Some of you will already know what Petra is. Give yourselves a pat on the head. The rest of you will at least have seen its most famous edifice, ‘The Treasury’, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as the movie’s façade of the Temple of the Sun (containing the – it turns out disappointingly non-existent – caves and chiselled-out rooms and traps and bridges and stuff eventually leading to the doddery old sole remaining Knight Templar and the Holy Grail itself) that Indy gallops towards through a winding ravine in the desert (that winding ravine is called ‘the Siq’, for what it’s worth).
For those whose current knowledge of Petra is on par with mine before this trip, the gist is that it’s an ancient city in present-day Jordan which, in its hey-day, lay on a major trading route, and happened to be in an area of desert well populated by cliffs featuring some very colourful sedimentary rocks. The ruins of the town itself are partially excavated, and somewhat interesting, but the real drawcard is the tombs that were built just out of town for the local elite, both to venerate the dead and impress (and intimidate) traders on their way through. The tombs themselves were pretty simple in general, but their façades, carved into the cliff faces, were not. Combine the intricate carving with the vibrant sworls of colour coursing through the rock, and you have a pretty stunning mix.
It’s a big site. We bought the three-day ticket, and spent three eight- to ten-hour days exploring pretty much every little corner of it. And not once did we get bored. (Hot, yes. Exhausted, yes. Bored, no.)
The main tourist route takes you through the Siq, past the Treasury, along the Street of Façades (or ‘Outer Siq’), past the Roman amphitheatre, and down along the main street of town (the ‘Colonnaded Street’) and up to the Monastery. That was all pretty cool.
But if you just do that, then you miss out on the High Place of Sacrifice, the whole other valley of tombs (the ‘Wadi al-Farasa’), the cool walking trails through miscellaneous off-the-beaten-track gorges and ravines nearby the Siq (starting at ‘the Tunnel’, and making up your own path from there depending on your level of adventurousness and amateur rock-climbing ability), the clambering up rock faces up to the higher tombs off the Street of Façades, the view of the Treasury from above (from Jabal al-Kubtha), etc.
The rest of this post is just going to be pictures, because, well, Petra’s a visual thing. All I can say is that if you go to see it, see as much of it as you can. Go everywhere, and see everything, because it’s all stunning. One of the most impressive things I’ve seen anywhere in the world – and I say that writing this post many many months after we visited, having seen an awful lot more stuff since then.