Thursday, March 31, 2011

Petra - a Genuine World Wonder

two of four of the Royal Tombs

Back in 2007, a private Swiss group set up a global poll to decide what man-made structures would make the new Seven Wonders of the World. More than 100 million people took part (including myself). The winners were

1. Chichen Itza (Mexico)
2. Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
3. Taj Mahal (India)
4. Great Wall (China)
5. Coliseum (Italy)
6. Machu Pichhu (Peru)
7. Petra (Jordan)

A pretty fair list, although how the Angkor Temple complex (Cambodia) failed to make the list is somewhat bizarre.

There is no doubt about it - Petra is simply spectacular. Carved into sheer rock-face, the sandstone positively drips and swirls beautiful colours in the early morning and evening light.

Built by the Nabataens, (Arabs that controlled the frankincense trade routes of the region in pre-Roman days), they carved temples, tombs, storerooms and stables in the sandstone cliffs, it dates from 3BC. It was from here that they commanded the trade routes from Damascus to Arabia, with spice, silk and slave caravans passing through, having to pay both taxes and protection money.

The Nabataens made great advances very quickly, including hydraulic engineering, iron production, copper refining, sculptures and stone carving. In it's hey-day it is believed that it boasted some 30,000 inhabitants.

It is generally believed that several earthquakes, including a massive one in AD555 forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. It was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burkhardt (who also rediscovered Abu Simbel in Southern Egypt) in 1812.

At the time of writing, the entrance fees are JD50/55/60 for one/two/four days and is open from 6am to 6pm. An alternative is a candlelit tour which runs Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm which costs JD12.

Official tour guides are available in several languages including, English, Italian, Spanish and American.

Tourists stream through from about 8.30am, but an early start and you can enjoy the site virtually to yourself – an eerie and wonderful experience. Large tour buses/coaches usually arrive after 9am and are often out by 4pm.

Horse-drawn carriages are available for JD20 (return) to and from the Treasury. There is also one free horse ride to or from the Siq included in the ticket but expect to pay baksheesh for the privilege.

your carriage awaits

From the Visitors’ Centre/Ticket Office there is a short stroll through a pathway scattered with tombs and storehouses. There are several Djinn blocks on the pathway. These are large cuboid blocks generally believed to be tombs and memorials.

On the left hand side you can’t fail to notice the Obelisk Tomb and Bab el-Siq Triclinium. These are two separate rock-cut monuments. The top commemorates the deceased whilst the lower section would have been used to wining and dining in testimony to the deceased.

The pathway meanders down to the Siq where there is a kiosk and Tourist Police hut. On the right hand side you come across The Tunnel. It is believed to date from 1BC, is 88 metres long and used to protect the Siq from flash floods, diverting the water down Wadi al-Mudhlim and Wadi al-Mataha.

The Siq

The Siq is the main entrance into the city. The Siq itself - created naturally by tectonic forces, is high-sided and continues for some 1.2kms. There are carvings and water troughs on either side as it meanders down.

Just when there seems to be no end to the Siq, one literally catches one’s breath as you get your first glimpse of The Treasury made World famous as the setting of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. It is a phenomenal sight indeed!

The Treasury (Al-Khazna)

The Treasury stands at an impressive 39.5 metres high and is carved out of a single block. The name comes from an incorrect Bedouin belief that a Pharaoh hid his riches in the top urn. Bullet holes have riddled it in the desire to collect the rewards. It was actually a royal mausoleum, quite possibly King Aretas IV (9BC – 40AD).

The facade reveals a Hellenistic influence with six Corinthian capitals and topped by a frieze of winged griffins and vases amongst scrolls. In the centre of the facade is the goddess Isis, and she is surrounded by dancing Amazons holding axes.

Note how the light changes throughout the day. At this time of year the sun falls on the building between 8.30 - 10.50am.

For a different perspective on this immense monument, there is a look-out point. Walk past all the Royal Tombs and take the steps up to the top - sign-posted as the Al-Khubtha Trail. At the top there is a Bedouin hut. Follow the floor of the Wadi for about 10-15 minutes.

On from the Treasury, you enter an area known as the Streets of Facades.

