Tracy’s Travels in Petra
Enjoy this photo gallery of my travels in Petra, researching for Petra: City in Stone.
Tracy’s Travels in PetraPetra, Jordan
The journey begins
We begin our journey into the rock-carved city of Petra at the mouth of a narrow gorge in southern Jordan, about 50 miles due south of the Dead Sea.
The journey beginsPetra, Jordan
Petra behind me
We have been traveling through Israel for the past week, and our trip across the Jordan River and south toward Petra has been through some of the most desolate wasteland I have ever seen. The childhood stories of the Jewish nation, newly-escaped from slavery in Egypt, wandering in the “wilderness,” have taken on fresh meaning as we transverse mile after mile of barren sand, stretched out like a dry tongue through the open mouth of the brown mountain ranges.
Petra behind mePetra, Jordan
Petra’s ancient dam
On foot now, our group begins its trek into Petra. We pass the dam at the upper part of the gorge, still intact after more than two thousand years. This dam collected the scant water from rainfall and water from springs, making the most of every drop by channeling it into the city.
Petra’s ancient damPetra, Jordan
The Siq begins
My research has told me that we’ll walk this gorge, known as the “Siq” for some time, and then turn a corner and be presented with the most famous Petran site, the rock façade labeled “The Treasury.” But I don’t know how long the walk will be.
The Siq beginsPetra, Jordan
Water channel through the Siq
And so we follow our guide, Aladdin, (yes, that is really his name!) through the Siq, wondering if each bend in the rock is the final turn, and being thwarted time after time. But there is much of interest along the way. Each side of the gorge, which is about thirty feet wide, has a water channel at about waist-height. Lined with terracotta half-pipes, this channel carried water into the city night and day in ancient times.
Water channel through the SiqPetra, Jordan
The floor of the Siq was paved with white limestone paving blocks, and some of them still remain.
Paving intactPetra, Jordan
We pass numerous niches and apses along the way, some with carved statuettes still within and some empty and somewhat sinister – like the blank faces of skeletons.
Wall nichesPetra, Jordan
A few wild fig trees poke out from the rock wall, and the face of the rock looks like it is weeping. Water has run down in places, creating white, black and red stripes. Added to the natural diagonal striations of red and black, the effect is stunning.
Interesting terrainPetra, Jordan
The Siq continues
The sun breaks through here and there, but largely the height of the rock wall keeps the entire Siq in shadow, with temperatures cooler than out in the desert sun.
The Siq continuesPetra, Jordan
We make perhaps ten turns as we trek slightly downward, and then finally, our guide instructs us to close our eyes and take a few more steps forward, around the final bend.
Almost therePetra, Jordan
Glimpsing the Treasury
Our first sight of the Treasury is of only the right half, and it seems unreal. Like all the pictures I have seen of Petra. Too perfect, too beautiful.
Glimpsing the TreasuryPetra, Jordan
We spill out into the open space before it and drink in the Greek carvings on the bottom level, the Roman influence on the upper level, and even Egyptian at the top. Nike, Isis, sphinxes, eagles, Amazons, it’s all there. And it is impossible not to feel like Indiana Jones, on the cusp of finding the Holy Grail.
The TreasuryPetra, Jordan
Inside the Treasury
Most of our group is content to gaze on the façade, but I’m eager to explore. Unlike Indy’s movie set, the inside of this edifice is only a few large rooms carved into the rock. An Arabic guard watches me as I peek into a room with a low barrier, then offers a “private tour.” I decline and point to my husband, waiting in the sand below, and he backs away. The ribbons of color in the interior walls are astonishing here.
Inside the TreasuryPetra, Jordan
Getting it all down
I pull out my Neo (my portable keyboard) and park myself on the steps of the Treasury, recording as much as possible. That's me, sitting on the steps, with the Bedouin guard hovering nearby.
