stopping blessed moment.
The name is a point of contention as it’s likely the building was once used as a temple. There are theories to suggest it was later used as a Church. This building is larger than the Treasury but features less decoration and is quite simple.
But the Monastery’s not the sole reason to clamber to the top. If, like me, you’ll do almost anything for a stunning view, it doesn’t get more spectacular than the ‘View of the End of the World.’ With such bold advertising, it would be rude not to.
From the Monastery, wooden erected signs lead the way.
It’s an eerie narrow pathway through striking Afghan-style mountain scenery, along ridges with deathly drops either side, leading to a view that’s not yet visible; unnerving for sure.
But keep following it, even up to the white flag stuck in the ground next to the more spooking sign, ‘Sacrifice Point’. Ignore the cheeky Bedouin girl selling jewellery nearby who’ll warn you with her big eyes of the danger of death (seriously, that’s what she told me!) It’s all to add to the mystique. Near the end, I take a few final steps onto unsecured crumbling rocks round the back of a solo white tent, flagging in the breeze and spooky in it’s isolation. As I cautiously peer round, no-one’s home.
The tent is pitched up at one of the best spots in Petra. Directly in front of it is a sharp suspended ridge that juts out over yonder, hanging high above valleys and rocky canyon so deep and vast I can’t make out any end. I look around to realise that I am completely alone. Pushing aside the scaremongering thoughts that keep filling my head, reminiscent of Hollywood horrors, I edge out onto the V shaped overhang. As I do, the view that unfolds is both terrifying and exhilarating.
The horizon is too misty to make out but blends beautifully into a dusty painting of brown red sand and stone with pink red sky. The views reach far across the Arab desert (Wadi Arabia) and right out over Israel. I completely understand why it’s referred to as Sacrifice Point. Mustering up courage, as I’m later joined by another lone traveller, I resort to crawling on hands and knees towards the edge for a photograph.
Heading back to the Monastery, still at the top, my legs have turned to jelly and keep giving way; a combination of heat and giddiness from the heights. Luckily, there’s a picture-perfect café opposite the Monastery. Despite paying around £5 sterling for a lemonade; paying for the view, it is a gorgeous little set up, inside the shelter of a cave.
I rest a while basking in the glory of the Monastery, before making my descent with Mohammd.
NEXT POST: TOMORROW I’M SUPER-EXCITED AS I’VE PLANNED TO HIKE TO THE ‘HIGH PLACE OF SACRIFICE’ FOR ARGUABLY THE BEST VIEW IN PETRA…AND I’LL BE VISITING PETRA BY NIGHT!
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