May 10, 2012
Guest Blog: Richard Smith, Guest on board Queen Elizabeth
More than 1000 of us travelled to Petra from Aqaba. If you have not been to Petra, you need to add it to your ‘must visit’ list. Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is stunning.
The two hour drive to Petra was easy and took us through Bedouin territory littered with their distinctive tents, their sheep and their camels. And in some areas we saw settlements of concrete houses provided for them by the Jordanian government. Often a brown tent could be spotted alongside the concrete house because the grandparents refused to move out of their tent!
The city of Petra was built by the Nabataeons, who had moved from Arabia in the 6th Century BC. Work started in 169BC and most of the city appears to have been completed by 106 AD, when the Romans conquered Petra by cutting off the water supply! Amazingly the Nabataeons had constructed water channels which can still be seen. And to survive in the dry seasons they constructed dams and reservoirs.
The Nabataeons continued to occupy Petra, despite parts of the city being destroyed by earthquake. But eventually Petra became a ‘lost’ city and for nearly 2000 years its existence was forgotten by Europeans. But in 1812 a Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt found it again.
When you visit Petra today it is easy to see why it disappeared. It is approached through the Siq, a narrow chasm which wends its way for a mile through 100 foot high rocks on either side. The surface is uneven and although the majority of visitors walk, others ride through on horseback or in horse drawn carriages.
Regular World travellers with Cunard, Mary and Celia, with combined ages totalling nearly 180 years were determined to visit Petra. They each thought the other was too old to do so, but they both decided to go and felt that the horse drawn carriage was the option for them. The problem with the carriages is that the Bedouin drivers take the journey at speed and the surface is not flat, but Mary and Celia survived the bumpy ride and loved the experience.
The Bedouins occupied the lost city until 1985 when the government persuaded them to move to homes built for them on the hill above Petra to allow archaeologists to explore and excavate and to enable visitors to enjoy the site. In exchange the Bedouins were allowed to run the visitor facilities – the horses, the camels, the carriages and the market stalls.
At the beginning of the Siq you are confronted by the Djinn Blocks forming the entrance and after travelling through the narrow Siq you reach the Treasury which is the best known and most photographed monument in Petra. Standing some 130 feet high the building is carved out of the living rock. Some believe that it was a temple and others a Royal tomb.
If you continue to walk down the valley you encounter the Street of the Facades and then the dramatic theatre which is thought to have accommodated 6000 people. Wherever you look there are hundreds of tombs, many of which you can enter. At the end of the Paved Street you will find the Temenos Gate. You also need to find the Temple of the Winged Lions and numerous other beautiful structures carved out of the sandstone rocks.
Petra is an amazing place. Although it is not the easiest place to reach I recommend that you try it. In my view it is well worth the effort.