Chapter 29 - Jordan

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Chapter 29 - Jordan

Petra - One of the Wonders of the World.

Petra, the ancient Nabataean city carved into the red sandstone cliffs of southern Jordan, is one of the wonders of the World. The iconic Siq, the 2km long narrow sandstone rift that you must pass through to reach the remains of the city, has retained the grandeur and mystery of the site, despite it being made famous by movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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Wadi Rum

Just like, perhaps blasphemously, our preparation for our visit to the Holy Land was this:

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Our preparation for our visit to Jordan was the slightly less blasphemous Lawrence of Arabia. A magnificent film with a spellbinding performance by Peter O’Toole. If you haven’t seen it in the last 20 years, get a copy and settle down for 3.5 hours…. It is basically the story of the Arab rebellion of about 1917 to 1920 against Ottoman rule, as assisted by T.E Lawrence.

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With this preparation in place, we travelled from Jerusalem to Jordan via the border crossing between Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan.

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Looking from Eilat to the hills of Jordan less than 10 km away, over the Red Sea.

First of all, a map to allow a bit of orientation…

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Rather than run the gauntlet of the taxi mafia at the border crossing in Jordan, we had arranged a transfer to Petra, via Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is a protected national park between Aqaba and Petra, and is the quintessential landscape of the Bedouin people and the Arab revolt. Indeed, the area was made famous by Lawrence’s book about his time in the desert and you can still visit today the springs he drank from and places he stayed. Some of the movie was also shot in this area.

However, it is the stunning desert landscape that draws people out to this remote wilderness. Towering cliffs, sandstone rifts and rolling sands that give an incredible sense of immensity, as well as a small taste of the harsh desert life of the Bedouin.

It’s best described in photos….

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A view of a Bedouin encampment and desert sands from Lawrence’s spring.

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For the more adventurous (or foolhardy) traveller there was the option of tackling the desert by camel.

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We opted for the open back ute with a local Bedouin driver for the day….

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Umm Fruth Rock Bridge, providing beautiful views over the desert.

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Including some foreign wildlife….

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The contrast of the blue sky and red sandstone was breathtaking.

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Even in the cool season, it was hot in the sun, and the sandstone cliffs provided the perfect relief.

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The siqs were not only cool, but contained amazing rock carvings of the Bedouin people.

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Needless to say, it’s incredibly picturesque

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Petra

Petra is truly one of the wonders of the world and for us exceeded all expectations. The original Nabataean structures are carved directly into the sandstone cliffs, with the only free-standing buildings constructed later by the Romans. Petra was built by the Nabataeans between the 6th and 1st centuries BC. The Nabataeans controlled important trade routes to Gaza in the west, Bosra and Damascus in the North, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf, and built Petra at the height of their influence. Petra is in fact a city of tombs and sacred places, although there are some houses and other structures. Many facades have now deteriorated or disappeared entirely, although it is amazing how much remains in light of the soft sandstone and torrential rains.

The city of Petra is accessed via an incredible canyon path, called The Siq (this term in fact applies to all such canyon rifts). This amazing path winds through the surrounding mountains for 2 kms before suddenly depositing you in front of the breathtaking Treasury façade.

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We set off in the early dawn light to miss the crowds. The Siq was almost deserted (unlike the hordes that we had to fight our way through when returning in the early afternoon). It was such a special feeling to have this amazing place to ourselves!

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One minute in the cool shadow of the Siq, the next the morning sun would catch the top of a cliff and burst through.

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It was the Nabataeans ability to collect and control water that allowed the civilisation to flourish. You can see here the drainage channels carved into the walls of the Siq, stretching the full 2kms, bring precious water to the city.

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That special moment approaching the Treasury building.

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The Treasury facade just as the sun came over the tip of the mountains, lighting the crown.

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The Treasury is in fact the tomb of a Nabataean King, which became known by this more colloquial name due to legends that an Egyptian pharaoh hid treasure here when pursuing the Israelites.

We then wandered down the Street of Facades, where tombs and other buildings cover the cliffs in all directions.

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The facades of the tombs and temples were not only immense but had the stunning natural decoration of swirling red sandstone.

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Crumbling facades stretching up the cliff faces.

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Many of the street level temples now have new residents.

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Looking back toward the Siq from the Street of Facades as the sun finally crests the mountains and settles on the city of Petra.

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The amphitheatre is the only one known in the world to be entirely carved from stone. This one was originally created by the Nabataeans, but later enhanced by the Romans. You know how they like a good amphitheatre!

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The Royal Tombs towering over the street and tents of the Bedouin hawkers.

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More wildlife!

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Looking up from street level at some of the rooms that once would have had a façade enclosing tombs and temples.

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The colours and patterns of the sandstone, weathered over thousands of years, was jut incredible!

The Romans took over the city of Petra in the 1st century AD and decided to expand and add their own unique style. The main street definitely has more of a Roman influence:

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The colonnaded Roman street leading to the mountains holding our ultimate goal, the Monastery.

And then we completed the long winding walk up through the hills to reach the secluded and magical Monastery. A leisurely 800 steps! Donkey rides were on offer, but we prefer to use own legs instead of poor animals and so, just enjoyed the walk.

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Some exhausted donkeys that haul tourists up the hills to the Monastery. Not an option we are comfortable with...

Of course, it was all more than worth the effort….

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The first view of the Monastery after a long hot trek up the hill. It would have taken our breaths away if we had any left!

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A magical place perched up on top of the mountains above Petra. It is in fact another tomb, but is thought to have derived its name from the Byzantine crosses carved into the inside walls and the possibility it acted as a church at some stage in past history.

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Cooling ourselves in the shade soaking in the atmosphere.

Alas, the rise of a trade route on the Nile diminished the importance of Petra. Its decline was exacerbated by earthquakes in 363 and 551 AD, until by the 5th century AD the Nabataeans had largely abandoned the site although still living in the surrounding area. For many centuries it was only known to the local Bedouin people.

The city of Petra was eventually brought to the attention of the world by this bloke in 1812.

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Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, born 1784 – died 1817

After an incredible morning wandering and hiking through the site, we pointed our weary feet back toward our hotel for a late lunch and a nice cup of tea….

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A nice cup of coffee for me (also known as (aka) beer), and a cup of tea (aka white wine) for Nikki. There’s a bit of a thing about alcohol in Jordan, so we had to be a bit subtle about it….

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Ending our time in Europe and the Middle East on such a high was a real treat and it was with some regret that we then had to turn our thoughts south to Africa. However, the regrets didn’t last long as we started our journey via Amman and Dubai towards Cameroon, the Serengeti, gorillas in the mist and all of the incredible experiences Africa has to offer!

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Street Art in Amman apparently celebrating differences and equality….

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The Roman amphitheatre in Amman, taken from the roof of our hostel.

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The Al-Burj in Dubai where we met up with friends Dece and Antonio, formerly of Oz, for a great evening.

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This featured blog entry was written by capetocape2017 from the blog Cape to Cape 2017. By Land. Mostly.
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By capetocape2017

Posted Mon, Nov 13, 2017 | Jordan | Comments