We started our short trek into Petra rather early in the morning—hoping to avoid the heat, dust and crowds. We were only partially successful. It seems that Petra is high on many people's "Bucket Lists." And the mid-day heat is oppressive. Every step on the way into the complex requires the same step taken on the way out.
The sandstone mountains and rocky outcrops create a beautiful, otherworldly atmosphere. The anticipation builds as we get closer to Petra.
Along the way, we begin to see tombs—both modest and ambitious—like the "Obelisk Tomb" (ambitious) shown above, carved out of the solid rock of the sandstone cliffs, probably in the First Century AD. Bodies of the aristocratic family members would have been buried upstairs while the bottom room may have been used as a banquet hall.
The Nabateans were an Arab people who lived in this area from the Fourth Century BC. Petra was a major crossroads for traders (gold, frankincense, myrrh, spices) which made the Nabateans very wealthy. They also were exposed to the many Eastern (Arab, Asian) and Western (Greek, Roman) cultures which did business in their city.
Originally, the Nabateans worshiped the god Dushara. Once they were incorporated into the Roman Empire (106 AD) most Nabateans eventually became Christians. In the Seventh Century, Muslim forces took control and Islam became dominant—and remains so to this day.
The devotional shrine, shown above, once would have included a figure of a god or a saint, depending upon the time at which it was carved into the sandstone wall. It may also have been one type of figure before being changed to another.
The walk into Petra is a slight downward grade and quite easy. One passes through a mile-long crevasse, called Al-Siq, which is narrow, shady and beautiful, both in form and color. The red stone is created by iron oxide. The yellows from ochre. And the black veins come from deposits of manganese. This gorge occurred naturally when the rock mountain split—after which erosion widened and softened the alleyway. At one time, this sandstone formation was deep under the sea—which is how the rock was formed (from sand and other minerals) over millions of years. Eventually, the water drained away and the stone was left high and dry.
During the Roman Occupation (starting in the First Century AD), the Romans created a triumphal stone arch over the entrance to Al-Siq. That arch has fallen, only leaving a remnant of the former structure, shown above. But it must have been a wonderful entrance to this enchanting city like no other.
The region is quite dry. But when it does rain, the torrents are quick, big and damaging. Thus the Nabateans became highly skilled at water management—to protect themselves during flash-flooding and to provide drinking water within the complex. The Nabateans created diversions for the occasional flash flood (like the one shown here) and they created gutters and clay pipe waterways to bring water into the city.
The Nabateans also built paved roads made of limestone, as shown here. Limestone quarries were at least 20 miles away, making the use of this material costly and difficult. But limestone withstood traffic (feet, hooves, wheels) much better than the softer, porous sandstone. The Nabateans, as shown in the photo above, used a variety of stone sizes and shapes, placed randomly, in their paving (not highly geometric as the Romas did). When the Romans came, they placed their paving stones in more consistent, deliberate rows. Thus, we know that this pavement is earlier—Nabatean, not Roman.
Here we have a remnant of a sculpture of a camel driver and his camel, carved into the rock wall along the Al-Siq passage. You can see the bottom half of the man, the camel's feet, the belly of the animal, and a suggestion of a hump, neck and head above that.
Finally, we come to the end of the Al-Siq passage and the Treasury is revealed! It is the finest existing building in Petra, built during the First Century BC. Though it was not used for banking or storing treasures, that name became popular and has stuck. It was probably used as a temple in which new parents would present and have their newborns blessed (and other religious or civic rituals).
The flamboyance and craftsmanship of the carving suggests the Nabateans were very wealthy (from trade). They were also influenced by the design styles of the Greeks, Romans and Assyrians, as shown on the structure above. This perfectly suited the cosmopolitan nature of the Nabatean people—who interacted (did business) with people from all over their contemporary world.
Camels were built to survive (perhaps thrive?) in the desert. And the people of the desert would never have prospered without them. Today, at least at tourist sites, camels are a popular attraction; goofy tourists enjoy having their photos taken atop a "ship of the desert". As for me, I tend to feel sorry for the camels (and tend to avoid "foolish photo moments" which may last for eternity on the internet).
Tombs and temples abound in Petra. This one was built for an aristocrat.
Simpler people would have simpler tombs (and they would be closer to the ground).
A 4,000 seat theatre is carved into the rock of Petra—the only such carved-rock theatre in the world. All other ancient theatres were built of quarried stone, built-up, stone-upon-stone. Older tombs, along the back wall, had to be emptied and relocated at the time the theatre was carved (9 BC - 40 AD).
The mile long walk out through Al-Siq is just as beautiful as the walk in was (just a little hotter).
And a hot air balloon delighted me as I got closer to the end.
This Petra Pup knows how to avoid the heat, dust and crowds. He slept contentedly near the entrance gates.
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