You’re strangely dressed. For a Knight.
I had a bit of a ratty day: no one could tell me how much my washing was going to cost, I couldn’t find the post office, Hertz had told me to return Apple to a hotel-when it needed to go to their office (why are companies with big names so shit), taxis drivers kept beeping me and the place I really wanted to have lunch (and my first proper meal in some time) was shut. And the internet was rubbish, then they tried to overcharge me and didn’t apologise when I pointed it.
And yes, that is all very petty stuff.
I didn’t managed to get round to dinner; I think a small part of me didn’t fancy the idea of Petra by Night becoming John puking by candlelight. So I grabbed a Snickers (where is that a better name than Marathon) from the minimart opposite the Moon Valley and started down the hill to the visitors’ centre. I took a bite and half a dozen strides later all thoughts of the day’s crap were banished by the single thought-‘I’m going to Petra’. The biggest grin spread quickly across my face and then it started.
Der der der, der der der, duh duh duh, duh duh duh duuuhhh. With the help of Indian Jones, that grin grew to massive proportions. A sense of perspective instilled my sense of excitement. I feel I’ve waited a long time for this.
Naively I thought the dozen or so people waiting when I arrived meant it would be a small crowd, but I reckon there were 150 or so by the time we set off. I was a little surprised as I felt very young and the visitors appeared to have been shepherded out of comfortable hotels. The number of couples under 50 and backpackers was low. Seeing as we were going to walk the Siq in silence and singlish file, then sit in front of the treasury, none of this seemed to matter a jot. As long as I wasn’t too close that bunch of Americans whose volume was set to 11.
Let’s not mess about; it was a brilliant night and left me hungry for 8 hours time when I’ll return in the light and will see so much more. The Siq in itself is a marvel; it is simply wonderful. The Siq is like a gorge/canyon, except it was created by a rent in the earth rather than water: it’s ¾ of a mile long and on average it is about 4 or so metres wide, at times stretching up to 200m. In the moonlight, full and strong enough to create a full shadow of me, the approach to the Siq had felt a little plastic, a little like a film set (this is other rock formations). The Siq maintained an atmosphere of its own. The Siq’s shape was continually changing and the moon and stars came and went. While I knew I wasn’t alone, it was a very contemplative embassy.
It’s no exaggeration that a trip just to walk down the Siq would have been worth doing, but the knowledge that the Treasury-Petra’s most familiar sight-is around one of the Siq’s winding corners adds an extra layer of excitement and poignancy to the walk. If you asked the world’s greatest architect to design an approach to a building, or a stadium, or a square or anything and you asked for that approach to combine beauty with increasing suspense and excitement, there’s not a chance in hell they’d come up with anything to rival the Siq. I found myself slowing down as I went into corners; I was thinking the Treasury might be round this one and then the Siq will end; much as I wanted to see the Treasury, I also wanted to prolong the Siq. I don’t know how deliberate on the part of the Nabataens was the use of the Siq as the way to the Treasury, but I can’t believe it was just a happy accident. It’s genius. It makes you think about where you are and where you’re heading-in both senses.
My thoughts turned to the new 7 wonders and the approaches to the other 4 I have visited. There’s fun, but little peace or dignity, in the madness that surrounds the Taj Mahal; braving the fake centurions vying for your photo posing custom can raise a smile at the Colisseum; the mad taxi drive up to Christ the Redeemer in Rio prepares you for the mad crush around what is a very large piece of concrete; Machu Picchu with the Inca trail and the sun gate makes you work for it and gives you a lot of thinking time, but I don’t think it has the magic. You can keep ‘em all; the Siq is the dogs. (It’s worth adding here, after my visit during the day, that the area of Petra is one of phenomenal natural beauty; worth a visit even without the efforts of some of the world’s most extraordinary architects).
After stumbling for a while on the paving that the Romans had put into the Siq, the ground turned to sand and I took the last turn and saw the Siq’s last trick-the famous framing of the treasury that my camera is nowhere near good enough to capture. Tonight the Tresury is more of a feeling, an outline of what I can expect tomorrow. With the ground in front lit and the Bedouin making music, it oozes beauty and atmosphere. Sadly, these were the best I could manage.
We sat and drank mint tea and despite the number, I had a sense of everyone being in their own place. Of course when the music stopped, the lights in the tat shop blaze out.
I still don’t get it. Why would you want shopping to intrude on something so ethereal. Plenty of people did; you can hardly blame the Bedouin. And they do take Visa.
It’s great to think I’ll be back tomorrow to see this all in so much detail.
