The Ancient City of Petra
As a child I was fascinated by history and the strange natural phenomena in this world. Jordan was a country that made my list very early on as it had Petra and the Dead Sea. In early 2014 I joined a group of photographers for a trip around Jordan, we travelled through much of the country taking photos and working with a few NGOs. Towards the end of our trip we made our way to the iconic and historic city of Petra.
Petra was established as a trading post by the early Nabateans, it may have been settled as early as 9000BC, but the first mention of it in recorded history is 312BC when the Greek Empire attacked the city. It was largely abandoned by the beginning of the eighth century. While the architecture is the main reason people visit (myself included) one of the things I found absolutely fascinating about Petra was the water system that was established by the Nabateans. There is a unique network of conduits, dams and cisterns that were set up to collect, store and distribute water all year around.
The city was only used by nomadic shepherds for several centuries after it was abandoned. It wasn't until 1812 that it was "rediscovered" by a Swiss Explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. The chronicles of his travels attracted the interest of historians, architects, scholars and many other people. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and massive source of income for Jordan and the locals as tourists come from far and wide to visit this wonder.
As you walk into Petra you wind your way through a deep 1.2km long gorge called the Siq, in some parts it is so narrow that the sky is barely visible above and other parts are quite wide. When I visited it was fairly quiet, tourist numbers had dropped off significantly as the Arab Spring was under way and many of the surrounding countries were politically unstable. There were still many tourists taking the easier route of getting carted down via horse or horse drawn carriage, we all preferred to do the hike as we could stop and start and take photos at our own leisure.
I have a bit of a personal aversion to encouraging tourism that involves animals if I'm not sure on how they are being treated. This is why I don't ride elephants anywhere, despite many opportunities to do so, I know that elephants are severely mistreated in more than 90% of places that train them to give tourists a ride. While I was in Petra I saw the camels, horses and donkeys being beaten and whipped. A veterinarian clinic has since been opened at Petra and the Jordanian authorities have put in an awareness and education campaign amongst the animal handlers.
As you near the end of the Siq you are greeted with a glimpse of the incredible Treasury that has featured in many movies and is arguably the most iconic part of Petra. When you think of Petra you almost certainly think of the treasury building. It featured heavily in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and many other movies, but it seems that most people think of that movie when you mention Petra.
Walking out into the opening in front of the treasury is definitely a bit breathtaking, the photos and movies do it no justice at all. The sheer scale of it makes you stop and just stare, then for me it was immediately on to "how on earth did they build this", I have my doubts that we'd be able to accurately replicate something like this with all our current technology. I've seen many natural and man made wonders and the treasury is amongst the top experiences for me.
One thing I did find funny though is that as you are looking at the treasury if you rotate 90 degrees to your left there is a gift shop that has a coke machine out front. The incongruence of the modern coke machine and the ancient architecture made me laugh.
Beyond the treasury is a massive site that is ready to be explored and experienced, but the site is 264 square kilometres in size (102 sq miles), so don't try to explore it all in one day or one visit. Possibly my favourite part was The Monastery, easily the largest feature within Petra, but it is a massive climb of 850 steps up the side of a mountain. There are donkeys available to take you up, but having seen numerous people fall off them, I'd advise against it.
The views near the monastery are worth the climb alone, as you're quite high and have some incredible views out over the surrounding valleys. With over 800 registered sites there is more than you can see in a single visit, but the areas around The Monastery are definitely worth exploring further.
While we were up in this area we met a Bedouin man who invited us to share his tea that he had just made. He had some great stories to tell about living in amongst Petra and some of the people he meets along the way.
Normally Petra closes down as the night sets in, with most tourists leaving before the sun sets. A few times per week though there is an event called "Petra by Night" in which candles are placed through out the Siq and in front of the Treasury to light the place up. There is some poetry read and a music performance that is just captivating. We used the opportunity to take some night photos and I did a couple of star trail photos as well. We were the last to leave with the staff extinguishing the candles as we walked out ahead of them.
Overall Jordan is a very friendly and open country and very safe. You'll find yourself invited into shops and homes to share tea with strangers who want to welcome you to their country. The hospitality in Jordan is incredible.
Keep in mind that Jordan is quite a conservative country though, it is a majority Muslim nation, but Christians, Jews and people of other faiths also coexist peacefully there. To this end, there is an expectation that you dress modestly, don't show large amounts of skin (regardless of gender). If you plan on visiting any temples, mosques or churches you will need to cover your hair as a female and knees and shoulders regardless of gender.
It is very much not advised to drink the tap water in Jordan (we had one of our crew get very ill for about 2 days due to the water), so bring a refillable water bottle that you can use and buy large water bottles to refill your water bottles. Single use plastics is an issue in Jordan, partially because of the issues with the tap water and the sheer number of tourists they can attract.
Be prepared to fall in love with this small nation full of people with large hearts. You'll meet and make friends everywhere you go and, if you are anything like me, you'll be planning your next visit before you've even left.
Thank you for reading and checking out my photos, don't forget you can click on any of them to see them larger! I may have a couple more posts about different things that happened in Jordan down the track as I also travelled through Amman and various other places there too. The Dead Sea is the craziest experience ever, but I'm not sure I've got any photos from my float there.
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