Streets of Facades

This area is filled with a wide variety of tombs neatly arranged in ascending street-like rows along the cliff face. The tombs are fairly homogenous in appearance and type, with vertical facades featuring crow-stepped attics and simple rectangular entrances. The design style is said to be Assyrian, based on the similarity of the tombs’ stepped designs to Mesopotamian architecture dating to the 7th and 6th centuries BC. However the overlaps styles are different and merge gradually from tomb to tomb indicating the Nataeans drew from different influences including Assyrian, Hellenistic and Roman.

Tomb 67 is seen as remarkable for its upper door-way which is in a Hellenistic style

Further down, on the left hand side is the massive theatre.

The Theatre

This 4,000 - 7000 seater theatre is thought to date from 1AD during the reign of King Aretas IV. Its design is Graeco-Roman and is divided into three horizontal levels hewn directly in one piece of rock. It was possibly originally used as a meeting point for pilgrims, before putting on plays, poetry readings and concerts. It has been partially restored.

On the opposite hillside lie the beautiful Royal Tombs.

The Royal Tombs (60BC – 50AD)

Four grand tombs on the Khubtha Ridge overlook the main city of Petra. Their elaborate architecture and prominent location would suggest they are from the highest social status. There is no evidence or inscriptions to identify the owners, so are named after their features. From right to left they are the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Palace Tomb.

the Corinthian Tomb

the Urn and Silk Tombs

the Palace Tomb

Whilst the Romans and Byzantine built walls to separate the dead from the living, the Nabataeans used gardens.

inside one of the Royal Tombs - check out the swirls of colour on the ceiling

The evening light on these monuments is superb.

The Basin

Down through towards what is known as The Basin lies several points of interest on either side. On the left you can find The Great Temple and the Qasr al-Bint Temple both of which are in varying degrees of ruins.

The Great Temple

The Great Temple precinct measure some 7,000sqm. It is split into several parts and distinct areas including a monumental area, broad stairways and two sacred areas.

With its red and white stuccoed exterior it would have been an dramatic site.

Qasr al-Bint Temple

Qasr al-Bint Far’un Temple (Palace of the Pharoah’s Daughter) is Petra’s oldest temple. It is a typical Hellenistic temple, 23 metres high and set on a podium. It is almost perfectly square. Only priests could enter the temple and unfortunately at the time of writing, no-one can enter it.

On the right hand side are two of Petra's three churches. Built between 375AD - 600AD, they are some of the oldest churches in the world.

The best preserved is Petra Church which not only fell victim to a large earthquake (like the rest of the ancient Nabataean city), but also a huge fire.

The pillars and mosaics are stunning.

There are two restaurants at the bottom of The Basin and two museums, both of which are somewhat disappointing considering the historic history of Petra.

Take the path to the right past the more modern museum and it will take you up to the incredible Monastery. It takes about 45 minutes or you can hire a donkey if you can’t face the climb.

The Monastery (Ad-Dayr)

Deeply carved into the face of Jebel ad-Dayr, the facade represents one of the largest in Petra, measuring 47 metres wide and 51 metres high.

It is thought to have been used as an biclinium for meetings of religious associations and certain rituals. Quite possibly dating from 2AD during the reign of King Rabel II, inscriptions found nearby suggests that it may have been built in memory of the divine King Obodas II.

The hall was reused as a Christian chapel and crosses were carved in the rear wall, thus its moniker.

The colours in the sandstone are best in the late evening. There are a couple of viewpoints some 10 minutes climb upwards.

There are plenty of interesting walks and further afield hikes.

My personal favourite goes up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Take the stairwell on the left hand side in the Street of Facades before the Theatre. There are some 500 steps but it is not difficult. There are a couple of obelisks near the top. At the teahouse take the left (and then some 80 metres take a right downwards) which will take you onto through to the Garden Tomb, the Soldiers’ Tomb and Garden Triclinium. This area is known as Wadi Al-Farasa and is believed to be the processional route for sacrifices used by worshipers and pilgrims.

