Sunday, March 23, 2014

Old Cities of the Middle East - Petra

Another visit, another old city - this one not inhabited anymore, but still shining with its thousand colors in the morning and afternoon sun of the desert. Petra, the most visited attraction of Jordan, is definitely on par with other old sights of human civilizations such as Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat, or the pyramids in Egypt.

View on al-Khazneh

The first sighting of Petra's treasures comes from the Al-Siq slot canyon, one of the old access roads to the city - obviously easily protected. Nabateans chose Petra as their capital for its strategic positioning, but also a rather hidden location in the labyrinth of the sandstone towers. Romans managed to conquer Petra, as well as Jerusalem, and the city started to decline since then. It was lost for many centuries in the sand until a Swiss traveler stumbled upon it again in 1812 and reminded the Europeans of its history.

Al-Khazneh in all its beauty

Petra is an interesting melting pot of cultures and peoples, today as well as yesterday. Greek and Roman architecture had a clear influence on how the temples of Arab gods and the tombs of the gentry should look like. At the same time, the local multicolored sandstone set its own rules of shapes and carving. The city is also an example of ingenuity for water preservation, Nabateans creating an oasis in the desert by building countless canals and cisterns to store water from the rare rains in their mountains. We actually had the opportunity to see Petra wet and to walk through the Al-Siq half-flooded.

Royal tombs (wet)

Today, a few Bedouins seem to live in the caves around Petra, offering donkey and camel rides to the tourists, as well as some tea to the tired ramblers. Usually subdued and dark, once in while it is possible to see a sign of the wild, a sign of power and pride in the corner of their eyes. But then, they lower their heads again, and say "welcome to Jordan".


Standing at the top of the mountain near the Monastery, one can see all the way to the West Bank and Gasa, ancient prosperous port, deadly zone today. Only imagination can help visualize what has been, what might have been. Reality is different, the ruins are silent, and the children of Nabateans ramble the desert lands in poverty, Toyotas substituting the camels, tourists substituting the spice trade.

The blue columbs of the Byzantine church

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