Day 39 Petra by Day 1
Let’s start with the controversy. If I were to level a criticism against Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film, needless to say, that only Empire and Withnail could compete with for the movie of the 80s title, is that it might leave you with the impression that Petra is the Siq and the Treasury. This would be grossly unfair, as the film never mentions the city, but the two have become intertwined. As a result, I would suggest that many of the Jones generation fell in love with Petra, without ever knowing what it was they really loved.
Petra is big. They sell 1 day, 2 day and 3 day tickets. You know what I bought just after 6.30 a.m. this morning (winter opening time). This should have resulted in a rather more steady approach to Petra day 1 than actually happened. I left the site at gone 5.30, when it was nearly dark. I had to go on the internet and initially could barely feel my hands from tiredness. I got stuck in.
Still loving the Siq in the light although I must have been seeing things when I thought I saw a Moai in the rock. It was so quiet-I only saw one other tourist while I was in it and I took my time-that sounds were magnified. The flapping of a bird’s wings, the wind and the chatter of 2 bedouin on their way to work all dominate the sound waves. In the light, I could see the many carving and reliefs with which the Siq had been decorated.
Just to make me marvel at the Siq even more, the arrival of the Treasury caught me by surprise. Fortunately I managed to compose myself and get my camera out.
I don’t think there is anything you can possibly to do to improve that view. As a teaser for what’s to come, it is perfect.
I got to the Treasury quite early, but as more people dribbled out the Siq I began to wonder about whether to stay for the best light to hit the Treasury. Just as I heard the first coachload of noisy buggers approaching, I noticed there was a hike that led high above the Treasury. The tour group’s spontaneous round of applause sent me speeding past the Treasury to find the stairs up. A kilometre or so further down, I headed round the back of the Royal Tombs (stunning, but for another day) and started scrambling my way up.
You all know that I am at the very peak of my sporting abilities. I can pinpoint buttons on a remote control with both thumb and fingers; this skill is seamlessly extended to involve both hands when the Sky box and widescreen TV both require adjustment; even this manoeuvre can be accomplished accurately while I cradle a phone to my ear. From here, judicious control ensures pizza can be ordered without missing Monty winning yet another Ryder Cup singles match.
Giving this Olympian standard, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that this sporting pedigree combined with a diet that hadn’t shown much regard for food in the last 4 days proved to be no preparation for going up a cliff like a mountain goat. I’m now a little tired, sat 200m above the Treasury, having probably climbed twice that distance to get here. In truth it wasn’t the hardest and no one else is here-bizarre as it is in LP. And the sun is out.
Just looking at this one again makes me feel a bit sick.
The rock all around the Treasury had given it great protection from the elements: the rock walls are high and the walkways are narrow. Down on the ground it’s actually quite hard to get a picture of the whole as you struggle to get far enough away. The parallel up here is that you need to get near the edge to see it all. The rock walls are quite sheer.
This topography has left the Treasury in wonderful shape. I’m not aware of restoration and I could see no sign of it. I think this is the real deal.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one to come up here, I was just the first. I had to myself for a good half hour and then only 3 French joined me. I spent a good hour up there, but as I started to walk back, the people were flowing up. It’s all in the timing you see. I noticed I’d slipped back into the hiker’s cheery ‘Hi’ as I passed folk: unable to speak, one guy just gave me a filthy look. He had a long way to go.
As I mentioned before, there is so much more to Petra than I had expected. I’d planned to spend 3 nights here, giving me 2 days at the site, much of which I thought would be spent lingering at the same sights. It’s so big that I’ll need to be a little careful to make sure I see and hike round all the bits I want to-as well as returning to some favourites on the last day. I went back passed the Royal tombs and headed into the colonnaded street. This is the Roman bit of Petra and it shows that the Nabataens knew a thing or two as it looks pretty sad here in comparison. Freestanding structures just don’t survive as well as those hewn out of rock.
By the way the Nabataens made their money by taxing trade and trade routes; they lived in tents, which is Petra consists of so many tombs and public style edifices like the Treasury.
At the end of Roman Petra, it was certainly time for lunch. I was walking towards the buffet, but just before was a few steps to the Al-Habis museum. Well, I might as well take a quick look. Just as I was about to head into the museum, I saw a sign pointing round the hill to the crusader fort; just a quick look couldn’t hurt? Now I’m up here. So lunch went back an hour; I am the king of getting distracted and I never did make it in the Al-Habis museum. Got a great view over the Roman part back to the Royal tombs.
And an insight into how they built these.
Start at the top and work down it seems.
