…who drinks the water I shall give him, says the Lord, will have a spring inside him welling up for eternal life. Let them bring me to your holy mountain in the place where you dwell. Across the desert and through the mountain to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, to the Temple where the cup that holds the blood of Jesus Christ resides forever. – Indiana Jones The Last Crusade
The search for the Holy Grail has long ensnared people. For some it’s a search for something greater than themselves, something that gives their life meaning. For others, it’s a desire to obtain something seemingly unattainable. For the crusaders it was the search for a relic that would give them power over their enemies. For Indiana Jones it was the search for the cup of Christ, that had the power to heal his father in “The Last Crusade”
And it was this – the drama of Indy’s triumphant dash to the Khaznat al-Faroun (The famous Treasury Building) in my favourite adventure movie, that brought me to Jordan and specifically to Petra in the first place.
The experience of emerging from the Siq – the canyon-like cleft marking the entrance to the “lost” city – takes your breath away. The narrow rock suddenly opens up and you are faced with the impressive towering facade of the Treasury Building, rose, gold or crimson, depending on the time of day.
The building, carved out of iron-rich sandstone, actually served as a tomb. The name mistakenly came from the belief that during the Exodus, when Moses led his people out of Egypt, the Pharaoh hid his treasures there, in a great urn. Bullet holes from Bedouins firing at the urn in an effort to break it and bring own the treasure are still clearly visible
The Treasury, while the best known and most spectacular, is by no means the only impressive monument in the rose-red city. The Royal Tombs, the theatre, the amazingly coloured rock formations are all breathtaking. And those with the stamina and perseverance to climb the thousand or so stairs cut into the mountain will be rewarded with a vista of the Monastery, as equally impressive as the Treasury. A long sweaty climb in spring and summer, but well worth the effort. A little further on will take you to one of many local cafes and stalls set on the edge of the mountain – with inventive names such as “The View at the End of the World” and “All Places from Here”.
The city itself was built in 300 BC, by the Nabataeans, who carved their palaces, tombs and temples into the sandstone cliffs. From this point they were able to control the trade routes that ran from Damascus to Arabia. They collected taxes and protection money from the spice, silk and slave caravans that travelled along the route.
The end of a day exploring Petra warrants a stop at the Cave Bar just outside the main entrance, providing a well deserved cold beer in a unique setting of 2000 year old Nabataean tombs.
Two to three days are needed to fully explore and appreciate all the wonders that Petra has to offer, allowing you time to wander slowly through the unnamed tombs and off the beaten path seeing lesser known monuments. Take walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and plenty of space on your camera’s memory card.
Words and photos, however cannot do justice to the exotic mystery of this rose coloured ancient city. But it can be enough to sit, eyes closed, amid the camel handlers, donkeys for hire and Bedouin shop owners and feel the lost city come to life once more.
John William Burgon 1845
It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
That crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago.
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.