Timed like the Metro, a horse and carriage thunders past every two minutes. Steel-rimmed wheels clatter or crunch on the path. The drivers whip the animals shamelessly, the passengers bump and shake in the cart like beans in a jar, faces frozen with fear, cameras trapped in their bags, a far reach from their gripping white knuckles. The horse drinks its own lather.
I’ve been to the Treasury (The Kazneh) already, but I am still anticipatory as this will be my first vision in daylight. It comes to me in pieces – a column and corner of decorative lintel appears through a peephole of cliffs, bathed in dusty sunbeams. Bit by bit, the walls give way, and I find myself in the same place as last night. Same, but different. This time is is full of light and noise. It’s bigger than I remember, as is the cove it sits in, and the aisle that leads to further parts of the city is visible.
We stop for tea, hot and sweet, and sit watching the people watching a monument that has watched people back for two thousand years. Aye, one of the seven wonders it is. It’s beautiful, and beautifully preserved, but the true wonder is in the location. Hidden for years by the Bedouins, like something out of the tales of the Arabian Nights. Precious artwork stored remotely in a piece of God’s own best work – the man-made sculpture no less picturesque than the natural rock formations, the narrow siqs drilled by water long gone, and the defiant vegetation, even fruit-bearing figs sprouting from solid stone
We take camels for then next section, and see the theatre, the 17 graves and the more elaborate tombs from a height. Other tourists photograph us. My small son sits in front of me, bobbing naughtily each time I try to snap between steps. Fortunately it’s bright, and I can set my shutter speed high – from the top of this beast there is no pause for framing. But I will find later that there is a gauze of golden curls in more than half the pictures. We move slowly, but our untrained seats struggle with the ride. Before long, goldilocks’ “oohs” and “whaaah”s give way to groans. And then he declares in his loud baby voice “Urrrh. Ohh, my choo choo’s going to fall off!” We laugh, so he repeats it often, and loudly. It becomes unfunny as the rear bump on the saddle grinds itself against my poor coccyx.
At the end of roman street, we dismount. Behind us are shanty stores touting rustic silverware, pashminas and semi-precious gems. Most of the sales are done by the last stall though as trekkers refuel with lukewarm Coke and mineral water. To the left is the ongoing dig by Brown University at the Petra Great Temple. Children have rifled through the discarded rubble and chosen the more interesting pieces. They sell them from cardboard boxes while sitting in the dirt in the sun. One child is no more than two. Perhaps his mother works at a nearby stall, or his brother provides donkey rides up the hill, but he is alone except for the tourist from New Zealand giving him water from her own bottle.
Ahead are more craggy gorges, and goat tracks to wind through them. Those with the energy and inclination continue past the museums and the incongruous Crown Plaza “Basin Restaurant” on foot or upon the back of a donkey to the monastery (Al Deir).
|Photo by A.Griffiths Belt, Nat Geographic
My bottom is too sore and the children too tired to continue. It means more kilometres, and I’ve already done at least 2 on foot and 1 on a camel, and they must be repeated on the return, uphill. I’ve missed out on a massive replica of the treasury with extra columns (although suggested to be a tomb rather than a monastery, as the treasury is believed to have also been a tomb or even a library), accessible all the way to the top, where you can perch on its cone for an almighty photo opportunity. But it’s 6km from the entry point, and involves a daunting climb. It’s a sight that will have to wait until I have children who can babysit themselves. Hopefully I will still be fit enough to endure it.
A modern hat sits atop the byzantine church, and it is almost mistaken as being part of the Basin Restaurant. Instead it is a 5th century cathedral of mosaic, re-discovered only in 1990 and excavated by the the American Center of Oriental Research soon after, to open in 1998.
The Winged Lions temple hides in a hollow, its broken walls and columns gaping like giant teeth and discarded bones. Elsewhere in the basin, the living scatter. Tourists, bedouins, donkeys, tourists on donkeys, bedouins selling donkeys for the Al Deir climb. Cheeky local teens loiter and jeer politely, but I tell them my camel awaits with a grimace on my face. “Akhh ya teezi“, I tell them, as I have been taught “Ouch, my butt”.
