Petra is amazing. Fortunate to be able to visit it for the second time, I had some idea of what we were in store for and also how best to go about it. Although, having kids in tow meant plans couldn’t be set in (rose) stone.
The earliest signs of settlement in Petra date back to 9,000 BC. Let that sink in. More than 11,000 years ago there is evidence of people having lived in the area! However, it is what the Nabateans built in the 4th century BC that draws the tourists in today.
Carved entirely out of sandstone, Petra is called the Rose City due to the colour of the material used. Rediscovered by accident by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812, it has gone on to be one of the most well recognised ancient cities in the world.
Situated on Jebel al-Madhbah, said to be the biblical Mount Sinai, the city is accessed through a 1.2 kilometre long gorge called the Siq.
The reward for this downhill walk is the sudden appearance of Al Khazneh, or The Treasury as it is more commonly known. Originally erected as a mausoleum and crypt, it is believed to have been completed in the 1st century AD.
We had started at 7am, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the Treasury with only a handful of other tourists around us (possibly 5 or 6). In fact, we were more than outnumbered by Captain Jack Sparrow look-alikes salesman with kohl painted eyes who were trying to entice us to purchase a donkey or camel ride for the trip ahead. The gates open at 6am, so we could’ve come earlier, but getting shots with no one in them (apart from rogue Sparrows standing in the way) didn’t prove difficult at all at this slightly later time.
Another advantage of coming early was that we ended up mostly beating the heat of the day, so much so, that the start of the early morning walk was bit chilly requiring us to crack open the warmer clothes,
As befitting a city of Petra’s size (20,000 inhabitants at its peak), it has its own Nabatean Theatre, which was built long before the Romans entered Petra. It doesn’t have the same grandeur as that of Amman or Jerash, but still is of interest.
Across from the Theatre a short walk down the road, are the Royal Tombs. The first of these tombs is called the Urn Tomb, which has a number of stairs leading up to it. Given the walking we had in front of us, we didn’t head up to the tomb, instead enjoying the more than ample view from below.
Continuing on from the Royal Tombs takes you down the valley via The Colonnade Street. Again, it wasn’t as nearly well preserved as Main Street in Jerash, but there was still the odd flagstone in place ensuring that we could walk directly in the footsteps of the Nabateans who had proceeded us more than 2,000 years ago.
Just past the Great Temple is the more impressive Temple of Dushares which has the largest facade in Petra, with an amazing 8 metre span.
Little legs had been saved for the trek up to what probably is Petra’s second most impressive site, al-Deir (the Monastery). There are 850 steps up the mountain to get to the Monastery, with enough sites to see to occasionally take your mind off the walking as you go.
Things were definitely hotting up as we walked up the hill and everyone was glad to start shedding some of the layers we’d brought with us for earlier in the day.
With only a moderate amount of complaining we managed to make the top. The view of the mostly freestanding Monastery definitely making the trek up here worth it
Signs readily seen from the Monastery point to the Best View in the World but we were never going to be able to cajole our own two stubborn little donkeys into walking up more stairs, so I continued up the hill on my own.
At the top, views were OK, but I’m pretty convinced they aren’t the best in the world.
There’s only one way after the visiting the Monastery and that’s back down. Heading back, I nipped off on my own to check out the Lion Triclinium, which is located a little ways off the main path. Rather than a tomb, as was first supposed, this is instead a place where funeral banquets were held.
Things were starting to get a bit tougher, stops were becoming more frequent, the sun was getting higher and spirits were beginning to flag. With a promise of a man-donkey ride once we got back to the Siq, we finally arrived back at the Treasury which had filled up considerably since we’d last been here, earlier in the day..
On the way back, locals could definitely see the girls were flagging and constantly offered donkey and horse cart services. Personally, I’m a bit torn between whether or not people should use the donkeys or horses or camels. Whilst it looks like fun and we didn’t see any mistreatment, it still is a miserable existence for the animals, although there has been a lot of education around how they should be treated. On the other hand, it does provide a livelihood for locals and it would be extremely tough to deprive them on a way to make a living.
At any rate, I’d suggest anybody fit enough to walk should do so, as you’ll get more out of it that way anyway and that careful consideration is given to how much weight these animals can bear. Also, negotiate and agree the price in advance so there is no confusion and be mindful that they will demand a tip. I’d think 10 JD tops for a donkey ride, including a tip, would be appropriate. As there are so many stories of rip-offs and unsatisfied parties on both sides, think long and hard about whether you want to potentially ruin your day by taking up their offer of having a ride, in case things were to go wrong.
We spent four and a half hours wandering around Petra. We had the occasional stop and brought our own food and water with us. Starting early meant we avoided most of the crowds and heat and definitely enabled us to get more covered off than had we come later. We didn’t get to see the insides of the Royal Tombs or visit the Place of High Sacrifice, which I would’ve liked to, but sometimes you have to sacrifice your own wants, in order to ensure things don’t go pear shaped. In total we covered 15 kilometres, all on foot over the day, with 400 metres of climbing. Our kids aren’t usually the most active, but they were amazing. They got tired but kept good humour and everyone loved the day out. Take your time, have plenty of food and water on hand and things should go smoothly.
With all the dust in our system, we now need some R&R, so off to the Aqaba beaches we go.