Follow the team as they travel into the heart of the iconic lost Nabatean city of Petra…
Fact: early morning starts are rarely a welcome feature on anyone’s travel itinerary. However, waking up in the early hours to get a head start at one of the world’s most remote archaeological treasures and to witness the sun creeping up over the Jordanian landscape makes skipping the breakfast buffet worthwhile. Having seen many photos of Petra before – mainly the iconic Treasury or Al Khazneh – we were aware of the awesome multi-coloured sandstone monuments of this lost kingdom built long ago, but to be honest that was the extent of our somewhat lacking knowledge: it turns out there is more to this ancient cityscape than meets the eye.
As you walk into the sanctioned park area, the sheer scale of the landscape that the city is set in is enough to boggle the mind. Our guide informed us that the whole Nabatean site was built on 264 square kilometres of staggeringly beautiful desert and to view it in its entirety would take around two weeks; unfortunately we only had a mere day to scratch the surface.
Waiting at the gates was a fleet of ponies, donkeys and camels eager to carry us through the Siq canyon to the first monument. After yesterday’s bike ride, we quickly declined – for obvious reasons. We opted for good old-fashioned walking through the cavernous Siq, a 1200-metre-long narrow gorge, hemmed in by towering cliffs of over 80 metres in height and we couldn’t help but feel we were travelling deep into another world. Along with typical Petrean features of puzzlingly complex geological formations and colourful rocks resembling oil paintings are astonishingly well-preserved water channels and irrigation systems from Nabatean times.
Emerging from the narrow slit of the Siq right before you is Jordan’s postcard-perfect icon: the Treasury. This dazzling architectural monument, inspired by the Hellenisitic times, soars above to dwarf you amidst the rose-hued rocks and elaborate detailed carvings. As we continued our journey through the valley of Petra, with our guide sharing his nuggets of information, we were getting a feel for how vast this place really is. Piercing blue skies serve as the backdrop, behind rugged iron-coloured mountains painted with swirls of yellow and black, and a persistent feeling that you’ve just stepped onto the set of an epic blockbuster movie.
After refuelling on sweet mint tea and Turkish coffee, we powered up a set of 800 stairs and awaiting us around a corner (Petra is all about surprises at every turn) was the Monastery, Ad-Deir: imposing, breath-taking and undeniably beautiful. From here we ambled further up a hill, to a viewpoint aptly named the End of the World, overlooking the sweeping Wadi Araba desert, known as the frontier of Israel. No amount of adjectives can do this view justice but just take it from us, it’s spectacular.
As well as the mesmerizing landscapes of this lost city, what really makes Petra so special is the Bedouin people who have called it home for centuries. Their involvement in its preservation and maintenance is vital and their intrinsic value to the place is clear for anyone to see.
To experience Petra’s astounding beauty by day was awesome in itself but to get a totally different feel, after dinner we set off back to the site to see it by flickering candlelight. With limited numbers permitted at night in order to preserve the natural surroundings, we made our way with the other fortunate few through the narrow entrance of the Siq, decorated with hundreds of candles along its passage to illuminate the looming landmarks. The carpet of candles shedding light on the Treasury was truly spellbinding and as the moon shone down on the dramatic site, we listened to atmospheric live music and sipped on cups of mint tea to really set the mood and complete that once-in-a-lifetime feeling.