05 September 2009


History tells us that Petra is the location where in 1938 Indiana Jones found the holy grail, thus saving the world from Nazi domination. Or at least that's what anyone who grew up in the 70's or 80's has been lead to believe.

Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom and was at its peak about 2000 years ago. The Nabataeans controlled the overland incense and spice routes that linked China and India to the Mediterranean. The profits and taxes that this generated funded the building of the city.

The city started to decline when the Red Sea route that harnessed the monsoon winds opened up, bypassing Petra. By the 11th century the city was lost to the West and remained that way until it was discovered by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Entrance to the city is gained via the Siq, a 1.2km long gorge with 80m high sandstone cliffs. The Siq starts off quite wide before it narrows to barely a couple of meters.

At the end of the Siq you get your first glimpses of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh), the most famous sight in Petra (and final resting place of the holy grail!).

The Treasury is believed to be the tomb for the Nabataean King Aretas III, who ruled during the first century BC. The whole building is carved out of the sandstone cliff and makes a truly spectacular sight.

Although Petra is most famous for the Treasury there's also a lot more to see. It's a vast complex that contains over 800 sites including more than 500 tombs and a Roman style amphitheater and colonnaded street.

There's also some incredibly strange shapes weathered into the surrounding sandstone.

The second most famous site is the Monastery (Ad-Deir). The Monastery is hidden high up in the mountains and is accessed via 800 steps hewn into the cliffs.

It was a fairly strenuous hike in the heat of the desert. You can get up to the Monastery on the back of a donkey but even Liz refused stating that there's no way an adult can look anything but undignified perched on the back of one.

We also got to see Petra by night, where the route through the Siq and the Treasury are illuminated with 1500 candles.

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