Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Petra's rock-chiseled beauty
Wednesday 5 December: Approaching the ancient entrance to Petra you first pass two buildings on your left, one atop the other. The upper, Obelisk Tomb, clearly shows both Eastern and Western influences with a Graeco-Roman style niche in the centre of a row of Egyptian-like obelisks. Below, the chambered Bab As-Siq would have been used as a feasting hall for the Nabataeans, the caravan merchants, who settled here and created this great city. These are just a hint of the wonders to come.
The main ancient entrance to Petra is through The Siq, a deep, narrow and twisting gorge a mile or so long. Feeling hemmed in by the soaring cliffs and water channels on both sides I eventually get a glimpse through the crevice ahead and then quite suddenly, The Treasury, Petra's rock-chiseled beauty, looms up before me in all it's splendour. Elaborately carved by 1st century BC Nabatean craftsmen, the sandstone still glows honey-red in the morning sunlight. Petra's rock-hewn facades are not particularly special, the geology is a little better, but what makes the place come alive is the combination of the two, almost as awesome now as it would have been to visiting caravanners 2,000 years ago. Can you imagine their reaction?
From here the main track leads past more facades, past the impressive Roman influenced rock-cut theatre, through the crumbling city, and up 800 rock-cut steps to the  of the hilltop Monastery, well-worth the effort. From here it's back to look at some of the colonnaded tombs and caverns before hurrying back, before the chill of dusk, to the British run Saba'a Hotel in the centre of nearby Wadi Musa, the dormitory town for Petra. It's a good choice.
Thursday 6: The curse of World Heritage status, Petra is an expensive site to visit, it's 50JD (about £50) for the first day and 5JD for subsequent days, but only if you are staying locally. Day-trippers, mostly from Israeli package-holiday resorts, pay a whopping 90JD entrance fee for a short visit.
My second day is even better, and armed with a pack lunch, I have the whole day. It's great to get away from the tourist hoards. Scaling the rugged outcrops and clambering through these wonderfully sculptured sandstone chambers, streaked with all the colours of the rainbow, glistening gold, is simply sublime.
Slideshow of Petra.

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