Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 17: Petra, Jordan

Day 17: Petra, Jordan

An early morning wake up call roused the two little bed bugs from under the covers. It was going to be a great day since we were going to visit Petra - voted as one of the new Wonders of the World (via an Internet voting system, mind you). We were problem getting us two up this morning!

We travelled over to the the Petra Visitors Center where we got the tickets and map to the site. Most people have heard (or seen in movies) the most famous monument at Petra called the Treasury (think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Transformer 2), but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the area comprising all the ruins is 24 square miles...and we only had 10 hours to do it!!! Like most people, we picked and choosed the best monuments...

We started to walk down the dusty road that leads to the start of Petra. Chased by vendors with horses and chariots offering to take you to the treasury for a healthy sum, our legs were morning fresh and we had adrenalin coursing through our body. We moved as fast as our guide would let us...since there are many interesting sites along the way to look at and appreciate, in order to get an understanding of the tribes that lived in Petra. But I have to tell you, it was like reigning in an 8 year old on Christmas Morning...

Some of the sites at Petra date back to 5000 BC, but most of the "major" monuments (ie Treasury, Monastary) date to the 1st century AD. A local people called the Nabataeans moved to the area in 6th century BC and kept control of the canyon as it was on a trading route for spices and precious incenses. The Nabataeans came to their peak around 0 BC to 60 AD when the area had a population approximated of 30 to 40,000 people. This was also when the development of the area took over, as their engineers built aquaducts and water cisterns, dams, the tombs and the living quarters for the village.

Around 100 AD, the Romans came to town and took Petra by force. Like most ancient cities that were conquered by the Romans, they then started building typical "Roman" structures - churches, amphitheaters, streets for chariots, and this is all evidence in Petra.

After a few other negligible changes in power over the years, Petra was soon forgotten - by foreigners anyway. Petra "went off the map" from 1200 AD to 1812 AD, and was known only to the local Bedouin tribes. These tribes were very secretive about the area, and would not reveal its location to anyone...until an Swiss man rode into town pretending to be a Holyman.
From there, the rest is history. At its peak, Petra has seen visitors totaling about 6000 people per day (thank god when we were there, only about 1500 were in attendance). With only 5% of the area being excavated, archeologists are still very active and are constantly uncovering more and more tombs (with a village of 40,000 people at its peak, there has to be TONNES of tombs!).

So now that you have the history of the site...

We started our walk down the Siq - or canyon. The Siq is naturally occuring "split" between two rocks that used to be one. A large earthquake cracked the fragile sandstone and started the gap. Over the years, flash floods have also caused erosion through the canyon, so in its current state, it is easily walked through by up to 6 people wide. Evidence from the top of the canyon show that in ancient times, it was probably only a meter or so as a gap, creating an excellent "choke point" for taxing caravans or defending the village.

What is amazing about the Siq is the sandstone. The colors that are now exposed from the erosion appear as waves in the sandstone in hues of red, orange and pink. The Siq is about 1.2 km long, but with our excitement, it felt like it only took about 5 minutes to walk through...
At the end of the Siq, we all got what we were waiting for...our first glimpse of the Treasury. The sight was exactly what you see in all the postcards for Jordan and for Petra. With our cameras clicking away (and hoping for absence of tourists!) we got our shots and walked the final 50 meters to stand at the foot of the Treasury.

The Treasury was built as a tomb for one of the Nabataean kings, but was labelled the "Treasury" because of the story that a Pharaoh had hid gold in the urn at its peak (apparently not true). The Treasury is a sight to behold, and we hung around for about 1 hour as we waited for the sunlight to light up the facade - it is only in the sun for 1/2 hour each day.
From the Treasury, we headed over to some of the other sights including the amphitheater, Royal Tombs, and the Village "mock up" where I scared a guy so bad by spearing him with his own spear!

A few interesting things along the way were the little kids (that should have been in school) selling the multi-coloured sandstone rocks at their own vendor stand - similar to a North American kid's first lemonade (or Snoopy slushee!) stand.

Lunch was what I have come to think is standard tourist food - buffet with chicken. By now, both Vince and I are SOOO buffet'ed out - the only good thing is the unlimited hummous (or homos as they spell it here in english!!!! - I love to smear my bread with homos).

After lunch, we started to head out for the Monestary. For 30 minutes, and over 800 steps, we slogged our way up the path. But again, it was all with it. We rounded a corner to find the Monestary in all its glory staring back out at us. A further 10 minutes brought us to a remote tea shop called "The End of the World" that had fantastic views of the valley.

The afternoon ended with one more hike up to a viewpoint ABOVE the Treasury - a different way to look at this fantastic monument - from the top down. What was also great about this hike was that it can be done in silence without any other tourists.

But the day was not done!

We had enough time to go back to our hotel and shower. I was disappointed when I thought I had some great tan lines only to discover after my shower that it was just a fine layer of dirt and sand...

The evening we were very fortunate to have hit one of the days that "Petra by Night" was showing. We joined a group of other tourists after dark and walked the 2 km towards the Treasury AGAIN - but this time in the dark and lit up with thousands of candles. It was meant to be walked in silence, but some tourists are hard-headed and like to ruin it for the others. Nevertheless, we did manage to walk portions of it in silence, and it was extremely powerful. Imagine walking in a canyon, lit up with candles (eery) when all you hear is the footsteps of everyone around you. Great experience. We then sat down in front of the Treasury for some tea and traditional Bedouin music.

It was a great day - and the one that I had been looking forward to the most on the entire trip.

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