Lunch is buffet or buffet. With no breakfast, recent fasting and the exercise my supply of snacks had proved woefully inadequate, so it was going to have be buffet. This was bad news for 3 reasons: firstly it was expensive-a 3 day Petra ticket costs 31JD, make your choice of the 2 buffets for 3 days and you’ll need 30-39JD; secondly, as it’s a buffet, I’m honour bound to eat my money’s worth and after lunch I’m climbing to the monastery-that’ll test my stomach; and thirdly, I haven’t brought my big plate. I went with the Bedouin tent buffet, which was 3JD cheaper than the Crowne Plaza one, where other folk had been expressing their displeasure with the range of options. Still, I guess the Crowne Plaza don’t take the washing up away in a wheelbarrow.
Good thing I’m no coffee drinker-Nescafe is a premium brand in these parts. I still puzzle at the way Johnny Walker has made itself THE whiskey outside the countries that actually make the stuff. Marketing is an evil practice. As people were settling up for lunch, I heard one American asking a total stranger, ‘Where’d you get the Jordanian money?’. They just don’t help themselves.
Indy was lucky. If they’d put the grail in the Monastery, he’d have had another big hike, where he’d have to contend with the Donkey Derby. There are lots of offers of donkey rides up to the Monastery (it’s a good climb), donkeys flying up and down (they seem to have right of way) and plenty of donkey shit. I decided not to make any jokes about people who ride the donkeys, just in case, but I held out to the lunch test. Donkey ride probably wouldn’t help settle your stomach come to think of it.
Sat in front of it, I’m just shaking my head. This is amazing. If it wasn’t for the Treasury, the Monastery would be Petra’s signature hole.
There’s a nice vibe up here. Maybe it’s because almost everyone has earned it: only the women donkey riders escape the hike or the spud squashing.
There are some viewpoints further up from the monastery and again I am struck that this would be a place to come to without man’s efforts here. It’s like a mountain range as you look out.
I half wished for snow; OK I 1/16th wished for snow, but the thought was there.
Slightly reluctantly, I turned and headed for home. It took me 2 hours to get back to the hotel.
I am seriously battered. Circumstances have come together to make this as physically wasted as I can remember being. But, boy did I have a great day.
Day 40 Petra by Day 2
Today I took the Wadi Muthlin route into Petra, which bypasses the Siq and Treasury. Instead I shall end up entering the city from the far side of the Royal tombs. Wadi Muthlin runs perpendicular to the Siq from the dam just before the Siq’s entrance. I did feel a slight wrench at missing the Siq, but I’ll be back tomorrow.
The Wadi feels like a dried up river-sand, small stones, rocks and the occasional boulder line its path. However, it’s more accurate to describe it as an intermittent river, subject to flash flooding when it rains. Not that that should be a concern today as it’s dry, sunny and generally lovely.
This is much narrower than the main Siq: at several points I had to lower myself down. The colours of the rocks were beautiful, but I’m not sure if the sun ever penetrates the Wadi walls to make them look their best.
In other parts, I felt the rock looked like it had been melted. It was the kind of alternative route that was interesting enough when you have time. I noted again that not all the Bedouin are selling stuff to tourists and that others still live and work here amongst the ancient city.
Once again I headed past the Royal Tombs and chilled out for a while at the theatre, where I came across a whole new form of tour group-groups with colour coded baseball caps. At least 3 different groups went by clad in their matching hats. I tried not to smirk.
The hike through the Wadi hadn’t been so taxing, but I thought a breather would help prepare me for my next stop-the High Place of Sacrifice. Apparently the Nabs quite enjoyed a bit of sacrifice up in the clouds, so the High Place of Sacrifice is accessible and well-renown, rather than unique. Slightly out of breath, I pottered around taking in the views before spotting where I’d come from.
While I was near the altar (a fairly simple affair), this kid kept pointing out where the sacrifice happened, the channels the blood flowed down and, to his obvious disappointment, that only donkeys and goats were sacrificed.
It’s nice to have time not to rush here, due in part to yesterday’s lunacy, so I’ve treated today more like a hike. Ignoring the blood, sacrificed donkeys and goats I spent a good while enjoying the views and the picnic I’d assembled. Even up here the sound of Petra, baying Donkeys, drifts up.
From what I understand the Nabataens had a trading empire, not a military one. I like the idea that a creation such as Petra has no military significance, or apparent human cost.