Getting it all downPetra, Jordan
End of the Siq
From here I can see the split in the rock face where we emerged a few minutes ago, but it looks impossibly narrow. Almost as if we’ve come into an open space that is somehow entirely sealed off. I imagine that Cassia and Julian would both feel Petra to be a perfect place to hide or find refuge.
End of the SiqPetra, Jordan
The group is moving on, around the bend at the end of this open space, and I reluctantly follow. Our guide leads us through the city, passing the amphitheater, where Cassia trains in fighting techniques. Our guide points out pigeon hole homes or tombs high in the rock walls.
Before long I request permission to break off from the group. In fact, Ron and I plan to find our own way back to the hotel tonight, forgoing the tour bus we’ve arrived on so that we can have autonomy and spend more time here.
Breaking awayPetra, Jordan
The rest of the afternoon is spent wandering the city, which stretches along one main road between the rock walls.
Main StreetPetra, Jordan
The dozens of tombs and facades carved into the rock persist in amazing me, some with the still-preserved intricacy of the carvings, and some simply because of the number of them. Did these people do nothing but carve, day and night? The picture above is of the so-called "Urn Tomb" which is where Julian and Cassia work. In later centuries, this tomb was used as a Christian church in Petra.
Urn TombPetra, Jordan
More carved homes
Certainly some of the open rectangles hide tombs, but others were used as homes. The rest of the city’s homes are not preserved, as they were likely made from mud brick, and have long since dissolved into the desert floor.Mo
More carved homesPetra, Jordan
Of temples, there are many, however. We pass over the sites of several, some with more ruins remaining than others.
Djinn blocks, where the gods were thought to reside.
Djinn blocksPetra, Jordan
The Great Hall, where Malik meets with the City Council.
Great HallPetra, Jordan
High Place above us
Through our time in Petra we have traveled around the base of a large cliff, and it is this cliff which holds my attention fiercely throughout the day. The High Place of Sacrifice towers above us, and unlike the rest of our tour group I have no intention of leaving Petra without seeing it for myself.
High Place above usPetra, Jordan
Planning the climb
We find a Bedouin with a couple of donkeys and barter for a price. He’ll take us partway up on the donkeys, he says, then we’ll hike the rest of the way, when it gets too steep for the animals. The language barrier makes it a challenge to get the details clear. Will he escort us all the way to the top, or leave us on our own when we dismount? I peer up into the sun-bright sky, shade my eyes to scan the top of the cliff, and envision us lost for days on the mountain, with our tour group wondering what’s become of us.
Planning the climbPetra, Jordan
The bartering continues for a bit, in the Middle Eastern way, and we finally settle on a price equal to about $25. We’ve probably been swindled, but I get tired of the bartering sometimes and want to simply get on with it! We clomp along for about thirty minutes on the donkeys, along an upward-winding path that at times makes me close my eyes at the proximity of donkey hoof to crumbling edge.
Getting startedPetra, Jordan
For some reason I had not expected to see more tombs and carvings on this side of the cliff, but we pass many more, including the one known as the “Roman soldier’s tomb.”
More tombsPetra, Jordan
Assumed to be a tomb, but this structure could also have been used for meetings or entertaining. The colors of the rock are amazing!
Another structure on the way up to the High Place
Still climbing…Petra, Jordan
A lion is carved into the rock at one place on the path upward.
Our guide points out Nabatean writing on the cliff. You can see his shadow on the wall as well. Partway up he points out a dark mouth of a cave and mentions casually that his grandfather lived there for many years. It’s a startling reminder that our Bedouin is not a costumed tour guide, playing a part for the tourists. He is one of an ancient line of desert-dwellers who even now survive impossibly in this place.
Nabatean writingPetra, Jordan
The city drops away beneath us, and we must leave our donkeys finally and take to the cliff ourselves. Even at this height, the Nabateans could not stop carving. Rock steps are obligingly cut into to cliff face in many places, though wind- and rain-worn after all these generations.
