About a month ago, we took advantage of a quiet weekend to go explore Petra. We figured Petra would be the equivalent of the pyramids in Egypt for us; we'd be visiting a lot. What we didn't realize was that Petra pretty much dwarfs all we saw in Egypt; including the pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, and even Karnak's temples. To say I was unprepared is an embarrassing truth of astounding measure.
For me, my knowledge about Petra was limited to visions of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and this iconic image:
The drive from Amman is only about three hours. But it's initially not the most exciting of terrains to drive through.
But then, you start seeing signs for Petra. And then, the terrain begins to change.
Not surprisingly, the town of Petra has dozens of hotels available for the eager visitor. Based on someone's recommendation, we chose the Petra Moon Hotel and for several reasons I'm very grateful. First, it's a block from the entrance to Petra. While many other hotels claim this, it's not true. This, along with the Movenpick, is definitely walkable. Secondly, we accidentally left behind a battery charger and an adaptor, and not only did they call to tell us, they then offered to bring it to Amman to our house when they next had a driver heading this way. Two weeks later we had everything back! Talk about above and beyond service!
So, after getting settled, we headed off to explore Petra. Or at least that's what I thought we were going to do. I soon learned that what I didn't know could fill... well... Petra.
For instance, I didn't know that Petra is over 2,000 years old and was built by the Nabataeans as their capital city. It was only re-discovered in 1812, having remained hidden and unused for hundreds of years. And despite exhaustive research, I couldn't find any statistics on just how big it is, but I can tell you that in two days of exploration, we walked over 15 miles, and probably barely covered a third of it.
Continuing with my ignorance, I also didn't know that upon paying the entrance fee, you don't immediately walk into "The Treasury." From the entrance point to Petra's most famous image, you have to go on a little trek.
It starts with a mile-long walk along a dusty stony path. As you shuffle along, keep an eye out on either side. Within just a few minutes you'll come across ancient djinns, or towering stone blocks. They date from the 1st century and are believed to be monuments or memorials to the dead.
You'll also start to see caves carved into the rocks. These are believed to be some of the earliest tombs in Petra, dating around 1BC. And you'll come upon the Obelisk Tomb and the Bab Al-Siq Triclinium. Everything you're seeing is amazing in its own right, but believe me, this is merely a taste of what's to come.
After a mile of this, you come to the entrance of the famous Siq ("seek"), or cavern, with its reddish rocks and towering walls (sometimes reaching 150 meters high). Unless you've been there before, or you've done some actual research, it might help you to know that at this point, you still have another mile to walk.
Walking through the Siq is almost other-worldly. The sheer scale is hard to comprehend (which is actually good training for the rest of your journey).
And then finally, just when you felt like it was all a big stone-maze with no ending, you come around the corner to this.
After the two-mile jaunt (with some of us schlepping a baby on our backs), and the overwhelming scenery, it's truly an awe-inspiring sight to come upon. And one that you will most likely share with other tourists, horse carriages competing with camel and donkey runners, and a little cafe selling souvenirs and Cokes.
That first day I thought, "Wow, this is amazing! I wonder if there's anything else to see here?" Little did I know, that walking those two miles really only gets you to the beginning of Petra. Think of the Treasury as Petra's front door; albeit a grand one.
After getting all the Treasury photos you can handle, you continue walking.
I should note at this point that this is about as far as we got our first day. Having started in the late afternoon, and having taken lots of time to gape and gawk along the way, we'd already spent hours, and walked miles by this point. And the one thing you really need to know, is there's no back exit. For every step you take in to Petra, you have to take it out. And that pleasant downward incline you barely noticed on the way in, turns into a pesky upward slope all the way out.
The following day, we arrived early in the morning and did our best to whisk past the djinns, through the Siq, past the Treasury, and beyond the theater. It was at this point that we reached the beginning of the "City Center." (Yes, just the beginning.)
From here there are offshoots in all directions.
Behind the Petra Church, just a little farther up the hill, is the 5th century Blue Chapel. It's small, but its name comes from the four blue-tinted Egyptian granite columns still standing.
If you research anything about the Monastery, you will inevitably hear that it's an arduous hike, involving 800 steps up. Which, on the surface, sounds do-able, but keep in mind, you've already walked 4-5 miles to get to this point.
After walking up and up and up for about twenty minutes, I joked to some women coming down, "Please tell me I'm about half-way there." They paused, and looked very serious and said, "Oh, dear, you haven't even started yet." After another ten minutes of clambering over uneven stone steps, with the baby asleep in the carrier and listing to the side, we decided to forego the Monastery this trip. But like a thousand other things, it's on the list for next time.
So, in two days, and over 15 miles of walking, I think we may have explored about a tenth of what Petra has to offer. And considering archeologists are continuing to unearth more and more, and believe that most of Petra remains undiscovered, I think we better speed up our explorations. So, stay tuned for more Petra posts.