I took the back way down from the High Place, so rather than return to the theatre I would arrive in the Roman city. I felt sorry for the traders on this route-more than one of them asked me if there were any more tourists coming. This was in the early afternoon; it’s not a main thoroughfare. Why became clear at the end:
Well you could have told me before I started. I stopped off at the remaining sights in the Roman City, including the Church and its mosaics. Although many looked like ice cream sundaes to me, it was nice to see true heroes honoured
If the Nabs could see into the future, they were certainly laughing at tourists with their urban planning: the walk back home at day’s end is a complete swine. It’s uphill from the city to the treasury, along the Siq, from the Siq to the entrance and from the entrance to where everyone’s staying. Hardly surprising that you are constantly offered a range of taxis-camel, donkey, horse and yellow. I am still resisting the call of the donkey.
This was a good day, a different day; it didn’t have the same magic as yesterday, but was more of a hiking and scenery day.
Day 41 Petra by Day 3
So back to the Siq and the Treasury. I love that no one knows what it is. The name comes from the tradition of the Pharoah’s treasure buried in the Urn at the top. Believers have shot at the urn to try and get it to spill the good stuff.
The building may be the tomb of King Aretas IV, who reigned around the time of Christ. He must have been some king.
I think the Treasury is the only interior visitors cannot access. To get an idea of how the façade dominates the interior, you can see in. In the centre, the steps ascend to floor level and the ceiling is below the height of the 6 lower columns; the room is not as deep as it is wide and although there is a door at the back, there doesn’t seem much more. I think the 2 side doors from the main chamber lead to the 2 small rooms at the side, accessed by doors left and right at the level of the bottom of the columns. There is no upper storey interior-wise. It is about as opposed to the ‘form follows function’ ideology as you can get.
Everyone stayed in bed today. I saw and heard no one the whole way from the entrance gate, down the Siq and to the Treasury. Then for a good while, when the guys from the shop shut up and turned off their music, I had the Treasury to myself in total silence, with just the occasional bird moving the air. It was very special and I was definitely lucky-all day this was quite substantially the quietest of the 3 days I spent at Petra. I doubt many folk get the Treasury to themselves in these post Indiana Jones days.
Which reminds me I have an Indy update.
The scenes with the tanks and so on look as if they may well have been filmed in the area. It’s hard to say where or how close as there are no recognisable reference points.
When Donovan spots the ‘canyon of the crescent moon’ in his binoculars, that is not the Siq. You see a single canyon depressed into a fairly flat landscape. If that is real, I don’t think it’s anywhere too nearby.
When the good guys finally get to see the Treasury, I’m sure they are in the Siq. The exteriors are clearly real.
For the closing sequence they again ride off into the Siq-something you can’t do however tempting it is. You can only a ride a horse from the entrance gate to the entrance of the Siq half a mile away. I’ve seen people do it, I’ve no idea why. The way certain nationalities applaud the brave members of their group on horses makes me think it may be a daredevil thing.
Still on the end of the Last Crusade, when they’re on the flat plain, riding into the setting sun as the credits start to roll, they’re somewhere else. Having ridden up the Siq, they’d been on that mean uphill climb back to Wadi Musa. I guess Spielberg felt the Movenpick hotel would wreck the shot.
As I have spoilered above, none of the Treasury interior in the film is real. The Nabataens weren’t too bothered about the inside; all Petra’s building contain largely plain and empty spaces. There’s the very occasional niche and more common coffin space.
And it’s still a brilliant film-they’re very brave to make another.
Oh, and after all that on the Treasury, here I am.
I walked around a few little sights, found some more mad coloured rock
had a picnic and still felt sorry for the donkeys. Several times I walked round a corner or through a doorway and there stood a donkey, often not tethered, looking mournful. Perhaps it is their way-Eeyore wasn’t a ray of sunshine.
So, on the home straight, having walked past them 5 or more times, I finally made it to the Royal Tombs. So many of the structures were tombs. I love the fact that, unless your tomb was particularly cheap, part of it would be a funerary dining room/banqueting hall. It must have been some comfort as you went the way of all to know that your nearest and dearest would still pop round dinner. I think I see a great way of the Juxon Street Xmas having a very long life.
The Palace tomb,
on the left of the Urn tomb, has the largest façade of all. I wondered how long this would be the case, as quite a lot of the pieces on the ground looked to have recently fallen from the top.
Sitting outside the Urn tomb, looking over the city below, I felt sad as I checked the map and realised I was done. Just the walk up the hill to go-via the Treasury and Siq one last time.
It took a while for me to drag myself away from the Treasury. I stood for some time in the square in front, before edging my way up the Siq, stopping frequently to look back. It was like walking away from a girl you know you’ll never see again: you keep stopping to steal a final glance until you turn one last time and you can’t see her anymore. She’s gone and you feel a little empty.
Special place Petra.
I have to admit I had the feel of much of this post written in my head before leaving Amman. I was pretty confident about Petra.
I was right.
You should go.