Petra

The facade of the Treasury monument at Petra in Jordan will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It forms part of a huge city complex that may be less well-known. We start our journey by looking at some of the structures created by the Nabateans.

(This article was originally published at Trifter.com on 13 October 2008.)

John William Burgon labelled Petra the “rose-red city” in his poem of 1845 due to the deep red shade of the sandstone rocks. The Nabateans carved most of what visitors see today from the bare mountainsides. In part one of our tour we take a look at some of their work.

The Siq

The Siq at Petra, Jordan

The Siq at Petra, Jordan

The Siq is a natural gorge formed by earthquakes that split the mountain apart. The flood waters of the Wadi Musa have since eroded the sides smooth and it now forms the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra. In about AD 50 the Nabateans built a dam and an eight-metre-high tunnel to divert the water away from the Siq. This opened up the entrance for use all year round.

Water channels were carved in the sides of the gorge to provide water for the city of Petra from the dam. The Siq twists for 1200m between rock walls that are 150m high in places. Carvings and niches can be seen in at intervals along the route and at the bottom the Treasury comes into view.

The Treasury

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan

Dating from the first century BC, the Treasury is carved into the sandstone of the mountain. The six columns are purely decorative as there is no need for any support. In fact, when one of the original columns collapsed it was replaced by brick and plaster.

Unlike the facade seen in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there is only a small chamber behind the entrance. Ground level is now four metres above what it was 2000 years ago and excavations have shown that Petra’s Treasury was built above existing facades and tombs. Its purpose cannot be known for sure but it may have been a temple.

A Bedouin legend says that the urn at the top of the monument contains the treasure of an Egyptian Pharaoh. The treasure was supposed to have been deposited there when he was following the Israelites and it is from this legend that the Treasury gets its name. This facade is very well preserved and is one of Petra’s finest structures. There is one other creation, on a mountain above the city, that is its rival in size and beauty, as we shall see on page two.

Living in Petra

Petra also contains structures used for habitation. Although crude in comparison with other parts of the city, they did serve their purpose of providing shelter. A fire could be lit in the entrance at night to ward off cold and wild animals.

The Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs at Petra, Jordan

The Royal Tombs at Petra, Jordan

The East Cliff contains a series of ancient tombs. Known as the Royal Tombs, they form an impressive line of facades that rise above Petra’s city centre. The larger tombs have as many as five storeys and can be reached by climbing up steps carved into the rock face.

Our journey through Jordan’s ancient city of Petra will continue on page two, taking in some wonderful man-made and natural creations.

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