In my mind, it is the long preparatory trek through the narrow path – the 1.2 km gorge called the Siq – that lays the groundwork for the dramatic unveiling of the city of Petra.
A natural geological fault, eroded smooth by sand, water and wind, and with walls of up to 182 metres (600 feet) high, this is the grand entrance to the city, once topped by a triumphal arch. Interspersed with eroded shrines and votive niches, it narrows to less than 3 metres at some points, and as you turn into the final bend, you come upon, with breathtaking, unexpected suddenness, the marvelous Al Kazhneh!
Was it a tomb? A temple? A library? Its uncanny resemblance to the facades of well known libraries like the one in Ephesus, and its similar floor plan, make the latter highly plausible. But no one really knows for sure. The Tholos or urn at the top was rumoured to have held the Pharaoh’s treasure – hence the name – but that wasn’t proved either.
The rest of the city is not less impressive, and showcases the ability of this remarkable nomadic Arab tribe to control and channelise water, and build a showpiece worthy of any Hellenistic neighbour……tombs, temples, theatre and all! Not built up from the ground, but every inch, hand hewn from the surrounding pink sandstone!
When we were done exploring the striated caves and tombs of the main city, we took a heart stopping donkey ride up to the monastery – mainly because I was suffering joint pain, that I later learnt was the beginning of a severe reaction to my medication*, that incapacitated me for months – and that is when my camera died on me and I realised I wasn’t carrying the spare battery!
Our guide – yes the one that looked like he had popped straight out of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ with his dark (Kohl rimmed?) eyes and crisp white Keffiye – suggested I request another tourist to lend me her camera, so I could swap memory cards and click a few photos!! I hesitated and he shrugged saying “you want these memories, you need to ask!” I still hesitated, so he went ahead and asked for me, and I have these! Did I mention he was dishy to boot?
Petra is a living city, and its present inhabitants the Bedouins have been living in caves inside the site for centuries. Although technically relocated to Umm Sayhun, a neighbouring village, where they have been provided housing and modern amenities, most, including Abdullah our guide assert, this is and will always remain, their true home! They subsist on tourist dollars and they return to their cave homes when those tourists leave.
# The title is the last line from the poem ’Petra‘ by John William Burgon
* My reaction to Levoday (Levofloxacin) a Fluoroquinolone drug was so severe, I managed to continue on the rest of the trip only by downing several Brufen tablets a day. My research later led me to this study and this, and the terrifying result of combining NSAID’s like Brufen with Fluoroquinolones! I survived with no permanent damage thankfully (at least I hope not), but it took me nearly a year of physio therapy to regain full use of my limbs. Be aware of what medication you are prescribed. Fluoroquinolones are marketed under a vast variety of brand names.