The Garden Tomb

Soldier's Tomb

Aub’s Top Tips:

• Stay longer than a day – there is so much to see, a day just doesn’t do the site justice
• For those on a tight budget bring in your own drinks and food. Everything is over-priced on site. You can bargain prices.
• For photographic purposes, early in the morning and late in the afternoon brings out the colours in the sandstone
• Wear strong comfortable shoes

Aub’s Top Three Sites and Sights in Petra:

If your on limited time in Petra, the “must-sees” are
1) The Treasury
2) The Monastery
3) The Royal Tombs

Ma recently reminded me she visited here on a day trip from Israel in 1998. I asked her what she thought of the experience. She didn’t enjoy the experience because there were no toilets she could find. I’m pleased to inform her that whilst not all the toilets are open, there are several scattered around the site.

After four days trekking round Petra from sunrise to sunset, my legs are knackered.

Editor's Addition: Yes - some of the photos are awesome. However, please respect they are not for downloading, but simply enjoying on the blog. If you are interested in purchasing these jpegs, or any others from this blog-site, please contact me direct.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wadi Musa (Mousa)

Wadi Musa is the base for your visit to Petra

It’s quite a pleasant small town, but like any highly touristed destination, all the prices are severely escalated. Everything is negotiable, everywhere.

The historic site is at the bottom of the town, and indeed, in general, the closer to the site, the higher the prices are.

One place worth a visit is The Cave Bar - possibly the oldest bar in the World dating back to 1BC. They might still be serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks but a they now also show football on a big screen. It is now part of the Petra Guesthouse complex just in front of the entrance-way to Petra.

I base myself at the Petra Gate Hotel close to the Shaheed roundabout. The ensuite single was negotiated at JD15 including breakfast and free Wi-Fi. At the time of writing, it’s the cheapest place i can find in town.

The restaurants that cluster around the roundabout are all much the same, although my personal faves include The Turkish Restaurant, Cleopatra’s and Al-Wadi’s. Half a chicken with bread and pickles cost JD2.50 and the Sanabel Automatic Bakery and Pastry shop do tasty pizzas for JD1.

There are two ATMs just up the road from the roundabout.

There are taxis that go round town, but none have metres. I persuade one to take me from the Visitor's Entrance to the roundabout for JD1 but it was a struggle.

There is one bus a day to Karak departing at 12pm, but you can get one of the regular buses to Amman that will drop you off on the highway 33kms from the town where you can get a bus or hitch a ride.

glowing red at sunset

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The King and I

the King whizzes past me

There is much excitement as i arrive into Wadi Musa (Mousa) on Thursday – the town where Petra lies. The King is due to arrive in town. An army of street-cleaners are on the warpath, flags fly over the streets and festoons of posters and banners are spread along the road-side.

King Abdullah II took the throne in 1999 from his father King Hussain and is seen as a modern monarch, promoting economic and social reform, including women’s rights. The Jordanians are massive patriots, and the monarchy is held in the highest esteem.

There is huge disappointment when at the last moment as Abdullah’s visit is postponed. However, it is rescheduled for Sunday.

banners line the streets

Hoards line the streets, music blares from poor quality speakers and all the kids have been given the day off school to bolster numbers.

school-girls have the day off school, but still turn out in uniforms

The chefs and kitchen staff from the upmarket Movenpick Hotel are also out in force banging drums and dancing around. Security is intense with both police and army lining the street fronts and i’m man-handled as i try to make my way up to town.

chefs from the Movenpeck with heavy armed guards

Arriving some three hours late, the King positively whizzed through town in an open-topped vehicle. He stands on the top waving in a sharp grey suit and is gone with a blink of my melted chocolate brownies and long lashes. Both boys and young men follow charging behind; chanting and singing, Clearly Abdullah doesn’t get out to Wadi Musa very much – and probably just as well.

men and boys chase the King's entourage

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Eye and a Lens - Jebel Qattar

I spend two nights at a Bedouin camp next to a unique rock formation known as Jebel Qattarin the desert of Wadi Rum. This series of photographs were taken throughout the day and night showing interesting colour changes and shadows across its mighty face.

taken at sunrise

late morning

late afternoon

moonlit at night