The signature quartz sandstone of Petra provides the basis for every single monuments and structures in the ancient city. The entire city was built by carving into the various sandstones of the region, mainly from the Ordovician (the pale grey and white Disi Sandstone) and Cambrian era (the pale white to red Umm Ishrine Sandstone). These types of sandstone are common throughout Jordan, but mostly remain underground. Due to geological activities, these colourful sandstone are being exposed at Petra, Wadi Rum and Dana. The rhythmic deposition of sand and minerals 540 million years ago have brought us the stunning patterns of the Petra rocks. Likely the carving and excavating properties of Petra’s stone was one of the reasons why the nomadic Nabataeans in the Arabian Desert decided to stay and build their capital city at this location. The other main reason, perhaps the most crucial one, was the site’s potential to secure water from the surrounding mountains, where winter flash floods would occur after heavy rain. Today, apart from the majestic Treasury, Monastery and Royal Tombs, most visitors would hardly notice the water channels, underground cisterns, particle settling pools, and mountain reservoirs that once served as the essential infrastructure for the survival of ancient Petra.
Apart from its suitability for carving, the rocks of Petra are just simply pleasing to the eye.
Wind and water have played their parts in shaping the rocks in Petra.
But it was the sand deposits and distribution of minerals such as iron and manganese oxides that gave the unique colours to the Petra rocks.
The interesting rock patterns appear in tombs and on building facades.
Many rock patterns appear like abstract paintings.
or perhaps Parma ham?
The colours look brilliant under the right lighting.
Undulating rock formation.
The colour ranges from red to orange to brown.
Some patterns get really complicated.
Another complex pattern.
Some repetitive rock patterns look like a Futurist painting.
I spent quite a bit of film (still negative film and positive slides back in 2006) photographing the stone of Petra.
Not all stone is red and orange.
Zooming into the rocks.
Zoom in view.
Zoom in view.
After the Treasury, we turned right and walked towards the centre of the former Nabataean capital city. On the hillside of El Nejr, a splendid theatre was carved out from the red sandstone in the 1st century. The 45 rows of seats could accommodate an audience of 8,500 people. Standing at the theatre offered us one of the best view of Petra: numerous rock cut mausoleums, commonly know as the Royal Tombs, carved into the great massif of Jebel Al Khubtha. From the theatre, we made our way uphill towards another icon of Petra: the Monastery (El Deir). It took us roughly an hour to reach the Monastery from the theatre. The Monastery was an important ceremonial temple for the Nabataeans. Similar to the Treasury, the Monastery is a rock-cut building carved out from the cliff. There is a large forecourt in front of the Monastery, probably a venue for religious ceremonies. Many believed the building was used as a church during the Byzantine era, which explained where the name Monastery came from. We sat down at an open tea shop across from the Monastery, where we rested for an hour with the iconic front elevation of the Monastery.
We visited two more lookouts uphill to see the arid valley scenery surrounding Petra. On our way out we stopped by more royal tombs and small cave dwellings. We were exhausted from the hike and heat, and our attention had shifted to the unique rock patterns that could be found allover Petra. From the centre of the lost city, it was another 2km before we returned to the visitor centre. Everyone seemed to be leaving at the same time, by horses, by donkey carts, on foot, etc. In the evening, we had a Bedouin cuisine dinner at Red Cave Restaurant and stayed a bit at the Internet cafe in Wadi Musa.
Probably constructed at around 70 AD, the Urn Tomb is one of the first Royal Tombs that we encountered in Petra.
Many believe the Urn Tomb was the final resting place of Nabataean King Malchus II who died in 70 AD.
The main chamber of the tomb was converted into a church during the Byzantine era.
Beside the Urn Tomb stands the Silk Tomb, a mausoleum well known for its rich sandstone patterns.
Nearby, the Corinthian Tomb resembles the feature of the iconic Treasury.
The facade of the Palace Tomb is three storey high. Some believe the Palace Tomb was inspired by Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea (Golden House) in Rome.
Most of the tombs, caves and tunnels in the “Rose City” was built between the 3rd century BC and the 1st century AD.
15m in height and 8m in width, Tomb BD 70 is one of the few freestanding structure in Petra.
Both Tomb BD 70 and BD 69 are typical Hegra type tomb structures.
All the rock-cut structures have gone through two thousand years of erosion.
The main theatre of Petra faces east, and was renovated by the Romans during the 1st and 2nd century.
The seating area was entirely carved out of the rock cliff.
From the theatre, we could take in a fantastic view of the Royal Tomb cluster.
Qasr El-Bint (Temple of Dushares) is the largest freestanding structure in Petra.
Lion Triclinium was built in the 1st century intended for ritual banquets. The name obviously came from the two weathered lions at the entrance.
The trail up to the Monastery involves an uphill climb of 850 steps.
The walk to the Monastery took about 45 minutes to an hour.
Scenery of the arid valleys of Wadi Araba was one of the biggest rewards for the hike up to the Monastery.
Apart from the Treasury, the Monastery is probably the most famous structure in Petra. Dedicated to the Nabatean King Obodas I , the ancient temple was built in the 1st century AD.