Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
-John William Burgon-
Due to some unrest in the West Bank around January 2009, my friends, who had wanted to accompany me to Petra, changed their mind. Meanwhile, my exchange semester in Israel was coming to an end and I was about to return to Australia. I was not sure when I would revisit the Middle East. Reckless, playful, and eager for adventure, I set out on my solo journey to seek the rose-red city so famously priased by John William Burgon.
Digging into the Past
The magnificent Petra was built by the Nabateans in 400 BCE. It was thriving as the Nabateans’ trading centre and capital until 106 CE, when it fell under Roman rule. Its decay in international trade due to the rise of sea trade routes, coupled with repeated earthquakes ultimately led to its oblivion around 700 CE. In the 19th century, a Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised himself as a Bedouin, secretly infiltrated the city, and thus led to the rediscovery of Jordan’s buried gem by the West.
Marvelling at the Architecture
The spectacular architecture in Petra displays the magical confluence of natural and historical forces. The first scene that greeted me was the narrow 1.2 km-long gorge known as the Siq, a magnificent geological feature formed by tectonic forces that have torn the huge block of sandstone rock apart. Along the way, one can observe the water channels and niches carved into the rocks by the Nabateans to assist drainage.
All the pony-drawn carriages quickly moved past and left me behind.
Just as I thought I might get claustrophobia inside the narrow and deep gorge, the most impressive Al Khazneh (Treasury) revealed itself before my eyes! As the Chinese proverb goes, “山重水复疑无路，柳暗花明又一村.”
The Al-Khazneh was hewn into the iron-laden sandstone cliff to serve as a maosoleum at the beginning of the first century CE. The Treasury gets its name from the local legend about the treasures hidden by one Egyptian Pharaoh in the urn on the second level. The architecture displays Greek influences.
Meeting the Bedouins
The Bedouin are famous for their hospitality. There were not many tourists around at that time, so one of them kindly showed me around. I was led to one of Petra’s high places, and met some of the other Bedouin who prepared hot tea for me. They could actually make fire without any lighter but with only dry sticks and stones! Isn’t that awesome?!