When we walked into Petra, our guide Ibrahim had only one comment: it’s totally empty. He recounted a story of being there in 2010 and barely being able to move through the Siq – the thin fissure in the rock which marks the entrance to the main city. Apart from camel drivers, donkey touts and another group of French tourists, it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
Which for us was, of course, fantastic.
I think the beauty of Petra is impossible to describe in words. Honestly, even photographs don’t do it justice. At one point in the Siq, our guide told us to stop and close our eyes. He then manoeuvred us 15 paces through the rock, positioned us in a line and made the big reveal. The first glimpse of The Treasury peeking through the rock, the contrast between the natural and the ornate so extreme here.
The Treasury is the Petra show stopper, and it also stands as a testament to what the mysterious Nabatean civilisation achieved: a blend of Egyptian, Roman, Greek and their own construction, a welcome touch of home for weary travellers and a great display of wealth for wily traders. That the Bedouins managed to keep the city so secret for so long adds to the wonder, of a city lost to time and to history.
Beyond the Treasury (once you can tear your eyes from it), the vastness of the city continues behind. I think this is what I didn’t expect of Petra – just how BIG it is. In all, with a big hike up to the Monastery area (another immense structure), we spent 10 hours exploring the site. By the end of it, as the sun was setting, we were all exhausted and awed. And even that felt like barely scratching the surface.
Sadly, it’s now the end of the trip. We are currently in the Christian city of Madaba, having had a float on the Dead Sea, visited Mt Nebu, where Moses died, and St George’s Church, which contains one of the earliest examples of a map, in the form of a mosaic on the floor. Stunning.