Getting closerPetra, Jordan
I begin to lag with exhaustion, and Eed, our guide, takes my hand in his rough shepherd’s grip and hauls me up the especially treacherous spots, places where it seems to me mountain goats would fear to tread. “Ten more minutes” he tells us, but we learn that it is more like twenty.
Looking downPetra, Jordan
The High Place at last
Finally we arrive on the plateau. I cannot describe how high this is. Pictures donot do it credit, I know. The thought that these people worshipped up here is astonishing. There are so many biblical references to pagan worship on “high places.” I will never read those passages the same way again.
The High Place at lastPetra, Jordan
Another picture from the High Place. To give some perspective, the white square in the center of the picture is a pickup truck.
High PlacePetra, Jordan
The plateau stretches out in front of us, broken in places by rock outcroppings, and there at the edge of one side – two impossibly carved obelisks. I have no idea how they could have come to be. Were there two large rocks there, and the obelisks are all that remain? Were they carved below and somehow brought up here?
We find the temple enclosure easily.
Temple areaPetra, Jordan
Inside the temple area is the altar that I know will figure as an important part of my story. A few steps lead up to it, indicating that someone (priest? slave?) would have climbed up to prepare the sacrifices.
The altarPetra, Jordan
Basin catches liquid
A large carved basin catches blood or libations of oil and wine, and runs the liquid down a channel and into the ground.
Basin catches liquidPetra, Jordan
Taking notes in a most unlikely spot
Knowing I must seem a complete puzzle to our Bedouin, I climb up on the altar and begin my typing once more, furiously capturing all I can of the site.
Taking notes in a most unlikely spotPetra, Jordan
Envisioning the past
It’s creepy, I’ll admit. What, or who, was put to death on this stone beneath me? What demon gods presided over the ceremony? I want to get a picture of myself laying on the altar, but Ron’s not sure it’s a good idea. There are about six other Arab men up here on the High Place with us. I’ll talk him into it.
Envisioning the pastPetra, Jordan
We wait a few minutes, and then the other men leave. Ron starts to take my picture on the altar, but Eed says “no, no, no” and takes me down the place of slaughter – a flat stone of the surface of the mountain. He instructs me to lay down and then asks Ron, “Do you have a knife?” Ha! Ron shakes his head, a furrow between his brows. Instead Eed uses his hand in a chopping motion at my neck while Ron takes a picture.
Sacrificial slabPetra, Jordan
On the altar
Finally, I get up on the altar get a shot there.
On the altarPetra, Jordan
Time to head down
We’re finished up here, and it’s getting late. Eed takes us across the plateau to the side opposite where we ascended.
Time to head downPetra, Jordan
Here, steps down the side begin, and I presume they terminate far below at the amphitheater.
Ancient stepsPetra, Jordan
View of the Urn Tomb from the High Place
We realize he’s definitely not coming down with us. “It OK,” he says. “Take only ten minutes. Easy.” I am wondering why we paid him to bring us up the arduous side if this way down is “easy.” But we have no reason to disbelieve him, so we pay him and set off in faith.
View of the Urn Tomb from the High PlacePetra, Jordan
Indeed, it takes only ten to fifteen minutes to get down, though the climb up all these steps would still have been painful. I stop and fill an empty water bottle with some red Petra sand.
Petra sandPetra, Jordan
Time to go home
We reach the bottom and the place is nearly empty. It’s a bit eerie to make the long trek back out through the Siq alone. A few other tourists straggle along behind us, beyond shouting distance. We argue with the owner of a meager gift stand for some souvenirs for my readers, climb back to the entrance to the area, and barter with a couple of taxi drivers before settling on a price that makes one very unhappy.
Time to go homePetra, Jordan
Goodbye to Petra
As the moon rises in a purple sky over the desert hills, we set off to our hotel to rejoin our group, leaving the rose-red city to hide in the cliffs once more.
Goodbye to PetraPetra, Jordan
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