Passing through the Siq once again, we entered Petra at around 08:30. Before reaching the theatre, we made our way to a stepped path towards the High Place of Sacrifice. For an hour we hiked up the hill behind the Royal Tombs with occasional views of the ruined city and surrounding landscape. We finally reached the high alter where ancient Nabateans made sacrifices to their gods, an open area with a raised platform for ceremonies. From High Place of Sacrifice we walked west toward Wadi Farasa and the Snake Monument. At Wadi Farasa, we arrived at the Tomb of Soldiers. Due to the sculpted armour on the statues, many believe the tomb were belonged to some Roman officers in the 2nd Century. Though some historians disagreed, arguing that many architectural elements on the tomb facade actually predated the Roman Conquest of Petra, and the tomb was probably constructed in the 1st Century.
At around 14:30 we made it to the Snake Monument, a destination that requires one of the longer tourist hikes. It took us a while to actually locate the snake monument. In fact, we saw the monument only after a local Bedouin pointed it out for us. At the Snake Monument, we encountered a Bedouin family who still lives in Petra. There were two kids in the black Bedouin tent (probably made with goat hair according to traditions). We played football with them for about 15 minutes before heading back. Before Petra was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1985, there were about 150 Bdoul Bedouin families living in the caves of Petra. After Petra was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list, most families were relocated to the new village of Um Sayhoun nearby. Today, about 10 families who refused to move out still remain inside the archaeological park, living off mainly from the tourist industry.
Back at the Royal Tombs, we decided to hike up the hill opposite to the famous Treasury for the famous birdeye view. The steps were steep, and the hike took approximately 45 minutes. The view was quite impressive despite the Treasury was in shade. On our way down, we got ourselves a can of refreshing pop. Without it, we would probably take us two times longer to reach the exit of Petra.
The Cult Chamber is an interesting and mysterious small building in a valley in Wadi Farasa East. Its original purpose was unknown.
The boulders and stones surrounding the Cult Chamber are resulted from occasional flash floods.
Known as the Renaissance Tomb, Tomb BD 229 contained features that resemble the style of Italian Renaissance.
The interior of Renaissance Tomb was excavated in 2003. Containing 14 pit graves, all had been looted in the Middle Age.
Near Wadi Farasa, the Soldier Tomb complex once housed a tomb and banquet hall accessed via the central courtyard surrounded by columns.
At the area of the Snake Monument, we arrived at an open valley with tombs and small structures along the rock cliffs.
It is hard to believe such rugged landscape was once hosted a majestic capital city.
We were distracted by a group of goats appeared near the Snake Monument.
The goats belonged to a Bedouin family living in the area.
Since 1985, most Bedouins living in Petra were relocated in a modern settlement nearby.
We met the two Bedouin kids who invited us to play football with them.
We had some brief fun with the Bedouin kids despite the afternoon heat.
Back at Palace Tomb, we decided to head for the lookout of Jabal al-Khubtha.
The 40 minute hike to Jabal al-Khubtha proved more than worthwhile.
Jabal al-Khubtha offered one of the best view of the Treasury.
Unless arriving at Jabal al-Khubtha in the morning, one would likely find the Treasury in shade.
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.
At the ancient crossroad where Silk Road caravans crossed the trade routes of the Jordanian Rift Valley, the Rose City once thrived as a major trading hub between the Asia (China, India and Arabia) and the Mediterranean world, and the capital of Nabataean kingdom. From 4th century BC to the 4th century AD, Petra flourished for seven centuries until the shifting of trade routes and the Galilee Earthquake of 363 AD, which led the city into a irreversible decline. Petra was enlisted to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985 and has become one of the most iconic attraction in the Middle East, thanks to After a peace treaty was signed in 1994 between Jordan and Israel, tourism has thrived in Jordan ever since. From 138,577 in 1994 to 918,136 in 2010, tourist numbers have skyrocketed until the Syrian Civil War broke out and greatly affected international tourism throughout the region. Back in 2006, our two full days at Petra was definitely the biggest highlight of our experience in Jordan.
