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Peerless Petra

The Treasury at Petra

November 1 – 2, 2009:  Even if all I had seen of Petra had been the Treasury, the beautifully preserved pink facade that is in all those iconic photographs, I would have been happy, but there is so much more to Petra than that. I had chosen this so-far-not-so-good tour partly because it included three nights, and thus two full days, at Petra. I could easily have used another day.

The first morning we started off from the entrance gate with the same

A horse cart in the Siq

national guide who had bored me the day before, and once we reached the Siq, the 1.2 km long rock passage that ends in front of the Treasury, I abandoned the group and went ahead on my own. This meant that at times I was completely alone beneath the soaring rock walls. While I really enjoyed experiencing the Siq that way, I suppose it wasn’t very authentic – one theory is that when the Nabataeans who built Petra were at the height of their power and influence this route was used for religious processions. I could also imagine it, more prosaically, impressing visiting ambassadors and potential trading partners.

I met up with my group again near the Roman theater (where access to the

The iconic view at the end of the Siq

seats was blocked off) and the toilets. The toilets were the blue portable type, with a woman guardian who was trying to charge 1 JD (1.40 USD) instead of the more usual .10.  Since many of the visitors to Petra were on day tours from cruise ships, and maybe not up on local prices, she probably had a very good thing going. Most of the group kept going to the Monastery at the far end of the site, but my roommate turned aside with me to climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice. As she was half my age, and my lung capacity not what it should be, she made better time than I did, but we met up at the top.

View from the High Place of Sacrifice

The guide had said that lunch options only included buffets at the two rather expensive restaurants by the museum at the foot of the path up to the Monastery, claiming that we weren’t allowed to take our own food into the site. Our hotel was quite willing to put up box lunches so I chose to disbelieve him, and of course, we had no problem taking food in. Presumably he got a commission from the restaurants. The two of us ate lunch all alone, high up, facing the altar. Magical.

Veined rock on the way down from the High Place of Sacrifice

Coming down the back way was pretty magical too, as frequently the rock face was decorated in beautiful multicolored swirls that seemed almost too regular to be natural. We also passed several tombs – the Nabataean tombs featured a carved facade and a large central room where the mourners could gather for funeral and commemorative feasts, the dead being actually buried in small chambers carved out of the walls. We celebrated our descent with red wine and coffee at the Basin Restaurant – it was getting ready to close for the day, otherwise you can only get in if you take the buffet.

My roommate on the way up to the Monastery

The next morning three of us got up really, really early so that we could have not just the Siq but the Treasury to ourselves. We reached the Treasury around 6:15, and although it wasn’t completely deserted, we shared it with only a couple of couples. Then we walked right through the site and up to the Monastery, pausing only for a cup of coffee at the Tent Restaurant, as the Basin wouldn’t let us in. Up at the Monastery the wind was so fierce I bought a Bedouin headscarf to keep from getting sandblasted.

The Treasury from above

Then we visited the Royal Tombs before heading up again, climbing behind the tombs to a somewhat precarious perch where we could overlook the Treasury. Again, we ate lunch alone in a magical setting. After that, visits to the museum and the Byzantine church were anticlimactic, and I was tired enough to be almost tempted to take a ride in a horse cart on the way out, except that they bounced and swayed so much.

I still had more walking to do, as I had signed up for the optional Night Tour. For this the Siq is lined with candles, and the area in front of the Treasury used for a concert. I didn’t care about the concert, but I did want to walk the Siq by candlelight. By hanging back enough for the crowd to get ahead of me, but walking fast enough to leave the serious photographers (and their annoying flashes) behind, I got the full effect – or almost the full effect, I think it would have been even better if the moon hadn’t been full.

Don’t miss Petra!

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