Jordan (Saturday 5/7): Petra

Our destination for Saturday (the final day for Dawn and me) was Petra, recently named one of the seven “new” (meaning currently existing) wonders of the world and, according to BBC, “one of the 40 places you have to see before you die.” An absolutely spectacular historical site, it did not disappoint.

The Treasury at Petra

It was a short ride from our hotel to the Petra bus park. Just inside the gate was a nice large poster of King Abdullah II, son of the deceased King Hussein and Englishwoman Toni Gardiner. His wife is the beautiful Queen Rania. Both Abdullah and Rania have received some of their education at American schools, he at Deerfield Academy and Georgetown University, she at the American University in Cairo.

The Tourist Police were conspicuous at Petra; several of them rode very nice horses.

Our guide in Jordan was the knowledgable Barush (not certain of spelling).

Petra was established around the sixth century BC (that’s BC—think very, very ancient) as the capital of the Nabataeans, a desert people originally from the borderlands between Syria and Arabia. Over the years they built an incredible city carved out of rock, complete with a hidden conduit system delivering water from the highlands. In its day it was the center of caravan trade in the region. Apparently it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city—which became a sheltered oasis.

It is difficult to comprehend how large Petra is. As we began our walk at the gate we were constantly asked if we would like to ride in one of the horse-drawn chariots or on a camel. We declined. With each step we descended deeper and deeper, first in a broad canyon which then narrowed to a small passageway.

Along the way we began to see the famed carved architecture. This one is called the Obelisk Tomb and the Triclinium.

Here is an example of one of the water conduits that delivered year-round water to Petra. In ancient times, these conduits were buried inside the mountain so as to hide them from enemies who might want to disrupt the water flow.

In some places the canyon narrowed and the pathway was almost enclosed by overhanging mountains.

Some of the rock walls were beautifully colored.

The pathway was paved in later generations in the Roman style. Nabataean travelers brought back architectural styles back from Greece, Rome and other places in the ancient world.

The further we walked, the narrower the passageway became. Then, just when it would seem to close completely, our guide had us close our eyes and walk single file ahead. When he gave the signal, we opened our eyes and caught our first sight, through a narrow opening, of the magnificent Al Khazneh (“the Treasury”).

The Treasury was so enormous (and enclosed) that I needed a wide-angle lens to capture it all. Since I didn’t have that, I took a bunch of pictures and stitched them together to obtain this shot.

After the decline of the Nabataeans, Petra also declined and became lost to the Western world until it was “rediscovered” by a Swiss explorer in 1812. It seems almost unbelievable that such a wonder remained hidden until so late (more than 2,000 years)!

The second tier of the Treasury building.

This is a telephoto shot of the middle icon of the second tier of the Treasury. Early explorers believed there was treasure hidden somewhere in this building. Since the second tier was so inaccessible, they shot holes in it to try to determine if it was hollow and therefore capable of holding treasure. They found nothing, but, sadly, damaged the real treasure—Petra’s architecture.

One of the characters standing in front of the Treasury.

An Arabic family on vacation. I felt sorry for the women who had to wear this hot garb even in the heat of the summer. It might have been their husband who was taking their picture.

Our group posed for this photo taken by an on-site photographer. Unfortunately, some of our group had already left this area when the photo was taken. Also, the photographer didn’t get his settings quite right, which resulted in a somewhat blurred foreground image.

After spending some time at the Treasury, the question was whether we would continue on to see El Deir (“the Monastery”). We decided to do so, and were glad of our decision. However, to say the climb to the Monastery was rigorous would be an understatement. We were told that it was 800 steps up, but these were high steps and it doesn’t include the long walk just to reach the point where the climb begins. However, there was plenty to see along the way.

We were constantly offered the chance to ride a donkey, but declined. I felt sorry for the donkeys.

All along the way there were more fantastic sites.

Dawn and Roseanne are almost there. If only they can avoid a big boulder rolling down the staircase and crushing them.

A donkey surveying the wearied climbers. When we reached the top we were again offered the chance to ride—for the same price as a round-trip ticket.

What a sight awaited us at the top of the mountain: El Deir (“the Monastery”).

I snapped this photo on the way back. It was almost as hard on my knee going downhill as it was coming up. We will need to walk to the mountain ridge in the background, and then we will only be half way to the bus parking lot.

By using all of her charm, Dawn managed to get past the Nabataean guards.

Somehow a Bedouin on a camel with his cell phone seems incongruous. Dawn snapped this photo.

This was one of the sights we passed on our way to and from the Monastery. It is carved into the mountain seen in the distance in the picture of Dawn two photos above this one.

If you look closely you can see people in this picture. It gives a sense of the enormous scale of the place. And this was just one small part.

Apparently the Nabataeans were also fond of theater.

I had planned to take a photo of Dawn in front of the Treasury when we got back to it. However, by that time, the sun had moved so that the entire building was in shadow, while the place Dawn would have to stand was still in bright sunlight. I had to tonemap this photo in order to see both the foreground and the background subjects. It created a nice effect.

Petra was featured in the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” This is a gift shop I spotted on the way out. We’re going to rent the movie and watch it again with our grandchildren.

We were dog tired by the time finally we reached the bus, but Petra was a fitting end to our Israel / Jordan trip. I’m glad we saved it for last. We continued on to Amman and left at 5:30 a.m. the next morning for our 27-hour flight home. This has been a long series of posts and I doubt many of my readers have made it this far. But if you have, thanks!

This is the final installment. It has been fun to relive our experiences.

– MAT

















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3 thoughts on “Jordan (Saturday 5/7): Petra

  1. I have LOVED all of the photos, but these are truly amazing. It would be wonderful to see it in person. One thing I have to ask, in some of your pictures it seems like Dawn is glowing when it would seem like her face should have some shadows… How did you do that? Did you use a flash?

  2. I always take a flash with me when I’m going to be shooting in sunlight because it helps soften the harsh shadows in face shots. So, for example, in the ninth shot from the bottom (where Dawn’s sitting on a low wall), the sun was slightly behind her and probably would have cast a shadow over much of her face if I hadn’t done so.

    However, in the case of the shot in front of the Treasury (second pic from the bottom), she was in bright sunlight and the background was in deep shadows. A flash wouldn’t have helped much because it would just have made her face brighter, but would have done nothing for the background. So I told her to freeze the smile and shot five quick photos in a row. You can set my camera (and probably yours) so that one is correctly exposed, two are overexposed (by different amounts) and two are underexposed. Then I “tonemapped” the five photos with a program by Photomatrix, which detects which of the photos to use for which parts of the picture. It uses the overexposed photos for the shadowed parts and the underexposed photos for the sunlit parts, resulting in a richer, more correctly exposed whole.

    It doesn’t work well for many photos, but for some (particularly static scenes with high contrast) it can do wonders for the picture.

  3. Wow!! I know this is WELL after the fact, but I ran into your pictures and was utterly enthralled by them!! I enjoyed your narrative just as much. Thank you for sharing them so willingly with those of us in the world who love to travel and go on adventures, but who don’t have the time and resources to do much of it yet. Looks like an absolutely amazing trip! Appreciated that enormously!

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