After a long day on the King’s Highway, we had some good rest at Petra Moon Hotel. After an early breakfast at 6am, we quickly headed down the road for a 5-minute walk to Petra’s ticket office. After obtaining our tickets, we walked over to the entrance of the Siq, a narrow gorge serving as the natural entry path into the lost city. At several occasions, the Siq became so narrow and dark that made us felt like walking in a tunnel no wider than a car. A water channel, at about 1m above ground, was carved on the cliff surface along the Siq, reminding us the marvelous engineering in the ancient times that brought water from flash floods into Petra for storage and daily use.
At the end of the Siq, about 1.5km from the gorge entrance, we arrived at the spot where every visitor would stop for the iconic photo of the rock-cut Treasury (Al Khazneh). No matter how many times the Treasury has appeared on travel photos and TV travel shows, nothing could prepare us emotionally for our first encounter with the stunning view. Groups after groups of tourists gathered in front of the iconic Treasury building to take photos. Taking the iconic photo of framing the Treasury between the narrow Siq passage without any tourist required good patience. Unlike how Steven Spielberg depicts in his movie, fans of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would be disappointed to find no deadly traps, fancy sculptures or glittering treasure behind the famous rock facade. The interior of the Treasury is actually just an empty cave carved out from the cliff. Legends have it that robbers and pirates might have used the building to store their looted objects. Probably this explains the reason why the building is called the “Treasury”. Though most archaeologists would agree that the Treasury was likely used as a temple and a royal tomb of the Nabataeans.
A sandy path led us towards the entrance of the Siq.
One of the first monuments we encountered was the Obelisk Tomb. The four obelisks on the tomb facade are actually nefeshes, pointed pillars to embody the people buried in the inner chamber.
The rugged desert canyons at Petra is largely made of sandstone.
We followed a few local visitors to enter the Siq, the winding and narrow canyon leading into the lost city.
The 1.2km Siq passage provides the most dramatic approach to the lost city.
The Siq is formed by a geological fault split apart by tectonic forces. The height of the cliffs range from 91 to 182m in height.
From aerial photos one can clearly see how narrow the Siq is – a split in the rose-red sandstone plateau no wider than 3m at some points.
Under the early morning sun, the rock cliffs along the Siq glowed in a golden colour.
Certain parts of the Siq are in shade for almost the entire day.
The 1.2km long water conduits along the Siq are still visible.
The water conduits and the pavement were built in the last decades of the 1st century BC.
At last, the majestic view of the Treasury of Petra emerged between the cliffs.
The famous rock facade of the Treasury was a prominent filming spot for Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The Treasury, or Al-Khazneh, was carved out of the sandstone rock cliff as the mausoleum of Nabatean King Aretas IV in the 1st century AD.
In the 19th century, nomadic bedouins in the region believed the iconic structure contained treasures left by bandits or pirates.
Humidity from tourist crowds and years of touching and rubbing have caused damages to the sandstone building.
Once-in-a-century pandemic has brought international travel to a complete halt. With the pandemic still raging in many parts of the world, it is unrealistic to plan for new travel anytime soon. As a result, we will take this opportunity to share some of our past travel experiences that predate this blog. The pandemic compels us to cherish our travel memories more than ever, and acknowledge that we should never take things for granted especially in turbulent times. The first travel memory we are going to write about is a 40-day journey through the Middle East from Turkey to Egypt via Syria and Jordan. In the recent decade, the Middle East has gone through drastic changes after the Arab Spring movement in early 2010’s and the rise of Isis, particularly for Syria where the ongoing civil war has displaced over 10 million and killed about half a million of Syrians in the past 9 years. Places visited and people encountered may no longer exist, but they live long in our memories.
