About 5 years ago Suzanne and I had booked and paid for a couple of weeks holiday in the Middle East including 3 days in Petra. Her mother’s unexpected illness and protracted time in ICU resulted in cancellation of that trip. Now that I have been here it’s a blessing in disguise. Due partly to foot problems Suzanne is not actually able to walk any distance without significant pain. This is a venue for keen, moderately fit walkers and the distances and steepness of the terrain are a surprise. Had we have come here together with me wanting to walk everywhere it may have resulted in divorce proceedings.
Around 300 BC an obscure Arab tribe called the Nabateans controlled most of what is now southern Jordan. This was a prominent trading route and they grew wealthy catering too and taxing the caravans that passed through. They carved the magnificent buildings here out of the mountain faces and it is every bit as impressive as the pictures portray. The approach is in through a narrow impressive canyon named Al Siq. The mountains soar above you on either side for a kilometre and then suddenly it is there! Named the Treasury for legends of hidden wealth it is actually a royal tomb carved 50 metres high into the solid rock and there is no treasure. The columns are ornately decorated and it defies comprehension that this could be achieved with the rudimentary technology of over 2 millenia ago.
The best time to visit is at opening which is 6:30 am before the rays of the sun actually hit the façade. It glows a soft pastel pink rose colour, which becomes sandstone yellow later in the day. Coming early also means that you almost have the place to yourself. It is peaceful as well as magnificent. Later in the day when buses have disgorged literally thousands of people it loses its magic. The whole area becomes a veritable zoo, noisy crowded and people posing outlandishly for photos.
From the Treasury the rest of what was a major trading city stretches 8 km with temples, theatres and tombs. Beyond that it’s another steep and arduous 90 minutes out to the similarly impressive but built later Byzantine monastery. That is the bare minimum here and that is only one way. There are multiple other walks, inevitably all steep and uphill that are worth doing. Suddenly it is 4pm and I have walked solidly for around 9 hours with a break for lunch. Exhausted but happy I head back up the hill to my hotel.