I trapse around Qasr al bint, the only full building to remain on the Main St of Petra. I touch the walls not fenced off, and they powder my hand. Is it desert sand or erosion of this stone? The former I suppose – if it has been here this long, my feeble fingers could not brush it away.
The family return on the camel, but I walk behind, preferring to save my poor teezi and pass under the Arched Gate on foot to better appreciate its perspective. I battle gravel in my sandals, taking photos without the bumps or blond curls. Still though, I fear it is all too hurried, and I longingly stare at those who have climbed the rock faces to expore closer. I turn back to the hill that leads to the monastery. I smile in thanks to the lady selling sweet bronze camels, stretched in the Nabataean style while I shake my head. “Not today, shukran”. No. It seems I must come back. Not tomorrow, but soon, I think.
- Entry to the park is 50JD for a day, 55 for two and 60 for 3. Under 12s free.
- Petra is more than just the Treasury. Although this building is spectacular, with its pink and perfect facade, it is just the pretty face, and not as accessible as many of the other sights. This link includes a fairly good description of the places to go and a reasonably scaled map.
- Distance from the main gate to the Treasury is a little over a kilometer. This can be done on foot, on horseback or by cart. Pick up your ride just inside the entrance (3JD for a horse, about 15-20 for a cart). Note that only the carts can continue past the half-way point into the siq.
- From the Treasury to Qasr al Bint is another easy walk, about 1.5km. Camels can be picked up from in front of the Treasury for about 5-10JD one way, depending on bargaining prowess and numbers travelling.
- Once at Qasr al Bint, there are donkeys and camels for either the return trip (camel) or a continuation onto the monastery (donkey). My suggestion is to walk down, and grab a donkey when you tire. If you can stand the animal abuse, get a cart back up the siq on your return.
Eating and drinking:
- There are plenty of options inside the gates – Jordanians have embraced tourist demand and you will find kiosks about every 500m. There are plenty at the entry, one at the horse station at entry to the siq, another basic restaurant at the Treasury (tea and snacks), and the Basin Restaurant or Nabataen Tent plus various stores around main street. There is even a restaurant at the Monastery I am told.
- Just near the main entry is the Guest House, with the Cave Bar attatched. They serve a lovely local pinot grigio, good shisha and basic meals (not superb, but edible) on a terrace or inside a genuine Nabataen cave. It’s a good reward at the end of a long day.
- The Movenpick (also very close to the entry) as mentioned below also does some decent nosh, in the main, traditional fare
- If you want, you could always cook your own dinner at the Petra Kitchen as I did – well worth it!
- A recipe for Jordanian Mansaf and my tips on other traditional food to look for here.
- We stayed at the Petra Movenpick, just outside the gates. It’s a reasonable 4-5*, decorated in elaborate Syrian style with some very good food and a pretty ordinary pool.
- Petra Moon, despite its 2-3* rating, is also close by, and comes highly recommended from many sources.
- The Petra Guest House by Crown Plaza is the closest to the gate, also reasonably priced, and has varied reviews.
- If you don’t mind getting a taxi to the gate, you might want to try one of the hotels with sweeping views over the wadi – either the Marriot or aptly named Grand View Resort.
- But it may be worth travelling a couple of kilometres further afield for something exotic like Taybet Zaman, which may be for me next time, methinks. Taxis are everywhere and relatively cheap.
- Official Petra Park page – needs a little work I think, but the basic information is there (no map)
- Grand View Resort pages have some excellent information on exploring Petra – more than you would expect of a hotel site.
- Nabataea.net also has some easy to follow listings and in-depth information
- As mentioned before, the best map I found is on atlas tours’ page on Petra
- Some legends of Petra can be found here
- More of my photos here.
As Lion and I discovered, the Matrix is no longer located in the walls of the treasury. “Of course not Mum, Sam put it in Optimus Prime’s chest!” duh… (They in fact used the Monastery)