In spring 2006, I and five other friends embarked on the 40-day journey from Toronto, Canada. We first flew to Athens via Zurich, and then landed in Istanbul on 29th of April. We spent 11 days in Turkey, visiting the splendid architecture of Istanbul and Edirne, archaeological sites of Bergama and Ephesus, and natural wonders of Pamukkale and Cappadocia, before crossing the border at Antakya into Syria. We spent a week traveling from Aleppo to Damascus, visiting Crusader castles and archaeological sites near Hama, Palmyra, Bosra and Maalula along the way. From Damascus, we hired a taxi to Amman in Jordan, where we stayed for 8 days. While Petra was our main focus in Jordan, we did manage to visit classical ruins and medieval castles, the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum Desert, and Aqaba diving resort. Then on 25th of May, we hopped on a ferry to cross the Gulf of Aqaba for Sinai Peninsula. In Egypt, we spent the remaining week to visit the diving town of Dahab, hike the sacred Mount Sinai, admire the pyramids in Saqqara, Dahshur and Giza, and the mosques and Coptic churches in Cairo, and finally ventured out into the far western end near the Libyan border for Siwa Oasis and the Great Sand Sea of the Western Desert.
Back then, I didn’t have a DSLR or smart phone, but traveled with a Nikon FM2 and 50+ rolls of films, including some Fuji Velvia (slide positives) and Ilford Delta (B&W negatives). Number of shots were limited and low light photography was restricted by the film ISO and the availability of a flat surface to place the camera. Yet, the photos’ film grains and occasional blurry effects due to hand movements somehow provoke a unique mood and vaguely remind me each distinct moment when I released the shutter. Each shot has no second take or immediate image editing. Compared to the multi gigabytes stored in memory cards, the slides and negatives of the Middle East trip are much more tangible as if one-of-a-kind souvenir from the trip. Scanning the films afterwards made me to spend a whole lot more time on each photo, and sometimes led me to rediscover bits and pieces of forgotten travel memories.
The 40-day Middle East trip in 2006 remains as one of my most memorable travel experiences to date.
The first time seeing the great architecture of ancient Constantinople was like a dream come true to me.
It was hard to perceive that all the ancient architecture in Turkey were maintained by generations after generations of craftsmen throughout the centuries.
The old Ottoman houses of Istanbul provoke a sense of melancholy that can only be found in the works of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk.
With the otherworldly landscape, hiking in Cappadocia was fun and felt like walking on another planet.
In the past decade, reading the news about how Syrians have suffered and learning about so many cultural heritage, including the Aleppo Citadel, have been destroyed or badly damaged was really upsetting.
Archaeological sites in Syria like Palmyra and Apamea (pictures above) has become venues for frequent looting and destruction under the Isis.
10 million people have been displaced by the Syrian Civil War. Cities like Hama, the city famous for its ancient norias, has been standing in the forefront between the rebels and the government force.
I have encountered so many innocent Syrian children, including these school kids in Damascus, back in 2006. No one would have foreseen the brutal civil war coming in a few years’ time.
Compared to the Syrians who are still going through the civil war, the Jordanian children that I’ve met in Amman during the trip have been much more fortunate.
Every time meandering through the Siq, the narrow gorge that leads into the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, and approaching the Treasury was like going into an Indiana Jones movie.
Riding a camel in Wadi Rum Desert offered every visitors a chance to feel like being Lawrence of Arabia.
I would never forget hiking the pilgrim route up Mount Sinai at 2am in complete darkness, standing at the summit in bone-chilling wind, and watching one of the most anticipated sunrises in my life.
Getting lost in the chaotic Islamic Cairo would be so much fun if not the scorching heat.
Venturing out to the remote Siwa Oasis on my own was one of the most adventurous event in my travels.
Heading out from Siwa into the Great Sand Sea gave me the perfect Sahara moments: doing rollercoaster Jeep rides up and down the dunes, watching sunset over the undulating desert horizon, and sleeping under the Milky Way in the open desert.