It’s difficult to imagine a place of this beauty to remain undiscovered until 1812, when a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it. This type of chance findings always makes me hope that one day, we’ll find Atlantis. Perhaps Plato did not just invent the mythical island, risen from and reduced to water, as an example of his political theories.
Anyway – no water here. Petra lies in the middle of the desert, close to the King’s highway in Jordan. It’s probably the most well known of the Middle East’s tourist attractions, and garners quite a bit of visitors not only from Jordan, but also through neighboring Egypt and Israel.
Petra was most likely called Rekem by its inhabitants, a name which was found in the Essene’s Dead Sea scrolls. It was the main city of the Nabatean people, up until about 360, when the city was struck by an earthquake which crippled the water management system so vital in these dry areas.
Incidentally, at the same time, water posed a significant risk to the city. Erosion was not initially involved in the creation of the narrow entrance, the Siq, which was shaped by tectonic forces.
While it’s a rough and dry area, flash floods do occur, and further flattened the entry way, making it possible for humans to pass. The great water management system put in place by the Nabateans really had two goals: allowing water to flow into the city from near the entry, and to make sure the entry itself could never be flooded – this would set part of the city under water.
The picture to the left illustrates the Al-Khazneh, or treasury, which most of us will no doubt remember from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where it was the entry place to the Holy Grale. Had a look inside, found no grail, turned back. Discovery has become such a pain these days.
Petra is classified into the low and high grounds. While the lower areas are easy to reach, the high grounds do require a bit of steep hiking, but are definitely worth the time. Entirely at the top of this entry you can see a picture of the Al-Dayr, or monastery, the largest facade in Petra. The bedouins here have truly perfected the art of Indiana Jones’ism:
In total, it took this local 3 minutes 45 seconds to climb up the Al-Dayr, jump across the ledges at the top, and then hike down again, not taking the trodden path. All he could say was “his dad trained him well”.
The photograph below shows the views out onto the Wadi Arabia area from the Petra high grounds: