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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Al Aqaba, Jordan (Petra)

Wednesday | September 28, 2016

Today was a unique and long day, visiting Petra, a UNESCO site that is on some people’s list of the top 20 places you must see before you die and described by UNESCO as “one of the world’s richest and largest archaeological sites.”

At an extrememly early hour, I arose and met my driver for the ride to Petra.

This rose red city half as old as time, remained lost for over a thousand years until its rediscovery in 1812.

Talal, gave us some interesting information about Jordan and Petra.

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The present population of Jordan is 7 ½ million people, and 3 ½ million of them live in the city of Amman. Only 120,000 people inhabit Aqaba. Most young people who become educated leave the countryside, if not the entire country. And driving through the deserts and seeing the nomadic tribes, we were not surprised to hear that.

Because it was so early in the morning, the sun gave the desert rocks a beautiful red sheen.


We passed two truck stops and every truck parked there was an oil tanker. I guess that can be expected in the Middle East.

We also passed small villages, almost all of which were built with cinderblock and rebar.


But most fascinating to me was observing that 80% of the homes, and there were thousands of them, were not finished. There were cinderblock walls, but that was about it.


During our drive, we were elevated to 5500 feet above sea level. At this elevation, Jordan can receive rain and even snow.

We stopped at a rest stop that was also an authentic Jordanian souvenir shop, and we enjoyed phenomenal views of the territory.


As we drove through the desert, we passed hundreds of camels, donkeys, sheep, and even dogs. Sheep were being herded everywhere.


Goats were also running, seemingly wild.


This may be the first place in the world I have actually seen working camels in herds. We learned that Petra was first founded by the Edomites thirteen centuries BC. Because of the uniqueness of the climate, water was available there, and at that time, water meant survival. As a result, Petra became a popular stop for caravans on the trade routes to Saudi Arabia. While the Edomites reigned in Petra, a man named Moses came along (I think we've all heard of him!) and slammed his staff onto a rock, thus producing water in this very place.

In around the eighth century BC, the Edomites were forced out and moved west. Those who came in their stead gained their sustenance by robbing caravans. In the seventh century BC, the Greek army put a stop to that.

Nothing much happened in the territory until the Nabataeans moved in from Yemen. They remained until the year 169 BC when Ericktus I came to the throne. The government expelled the nomads from Petra and as a result, the city was more secure. That added security encouraged caravans to come through once again, and the trade spawned growth. In fact, it was a vital part of a major trading route connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

People in those times believed in the afterlife. As a result, tombs were built to endure time, and many are still visible and intact today. On the other hand, the houses disappeared after several hundred years.

During that time, the Romans conquered virtually everything, but they wanted nothing to do with the desert. So they allowed the Nabataeans to rule the territory, as long as they paid taxes to Rome.

Interestingly, there is credible evidence that by the seventh century, the society of Petra was well organized. Archaeologists have found records of property deeds and marriage certificates.

For some unknown reason, by the year 749, everyone had left Petra. It was undiscovered until 1812, when a British man named Burkhardt arrived with the intent to find Petra, about which he had read and studied. He asked the locals and they told him they knew nothing about where Petra might have been. So he embedded himself in the culture for two years. He learned the language, grew a beard, and even became a Muslim. One day, he asked someone where he could leave an offering to one of the gods and the man walked him down to Petra. He could not believe he was standing amidst one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

From 1812 to 1924, Petra was inhabited by the Bedouins. UNESCO had to move them out before it could be made a tourist site, so they were moved to neighboring villages. No one lives in Petra now, although 20,000 live in neighboring towns.


Sadly, tourism is down 80% from the year 2010, but of course our experience was better for it.

Because of religious restrictions, Petra has no movies or bars. Restaurants have been unpopular because it is considered shameful to eat in a restaurant– evidence that one’s wife does not properly care for him.

Along the road we saw groups of workers sitting, reminiscent of the day workers one finds along the road in California, Arizona, or even Connecticut. These are workers from Egypt who come here to do construction work.

Finally, we arrived in Petra and walked down the long road to get into the ancient village.


The “siq” is the narrow gorge we walked for over 1.5 kilometers. It resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain, and was further eroded by cascades of water.


Interestingly, two water channels ran along both rock sides.


The ancient inhabitants carved these channels to bring fresh water all the way down to the city, which was in the bottom of the ravine.

From this point on, the story must be more of photographs than words.

This was the Treasury, or Al Khazna.


Almost 40 m high and intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more, it is Petra’s most magnificent façade. Built in the 1st century BC, it was crowned by a funerary urn which legend claimed had been filled with a pharaoh’s treasure. Of course, the Romans explored the urn, and the entire treasury, and looted any treasures that may have actually been there.

Today, it is guarded by modern soldiers.

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And some ancient ones!


Camels were all around us.


Some were nasty.


Others were tired and just lounged around.


The donkeys were equally exhausted from the intense heat.


Lynn liked this little guy, relaxing all alone.


In essence, the openings in the rocks were caves where the dead were buried thousands of years ago. They were all around us – literally thousands of them!


This one evidenced what archeologists have since deduced – that the caves were built from the top down. This was likely done to prevent the workers, and the completed work, from getting covered with sand and rock from chiseling above.


Stairs can be seen leading into this cave – and many others. Remember, these stairs are are over 4,000 years old!


This was some sort of religious site.


This was where marriages were performed.

This tomb was likely intended for a Greek.


Some of the buildings were massive, with more excavation to come.


Young boys hounded us for rides on their camels.


And this old man paid no one any mind.


Eventually, we turned around and took the long walk out of the city and back up the dry and dusty (it hadn’t rained since May – four months ago) road to civilization, if it could be called that. We entered the Movinpik Swiss hotel, where we enjoyed a great lunch. Then, the two hour long triop back to the ship.


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