What an INCREDIBLE place! Absolutely AMAZING!
When we first were told that we HAD to see Petra, we knew nothing of the place and had no idea what the big deal was about. Well, it is up there with The Great Wall of China as a place not to miss. It offers both stunning natural features as well as spectacular manmade structures.
A little history lesson first. The Petra area has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years. It reached its zenith during the time of the Nabataeans in the centuries before and after the birth of Christ. Petra is situated at the head of Wadi Musa, or The Valley of Moses, an area considered one of the likely spots where Moses stuck the ground to have water gush forth. The Nabataeans were able to prosper here due to their proximity to ancient caravan routes, a plentiful water supply and nearby agricultural and grazing lands. Ancient Petra is also situated in an easily defended position that allowed the Nabataeans to rule the area for centuries.
The entrance to the ancient site is one of the marvels of the place. After walking down a wide path of loose stone surrounded by light colored sandstone and dotted with Flintstone like caves (this place had to inspire the TV show!), you enter the Siq, a very narrow, deep, deep gorge of vertical sandstone cliffs. This passageway is approximately 1 km long, and at times is as narrow as 4 meters wide.
Our first trip down the Siq was during their evening, luminary show. It was quite something, but in the daytime it is even more spectacular as the colors of the stone are visible. The Siq ends at The Treasury, one of several massive structures that are carved out of the pink, red, and brown sandstone cliffs of Petra. It is a stunning site. Period. The building is believed to be a tomb for an important ancient Nabataean king, and provides just the first of many OMG moments in this place. After proceeding through another narrow, Siq like passageway, you enter a more wide open area with numerous tombs and temples carved into the cliffs on either side of the valley floor. Some require some climbing to reach, others are on the valley floor.
Included in the spectacle that is Ancient Petra is an ampitheater cut into the rock by the Nabataeans and later enlarged by the Romans who gained control of the city in the first century AD. One of the most stunning sites is The Monastery, another massive structure carved into the side of a cliff. To reach the Monastery one needs to climb 800+ steps, but the climb is well worth the effort. The views from the Monastery area are breathtaking. More recently, the caves of ancient Petra served as homes to Bedouins who lived off the growing tourism trade and sheet and goat herding. They were moved out by the government in the early 1990s.
Jordan. A place we never even considered visiting, but with The Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, Petra, and The Gulf of Aqaba where we spent our last 24 hours relaxing and snorkeling, the country is a travelers’ delight.