Trip to Petra in Jordan. Pictures of Petra. Photos of Petra.
6 April 2011
Tour to Petra, the famous archaeological site in list of the Seven Wonders of the world and made famous by an Indiana Jones movie. Access to the city of Petra is through a narrow canyon (Sic / Al Siq) over 1km long, which leads to the magnificent Treasury, an imposing building carved into the rock. The trip to Petra continues exploring the tombs and buildings built by the Nabateans, distributed over an area so wide that a complete tour can take several days. Please scroll the page down to see all my pictures of Petra
The tour of Petra starts heading towards the entrance of Sic, a narrow canyon that stretches for over 1 km and that connects Petra to the outside world.
A trip to Petra is fascinating not only for the ancient city itself, but also for how you actually get there. The Sic is a winding canyon stretching for more than 1 km and having a width varying from 3 to 20 meters. The side walls are so high that many places rarely see the sun.
A horse-drawn carriage running through the canyon that leads to Petra.
Along the walls of the canyon, several sculptures carved directly in the mountain can be found. On the left picture, a niche that probably contains a sacred figure. On the right picture, we see the remains of a sculpture representing a camel with its leader. This rock, defined sandstone, is unfortunately quite subject to erosion by water and wind, and therefore it cannot preserve the shapes for long periods of time.
Some stretches of the canyon are paved with stone slabs (indeed, all the canyon may be paved, but the stones are still buried under sand and dust). Since Petra was occupied also by the Romans, it is assumed that the pavement has been built by the roman empire, considering the style. It is also interesting to note the type of stone: it is not sandstone, but ordinary limestone imported from elsewhere, as there is no limestone in Petra (because of its fragility, the sandstone wouldn't be suitable for the construction of a road pavement).
Along the sides of the canyon, at the base of the walls, there are the aqueducts used to carry water for both irrigation (top photo, left wall of the canyon) and drinking water (left photo, right wall of the canyon ). The acqueduct carrying drinking water was actually a closed pipe, built using a sort of tiles, of which we can still see the "footprints" in the rock below.
The tour to Petra continues approaching the end of the canyon. Turning the last bend, the narrow mouth of the canyon reveals the most beautiful and famous building of the entire Petra: El Khasneh (The Treasury).
Photo of Petra. The Treasury is an imposing building entirely excavated in the mountain. It has no building material brought from outside and everything, including the facade, columns, capitals and decorations, was dug directly into the sandstone.
Photos of Petra. The Treasury of Petra is 43 meters high and 30 meters wide. It was built during the first century BC and its function was as a tomb for an important Nabataean king (ancient trading people of Arabia). It was probably used as a temple in subsequent eras. The Treasure is a fancy name invented by the Bedouins: no treasure was ever found and it seems that the Nabataeans, unlike the Egyptians, had not the custom of carrying goods or wealth in the graves.
Picture of Petra. These grooves on the sides of the facade were probably used as a sort of ladder for maintenance purposes.
Pictures of Petra. The Treasury is a real jewel of art and engineering of the Nabataean people. The attention to details, in the creation of elaborate capitals and other figures etched into the facade, lets to imagine the huge work required, especially given the fact that the building is entirely carved directly into the mountain and doesn't have bricks or concrete. Despite the age of this building, the facade has fortunately well preserved over the centuries, thanks to its sheltered position from wind and water.
On the top of the Treasury's facade, a cremation urn is represented, indicating the main function of this building.
Petra picture. The Treasury is undoubtedly the most famous building in Petra and also the mostly often used as a representative image of this incredible site. But Petra is not only The Treasury, but it is a real big city full of wonders that can only be seen by exploring the area on foot for at least two full days. From The Treasury, a path through a canyon (the outer Sic) brings to walls of rocks full of large tombs (for this reason, the area is called "Street of Facades"). A trip to Petra should never be limited to the most famous and easily accessible buildings, but should also include an hike to the many trails that allow to have views from the top and to discover many more archaeological findings.
