Looking through my images of Jordan I am struck by how much it offers the visitor in terms of not only historical sites, but scenery and serenity. Serenity may seem a strange word to use about any Middle Eastern country these days, but Jordan has always seemed to me to be like a peaceful house surrounded by warring neighbours.
The pink-hued cliffs of Petra will always be the absolute highlight of Jordan, but close behind comes the capital itself, Amman. Then a trip to Wadi Rum where maybe you can find time to stay overnight and sleep under the desert stars, an unforgettable experience, and a side trip to Aqaba, the Red Sea port.
You approach Petra through the Siq, or chasm, a winding defile hemmed in with towering red rocks that soar nearly 100 metres into the sky before it opens dramatically on to a square dominated by the pink sandstone of the façade, (used in the final scenes of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusades). To emerge into the light at the end of the long walk and be faced with the glory of the Treasury is something that is hard to describe.
This 6th century BC world of temples, Roman theatres, monasteries and chambers carved into the red sandstone is Jordan’s best-known tourist attraction and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Here the original inhabitants, the Nabateans, set up their city-state, defending their home with ease until 106 AD when it fell to the Romans. After the Romans came the Byzantines, then the Crusaders, until by the 16th century Petra was all but lost to the west. A Swiss Explorer, Louis Burckhard, penetrated the hidden city in 1812 and the world became aware of the wondrous city that had once been the centre of a trading empire that stretched from Saudi Arabia to Damascus.
The Treasury was built to impress and 2,000 years on it is still impressive. Protected from wind and rain, the detailing on the well preserved façade is still sharp and crisp. It is estimated that 3,000 visitors per day visit Petra during the peak season and visitors are advised to visit between 9.00–11.00 a.m. and 4.00 – 5.00 pm when there are fewer tourists and the walls of the Treasury are suffused with a reddish-pink glow. Although 3,000 may sound a lot of people, if you cannot visit between these hours Petra is large enough to hold that amount in reasonable comfort. However, if you are not on a tour, it will repay you to make a really early start in order to savour the utter peace and stillness of the area before the hordes descend from the cruise ships – 7.00 a.m. is perfect.
A whole day can be spent here, more than one if time allows because there is a lot to explore, the royal tombs, the 1st century AD Theatre, and the High Sacrificial Place which is reached by climbing 700 well-cut steps past extraordinary rock colourings. Your reward is breathtaking views over Petra from a peak 170m above Wadi Musa. No one knows for certain what took place here, whether the sacrifices were of animal or human, but evidence of some human sacrifices in surrounding towns/cities has been found.
It will be very hot, there is no shade, so carry plenty of water. For part of the way there is an option of taking a donkey ride or a carriage ride: the authorities discourage these because of the damage they do to the floor of Petra but they are available for those who need them.