Robin's Adventures

Adventures in the Mediterranean and Middle East
Running through Ruins

The Siq

The siq, which was the main road leading into the ancient city, began at the dam and ended at the Treasury. The three quarters of a mile long narrow gorge that makes up the siq is surrounded by high cliffs that are about 260 feet tall. The colors and textures of the rock walls changed constantly along the way and many of the walls are decorated with carved out niches that were believed to contain religious artifacts. Another wall revealed the badly eroded remains of a life sized relief of a camel caravan.

The ingenuity of the ancient tribe that built the city was very evident as we traveled through the siq and saw the amazing canals carved out of the mountain that were designed to transport water into the city. The Nabataean people also used stone blocks to build dams that not only prevented flooding, but also helped store water for later use.

Obelisk Tomb

The Obelisk Tomb, located along the trail to the Siq, is a large two story structure with four pyramid shaped obelisks on the top. The upper part of the structure is a tomb which was believed to hold the remains of five people. The lower portion of the building is a triclinium or dining hall where annual feasts honoring the dead were believed to be held.

Throughout the area we noticed a variety of caves, tombs, and stone steps carved into the sandstone. The ancient city was believed to hold as many as 20,000 people during the peak of its success.

Anywhere in the world where tourists travel, there are gift shops. A few of the local Bedouins managed to set up shops in the middle of nowhere, complete with wi-fi and solar panels to provide electricity. Very entrepreneurial!

The Treasury

As we neared the end of the canyon, we were able to catch a glimpse of Petra's most famous and intricately carved building, the Treasury. Stepping out of the siq was almost surreal. In front of us loomed an amazingly detailed 130 foot tall building carved out of sandstone. It was right out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

In reality, this building was not a treasury building, but a mausoleum, possibly for a first century Nabatean king named Aretas IV. The name treasury was bestowed in the early 19th century by Bedouins who believed that there was a treasure stored in the stone urn at the top of the second level. The urn actually suffered significant damage from the bullets of Bedouins who believed they could break open the urn and a treasure would spill out. The urn, however, is solid sandstone and is now riddled with scars from those repeated attacks.

Little Petra Canyon

Petra Archaeological Park is spread out over 65 acres and we only had one day left to cover as much of that as possible. Our original plan was to hike in going through Little Petra Canyon. Our guide suggested that we hire a Bedouin and his mules to allow us to cover more of the park than we could on foot.

One of the first things we noticed along the trail was an elephant shaped rock. Along the way we would pass lots of interesting formations, many caves, and an abundance of desert terrain.

Logistical Issues

The trail took us up and down small hills and larger mountains, through deep canyons and across flat plains. Sometimes we climbed steep uneven steps on narrow trails. Some of the narrow trails had steep drop-offs to the canyons below. The views were amazing.

It didn't take long for us to appreciate the guide's suggestion to hire the mules. During the course of the day we covered somewhere between twelve and fifteen miles and much of that distance was on the back of the mules. There were quite a few places, however, where the trail was too steep or too narrow and we walked instead because it was safer to do so.

The Monastery

After about an hour and a half on the trail, we spotted a carved urn at the top of an outcropping of rock. We knew something spectacular was up ahead and around the corner. When we arrived at the Monastery, we were not disappointed.

This magnificent structure, which was 160 feet wide and almost 150 feet tall, was beautifully carved out of the sandstone that surrounded it. The building was originally built as a tomb, but it was believed to be used as a church during the Byzantine era and for that reason is called the Monastery.

The engineering abilities of the Nabataeans is astounding. Scientists have told us the structures in Petra were not built starting at ground level, but rather from the top down. The stonecutters climbed to where they wanted the top of the building to be and began by carving a ledge in the rock. The craftsmen then worked their way down using primarily hand axes and chisels.

Temple of Dushares

The Temple of Dushares is the largest free standing monument in Petra. The base of each of the stone pillars from this temple was estimated to weigh about seven tons. Thus, the temple was costly and required great skill from a large crew of stone masons and other craftsmen. The remains of a large alter outside the temple suggests that offerings were made outdoors rather than inside the building.

A major parking area for camels and mules is just outside this temple. Several major trails seem to converge here and the locals are hoping that the hot and tired tourists will engage the services provided by their animals.

Colonnade Street

The Main Street of the ancient city still has paving stones as well as the remains of some sandstone columns that lined the road. There are some ruins that indicate that the street was lined with shops and a public fountain was nearby that got its water from channels connected to the siq. Perpendicular to the main street is another street where the royal tombs are located.

Royal Tombs

High on a ridge, overlooking Petra's main street, are the royal tombs. There are more than 800 carved tombs in Petra, but these are the largest, most elaborate, and most centrally located, so it is hypothesized that they were designed as mausoleums for kings. In reality, no one is sure who was buried here.

The Palace Tomb, a large tomb which resembles a royal residence, is 160 feet wide and 150 feet tall. There are 18 pillars on the second level and four burial chambers inside.

The Corinthian Tomb, so named because of the style of the columns, is similar in appearance to the Treasury, especially with the three gables on the second story. There are four water basins at this tomb which were believed to be used for rituals relating to cleansing.

The Silk Tomb earned its name from the beautiful colors in its sandstone walls. The colors of the rock on this tomb change throughout the day depending on the angle of the sun.

The Urn Tomb, which has a large sandstone urn top of its pediment and a large open terrace, is accessible by following a hiking trail and then ascending some rather rough uneven stairs. Inside this temple are several apses carved into the rear wall during the Byzantine period when the tomb was used as a church.

Downtown Petra

While we were at elevation by the Royal Tombs, we took a photo that shows some of the nearby structures in the neighborhood. There are a couple of structures covered with canvas awnings on the valley floor. The larger one is the restaurant where we had a quick bite for lunch and the long narrow ones are all shops set up by locals which contain gifts and souvenirs. There are a variety of caves and tombs on the upper levels.

The nearby amphitheater, with seating for 4,000 to 6,000 people, depending on which source you read, has seats that were carved out of rock and some earlier tombs at that location were destroyed in order to build it. The holes in the wall behind the seats are remains of the interior walls of the destroyed tombs.