Day 276… I have a full day to explore this stunning site. We have a morning together which starts early with the exciting walk through the narrow Siq to the Treasury. THATS the bit everyone knows from “Indianna Jones and the Last Crusade” & also what put Petra on the tourist map. It is jaw droppingly stunning! And… may I say. .. the final Wonder of the World for me to see. I have now seen ALL SEVEN! Please note that there is a complimentary horse ride included with the entrance ticket for all travellers visiting Petra, and I definitely take it to go FULL Indy while i am here! Then after admiring the iconic view, we continue through the surprisingly vast site along the Roman road, past impressive rock-cut tombs, temples and the amphitheatre. We meet local Bedouin artisans who show us how they do the distinctive sand-in-bottle art they are famous for, and even meet Margeurite Van Geldermalsen… author of the apparently best selling “Married to a Bedouin”. She seems quite nice with her 21 reprint, 14 language translated book. We learn later from some of the Bedouin that after her husband died, she kinda turned into a bit of a dick and doesn’t give back to the community that she was a part of for so long. However that could well be jealousy of her success. Who knows? Either tale could be true… possibly i suggest its a pinch from both columns A and B.
Then we take the challenging but highly rewarding walk up the steps to the stunning Monastery (approx 1 hr) passing donkey-taxis and various stalls on the way. After the site was declared a UNESCO heritage area in 1984, the Bedouin desert folk were told to leave… but the government built them a free town to live in and allowed them to still sell their wares in the site. They are friendly, offering great homestay experiences (and they are genuine in thier offers) as well as breaks in the climb to give us little complimentary cups of mint tea. The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was discovered by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer. It was once described as ‘a rose-red city half as old as time’ in a sonnet by John William Burgon and UNESCO has described it as ‘one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.’
It’s difficult to determine exactly when the history of Petra began. Evidence suggests the Horites, probably cave-dwellers, inhabited the area, lending their traditional habits such as burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves to the next wave of inhabitants – the Nabataeans. Evidence of the earliest Nabataean settlement is also sketchy. Some of the characteristics of the site appear partly Egyptian and partly Greek in style. Strangely, few inscriptions have been found at Petra making dating the civilization a real challenge for historians. We do know the Nabataean settlement doesn’t go back farther than the 6th century BC.
In 106 AD, Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire and the native dynasty came to an end but continued to flourish for a century after. Eventually the building of tombs ended and trade moved away from Petra, which fell into steady decline over the centuries. Over time many of the tombs’ treasures were stolen by treasure hunters and their glory and whereabouts are unknown. According to Arab tradition, Petra is the location where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth.
Now our day is cut a little short by last night’s military shenanigans. .. so after a quick beverage in the Cave Bar (its a bar… in a real cave!), the tourist police let us know its ok to stay, but our sensible guide doesn’t let us do Petra by night… its off season anyway and the tourism folk wouldn’t fire it up for so few. So we grab some very tasty pizza and retire to see an early evening.