The first thing to understand about Petra is its scale. It is not merely a gorge leading into the magnificent Treasury, as depicted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indeed, that iconic location merely welcomes you into an ancient Bedouin city. John Burgon dared anyone to ‘match me such marvel save in Eastern Clime, a rose-red city half as old as time’. After this level of build-up, my expectations were high.
Leaving early in the morning to avoid the rush of tourists, our group made its way into this iconic city. I was instantly greeted by the gorge, a small path guarded by two colossal mountains. Entering the path, I was swallowed by these majestic monuments of nature, which dwarfed mankind. After a long walk through the gorge, I saw it. Leaning out from behind the mouth of the gorge, a gleaming, magnificent carved building enticed me with its wonder. This was the Treasury. And no matter how many times I had seen it on television, the beauty of this testament to mankind’s innovation was breathtaking. As the mountain unravelled, I saw more and more of this spectacle until eventually, I was looking up, transfixed, at one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Pillars rose from the desert, supporting an intricate structure which gazed imperiously upon the millions of astonished people who see it every day. After thousands of years, this man-made masterpiece was still beautifully preserved, standing proudly in the middle of the gorge cradling it, an oasis of the ancient world shielded from the centuries of change which lay beyond. I was dwarfed by its size and awestruck by its beauty. Suddenly, I turn. The group has gone – I race across the desert to catch up, the Treasury peeling away from me as I leave this magnificent entrance. I catch up, look ahead, and realise that I’ve only just seen the beginning.
An ancient metropolis of the valley looms beyond, filled with tombs and mountains and monuments as far as the eye can see. Where to start? I decide to go to the furthest point, the mountain leading to Petra’s other main attraction, the Monastery. As I approach the mountain, I see a small path carved into the mountain. I start to climb, and look back. Beneath me is the most magnificent canyon I have ever seen. The texture and scale of the mountain is astonishing, making it almost impossible to divert my gaze. I deliberately take my time to climb the long, winding path, overwhelmed by the uniqueness of each gorge, each rock, each sheer drop into the stunning valleys below. Towards the top, I am stopped by a Bedouin woman, trying to sell me her products. She invites me to have tea with her and her friends. For a while I sit with them, talking about their way of life, overlooking the beauty of nature below. What a unique experience. The friendliness of the locals is enchanting, and after buying a couple of things to thank them for their hospitality, I move on. Eventually, I reach the top, and the gorges and mountains widen out into a larger area. A set of steps leads me down. As I make my way down, something on my right emerges more and more until I see it in its entirety. The mountain peels back to reveal the ancient Monastery of Petra. At the top of this magnificent mountain, after this picturesque climb, there lies Petra’s crown jewel; an even larger stone carving, even more spectacular than the Treasury, which remains the most wonderful sight I have ever seen, majestic in its beauty and size, steeped in history and wonder.
I rushed towards it, and climbed into the entrance – not much to see, but still exciting to be inside. I was still overawed by this man-made wonder carved into natural beauty. I then climbed into a cave further up; for five minutes, I sat at its opening, a window into the incredible structure below. The best view of the Monastery came from climbing another mountain. As I ascended, finding footholds and jumping from rock to rock in order to make the climb, the Monastery opened out and out until eventually, I reached the peak, looking into the valley below, attention fully focused on the Monastery carved delicately into the rocks. I had a stunning view over ancient civilisation, and the adventurous climb was worth it. When I left, I ran down the mountains, enjoying the exhilarating rush of negotiating my way through gorges and paths and rocks as I made my way to the foot of this tower of wonder.
I then made my way to the tombs, exploring an excavation site on the way. When I made it, I couldn’t resist climbing the more dangerous route. In fact, if I’d taken the stairs, I would have missed out on climbing across the edge of the tombs, eventually reaching a series of ancient caves, filled with nothing but the limitless content of the viewer’s excitement and imagination. Exploring each one gave a great insight into how the Bedouins lived in this city. After climbing through the caves, I reached a rickety wooden bridge, separating sheer cliff faces, with a large drop into the desert below. I put one foot on the bridge. It creaked. It wobbled slightly. But I kept going, and made it to the other side. From here, I had a spectacular view of the ancient city, and explored three more tombs, one of which had a rudimentary drawing of a Holy Grail. Take that, Indiana Jones!
The ten hours I spent in Petra fled by, and the final place I saw was another mountain, the aptly named High Place of Sacrifice, as to ascend it was quite dangerous, and could lead to much sacrifice if you weren’t careful. The climb was magnificent, and the beauty of the gorges and canyons never lost my attention. After climbing some stairs, I eventually had to brave the unguarded cliff face, climbing delicately up from rock to rock, trying not to look at the stunning, but frightening, drop below. After 30 minutes I reached the top. I walked to the edge, and looked in awe. Below me was the cavernous, majestic city of Petra – an ancient Bedouin city lodged in the heart of nature’s most incredible location. Eventually, I made my way down the mountain, and with it, one of the most adventurous, wonderful days of my life had ended.
Image Credits: Tom Dobin
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