Pursuing Petra: Ancient Rose City

by Natalie Lo
View of the Monastery in Petra, Jordan

It’s easy to be drawn in by the lore of Petra. In the last centuries BC, the Nabataeans created an entire city- a constellation of intricately carved Hellenistic buildings, temples, and tombs – out of the unforgiving sandstone cliffs. By AD 106, the Romans controlled Petra, with the remnants of their rule, colonnaded streets and baths, still existent. But, after changes in fortune and several devastating earthquakes, Petra was a lost city for many centuries, hidden by the remote, harsh, wind-blown desert and kept a secret by the Bedouin tribes that lived there. In 1812, posing as a Muslim pilgrim, Swiss explorer Louis Burckhardt, gained entrance to Petra and through his writings, reopened it to the world.

We spent two days in Petra. Entering at sunrise on our first day, we walked alone through the Siq, an ancient, serpentine pathway amidst towering sandstone walls some six hundred feet high. A tectonic shift created the Siq, splitting a massive stone into two. Walking through the Siq without the crowds enhances the mystery and awe of the experience. On our second day, we entered mid-morning, and while there were many more visitors, the light at that hour dramatized the interplay of shadow, light, and color emanating from the undulating stone walls.

The Siq, Petra's serpentine pathway

There’s a certain thrill when the world’s most iconic sights are seen in person. My heart skipped a beat when we emerged from the Siq to view the Treasury, peaking in the distance.

Seeing the Treasury from the Siq

It was a moment of personal discovery, despite all of the photographs I’ve seen of exactly this vantage. Designed to serve as the tomb for Nabataean King Aretas III, the Treasury is exquisitely carved and crafted in a Hellenistic style. We climbed a rocky and crumbling ascent to photograph the Treasury from above, which is the most impressive vantage point.

Petra Tombs

The massive site stretches to encompass over 600 tombs, a multitude of monuments, a Theatre, a colonnaded street, and Nymphaeum. Walk long enough and you’ll be asked numerous times, “Donkey to the monastery?”. Not to be missed, the Monastery is a legendary monument located high up in the hills of Petra. The ancient stone path with over 800 steps begins from the Basin Restaurant. We passed on the donkey ride. Like many things in life, we enjoyed the Monastery more because of our effort. (Plus, those poor donkeys struggled on the steep ascent with their extra loads). After reaching the top, we sipped a hot cardamom tea in the cute tea shop directly facing the Monastery.

Shades of Color in Petra Rock
Goats in Petra

Throngs of visitors come from all over the world to see Petra. But, there’s something about Petra that suggests there are still many mysteries left to discover.

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