|The Siq is over 1 KM long.|
Before we left on our trip, I read many books and websites. Lonely Planet perhaps described it best of all: “Nothing you read about Petra will prepare you for your first glimpse of the Treasury when you emerge from the Siq.”
And that proved to be true.
I had read about the Nabataeans who lived here more than 2,000 years ago. How they carved facades of buildings out of the rocks in which they made their homes. About how Romans eventually conquered them by cutting off their ingenious water supply systems. I had seen many pictures of the red rock carvings. I knew from tourist information that the Siq, the long steep gorge leading to the site, was over a kilometer long.
But indeed nothing prepared me for that first sight. It truly did take my breath away and left me all choked up.
That’s where the hotels, the restaurants and everything else is. But there’s a part of town right outside Petra, so that you can walk there. And then there’s most of Wadi Musa which is way up on the hills and much too far to walk.
Our Bedouin Camp was a 10 minute drive away, near Little Petra - a small, more natural side of cave dwellings, not incorporated into the preserved area. Our camp offered rides to and from Petra whenever we needed them.
We walked past the customary tourist traps toward the Siq - a good 10 minute walk. The Siq is a canyon with steep rock faces on either side, sometimes not more than 2 meters wide. I was surprised to see that most of the ground surface is ‘pavement’ - even when it is ancient Roman roads. Inside the Siq it is cool and shaded.
After just over a kilometer, you spot a top glimpse of ‘The Treasury’. A few more paces and you emerge from the shade onto a large, dirt ‘market place’. At first glance all you see is The Treasury: sunlight paints this facade orange. It towers almost 40 meters high. Especially when people stand in front of it, you realize how huge it is. How did these people carve these facades, and pillars? Did they build scaffolding? Use ropes? It boggles the mind to think these masterpieces were made some 2,000 years ago.
The other thing I had not quite realized, is that Petra is not the odd ancient building, but the actual remnants of a large city. Once you emerge from the Siq, you enter what once was a complete and bustling city. Old roads are still visible, some lined with columns. There are many homes, also used as tombs. Besides the large Treasury, there are many other major buildings, including the Monastery. There is a large amphitheater and numerous other buildings. It is believed that some 20,000 Nabataeans lived here.
We walked in the hot sunshine, climbing, scrambling over rocks. Two days gave us a good impression. I wouldn’t want to “do” Petra in any less than that. The Bedouin women everywhere try to sell you jewelry, tea, anything. I was shocked to see little children, as young as 5 years old, selling postcards to tourists.
One of my favorite books ever is I Married A Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen. This New Zealand woman traveled to Petra when she was about 20, fell in love with a Bedouin, married him and spent much of her life living in a cave and raising her children there. (http://marriedtoabedouin.com/)
The book is a fascinating account of an unusual life. After her husband died, she left but has now returned to Petra to make silver jewelry with local women. It was fun to meet the author and chat with her. She confirmed that those little Bedouin children should be in school and that tourists should avoid buying from them. Every penny they earn is discouragement to send them to school.
We climbed the 850 steps to the impressive Monastery, the largest structure in Petra. By then I was willing to pay well for fresh lemonade! Which we did...
The books also did not tell us about the piles of warm donkey dung we would encounter on most steps... Donkeys raced through the Siq, their hooves clattering on the old stones, as they gave rides to tourists who had underestimated the amount of hiking you have to do in Petra. Donkey and camel owners everywhere shouted at us "Ride a sexy donkey for a sexy lady?!" "Taxi with air conditioning!"
I am forever grateful that we were able to visit Petra and see the amazing sites with our own eyes. Hope you can visit it, too, some day.
For more details on Petra's history read: