Let Petra Take Your Breath Away
There are some things in life that can literally take your breath away, stop you in your tracks and change your perspective of the world forever. Finding the lost desert city of Petra, in the far away Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is one of those things.
Petra, whose name comes from the Latin word ‘petrae’ meaning ‘rock’, was built by early Nabataean artisans who somehow managed to carve a magnificent city of more than 3,000 temples, tombs and dwellings – gigantic, multi-storey monuments – from the rugged, red sandstone cliffs of the desert.
A visit to Petra is not an excursion for the faint of heart and don’t forget your walking shoes. You’re in for a hike.
Just getting to the entrance to the ruins involves a warm-up stroll of nearly two km along a dirt and stone roadway. Puffing a bit? You’re just getting started.
Your first stop is the Treasury – a remarkable structure that took generations of labor to build, but only a taste of the wonders that lie ahead. Another several kms of walking or camel or donkey riding, if you prefer, will take you to the Street of Facades, an impressive row of structures once used as tombs. Think you’re tired now? Don’t give up. If you really want to experience Petra, you have to be prepared to climb.
The High Place of Sacrifice is one of Petra’s most impressive sites – and it sits at the top of a 750-step pathway rising straight up towards the clouds.
Our exuberant guide Ibrahim, a young Jordanian historian with a constant grin on his face, led the way, leaping from rock to rock in his eagerness to reach the summit.
“C’mon!” he shouted. “You Canadians are supposed to be tough!”
This particular tough Canadian puffed and panted her way to the top, right behind a friendly herd of mountain goats. The view of the ancient city was spectacular, and so were the various shopping opportunities all the way up.
Intrepid and highly entrepreneurial Bedouin women who live in tents, caves and small villages in the desert around Petra climb up the mountainside each day to set up small tables of necklaces, earrings and other souvenirs at various points on the stone stairs and pathway.
While it seems like an odd place for a makeshift shopping mall, browsing through their wares helps to take your mind off the fact that your lungs are about to burst – it’s retail therapy at its best.
You might think that 750 steps straight up would be the ultimate Petra climb, but you’d be wrong. Ad-Deir, or the Monastery, is another must-see. To reach it, we climbed for more than three hours – again, straight up. Narrow pathways wound around the edges of steep cliffs, so keeping our minds on the climb was essential. At one point, the path narrowed to a breathtakingly small rock outcropping…narrower than the length of my shoe…and there was no way around it. I leaned into the cliff face, hung on tight as I inched along and never looked down!
A visit to Petra is more than a tourist experience, more than an opportunity to view a site of historical, archaeological and cultural importance. Seeing Petra by day, when the sun throws the ancient carvings into magnificent relief, or by night, when hundreds of candles encased in small brown paper bags light the way along the Siq to the softly glowing Treasury, is pure magic.
We are, after all, by comparison to ancient Petra, so very tiny and so ridiculously impermanent.