More Petra pictures. The Street of Facades ends in a narrow valley where the walls of the mountains are covered with smaller tombs, probably just the tombs of the less important families. It 's curious that all these buildings carved into the sandstone are are actually tombs: in fact the ancient Nabatean people had the custom of living just in normal houses made by ordinary bricks, as we will see later. It seems however that these cavities have actually been used as residences by the Bedouins, until relatively recent times.
Petra photo. The interior of a family tomb. The graves are completely empty since, probably, they have been completely robbed during the past centuries.
More Petra photos. The great Nabataean Theater, still almost completely rock-carved, looks like a typical Roman theater, but it was actually built by the Nabataeans in the first century AD, when the arrival of the Roman Empire in Jordan began to influence the art and the architecture of the indigenous peoples. The Theater is almost entirely dug into the sandstone (the seats are not made of stone blocks, but they are all carved in the mountain) and could accommodate up to about 7000 people. Only the front of the Theater (some walls and columns can be seen in the top-left picture) were constructed using normal building materials.
Petra image. The tour to Petra continues with an exploration of the royal tombs, a number of buildings fully excavated in the mountain's walls, which housed the tombs of the most important Nabataeans dignitaries.
Unfortunately, unlike the Treasury (the Petra's most famous building), the facades of these royal tombs have been heavily damaged by erosion, as they are much more exposed and thus not protected by the action of wind and rain.
Images of Petra. The Urn Tomb has a large outdoor courtyard that offers breathtaking views across the valley. The inner room is huge and completely carved into the mountain, it measures 17 x 18.9 meters and the colored stripes in the rock are natural, as we will see later.
The trip in Petra continues exploring other royal tombs built in a row along the mountain. Unfortunately, even in this case the facades are damaged by erosion, a phenomenon in which the sandstone is particularly subject due to its fragility.
In the photos above, the Corinthian Tomb with the façade rather similar to that of the Treasury, though very damaged. In the bottom-left photo, the Palace Tomb, so named for the appearance of its facade.
Some photos showing various details of the facades, unfortunately very damaged by erosion. The striations in the rock are natural and depend on materials that have accumulated during the various geological eras.
Photos showing the interior rooms of the royal tombs. Sometimes tourists take advantage of a little shade for a rest or a snack into these curious cavities.
Very curious is the staircase, which was also completely carved into the mountain and heavily eroded by almost 2000 years since its construction.
As previously mentioned, these caves dug into the mountain by the Nabateans were not used as dwellings, but rather as tombs. They were probably used as dwellings only later by the Bedouins, who took advantage of work already done in the past. The stripes in the rock are due to the alternation of different kinds of sediments accumulated during the various geological ages: the reddish stripes are due to the prevalence of iron, the bluish stripes are due to copper deposits and the yellows (less common) to manganese.
The curious natural striations in the rock creating shapes and figures that sometimes resemble fractals.
A few more photos of the cavities used as houses by Bedouins until recently. The black deposits visible in the photo on the left, probably witness the lighting up of fires for cooking or warming.
Photos of Nabataean houses destroyed by earthquakes. As already mentioned, the cavities in the mountains were used as tombs. The houses were instead built with real bricks and they were unfortunately completely destroyed by the many earthquakes that rocked Jordan in the past centuries. All that remains is in many cases only a pile of broken bricks.
The Colonnaded Street through the center of Petra had originally, in addition to high columns on both sides, also a series of shops. Unfortunately the area has been damaged by earthquakes and floods. It is thought that the style of these buildings was derived directly from the influence of the Roman Empire, when the Nabataean kingdom was annexed to it in the second century AD.
The ruins of the Great Temple, although several researchers have doubts if this truly immense structure was actually a temple, or just the location of the Nabataean government.
After a full day exploring Petra, I hike the Sic back out from this enchanted ancient city. The site is enormous and requires at least 2 full days of hikes (some of them strenuous) for a complete overview. For those who do not want to walk more than 8 hours a day and want to enjoy all the ruins with more time, a 3 full days trip to Petra may worth consideration.