Day 5 – We See The Light in Petra

Thursday May 19 2022 – We got a lie in – yay! – well, compared to yesterday we did. Alarm call at 0530, hasty breakfast and off we went to Petra with Ali, starting at 0700. There were even fewer people today than yesterday, which meant even less chance of business for the hustlers near the visitor centre to find any marks to offer horse rides to; so their attendance was sparse, too.

Although the weather was similar today to yesterday’s (i.e sunny and eventually hot) the light was surprisingly different, as you’ll see from the myriad photos in today’s entry. Many of them are similar scenes to yesterday, but the light was different; and in Petra, the light can be remarkable. Ali was encouraging us along at a brisk pace, as he wanted us to get to a particular point before the sun got too high. As we walked along the main drag from the Treasury, the stone was positively glowing, presumably because of reflected light from the surroundings; whatever the reason, the effect was striking.

Our objective today was to get to (sigh!) the highest point of the site, the High Place of Sacrifice. The conventional way to do this is (sort of) clockwise, with a steep ascent from just before the Theatre, and a longer but less steep descent bringing you back opposite the Royal Tombs (go and look at the map from yesterday if you haven’t memorised it, and take a black mark). Instead, Ali took us the other way round in order to get the light he wanted us to see. It turns out that he is a professional photographer, which is why he took the light as a priority and why he kept suggesting shots to me yesterday. His instincts were right, and so I continued to let him school me in fruitful angles, as you’ll see as you read on.

We passed some goats.

Nothing unusual in that, you’d (rightly) say. But how the hell did they get up there?

Stay tuned for more goat action, by the way. The track led us past a series of caves – living spaces and tombs – and the colours that today’s light had brought out were marvellous (that’s Ali in the first picture).

One particular space, still in use by someone that Ali knew (actually, he knows everyone) had a particularly vibrant ceiling (he uses it to pen his goats – a sort of 5-star goat-el. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.)

The tombs in the photo above are for middle-class Nabateans; looking across the valley, we could also see more tombs, also for the middle classes.

Between us and the tombs on the far side, you can see a couple of holes in the ground. These mark the area where there were tombs for lower-class Nabateans. Much of them have been covered in sediment that has built up over the centuries; generally speaking, somewhere between one and two metres of sediment has accumulated, which means that the lower or ground-level storeys of many places appear to have low ceilings. Actually, the floor has risen.

Reinforcing the “necropolis” description of Petra from Suhir, our Jerash guide, we passed a further series of living space/tombs, many with names that have nothing to do with their original occupants, but either derive from local legend, or were simply coined more recently to identify them: the “Broken Pediment” tomb;

The “Renaissance” tomb (possibly the dwelling of the High Priest);

and the “Roman Soldiers” Tomb.

The name is a complete misnomer, because not only are the three figures on the face Nabatean rather than Roman, but also it’s not a tomb. It was used as a meeting place for visiting dignitaries and religious high muck-a-mucks before adjourning to eat to the triclinium opposite (from which the above photo is framed); originally the space between the two was a colonnaded garden.

The triclinium itself is remarkably coloured

and shows the eponymous three sides. After this the religious dignitaries would form a procession, eventually to the High Place of Sacrifice but first to a small temple.

I hope the steps they had to climb were wider and better-formed than the ones there today, otherwise a dignified procession, particularly in priest’s robes and assorted paraphernalia, would be very challenging.

Forgive a plenitude of photos, here, but the temple had several features worth remarking on. For example, outside it was a cistern

which was filled by rainwater let out from a 75 cubic metre reservoir above by unplugging a hole (just above centre left) which allowed water into a collector and down a channel which led to the cistern.

Damn’ clever, these Nabateans. The pillars of the temple make a frame in one of my favourite images from today – the open space was once a garden, and at the far side is the tomb of the gardener…

from the temple they continued up to the Lion Fountain

which was itself fed from the same reservoir running water down a channel and out through the lion’s mouth, into a pool where the religious visitors could wash before making their sacrifice (the marks from a stream down the right-hand side is caused by escaping rainwater because the original channels and dams have eroded away). The lion is in Assyrian style. Ascending further gives another view of the Roman Soldiers tomb and a glimpse of the reservoir which fed these ingenious water distribution channels.

Further up, we came across evidence of where stone was quarried,

in this case for a Crusader fortress which was built little higher, but which was destroyed in an earthquake.

The steps in the photo above lead past a pair of obelisks representing the two principal Nabatean gods.

Whilst we were ascending them we heard the music of the rababa, the Arab flute (though distinctly not played by a professional musician). The player turned out to be a Bedouin lady

to whom we donated a couple of Dinars for her musical contribution to our ascent, and who it turned out had quite a substantial retail opportunity up there.

And then having ascended those steps and overall some 185 metres (really? It felt like more) we reached the High Place of Sacrifice.

at the top of the picture is the altar whence the blood would flow through a channel into a reservoir below

(the Nabateans were clearly experts in fluid mechanics). In the middle of the area is the platform on which the giver of the sacrificial animal would stand before the sacrifice was carried out by the high priest

and the blood would flow through a channel across the area to be stored so it could be sprayed around as evidence of a good, old-fashioned and satisfactory slaughter.

No self-respecting High Place of Sacrifice would pass muster without offering the dignitaries a decent view

and we could also see some more goats (see, I told you there would be more goat action)

and we wondered, as before, how the hell they got there.

Shortly after and slightly below the High Place is an excellent tea stop-cum-retail-opportunity and Ali recommended we take advantage of it. Apart from anything else, it offered some precipitous and spectacular views over the main Petra centre.

Some very good, sweet and energising mint tea was served by a young lad who was one of two people who ran the place

As well as a unique viewpoint over the main Petra site, which still showed signs of the glowing light that illuminated it earlier

we could also clearly see the Bedouin village where the government had moved people when they removed them from living on the Petra site itself.

Then it was time to start the descent to Petra, past several notable scenes.

until we got back down to Petra’s main drag. We said farewell to Ali, and thanked him for doing a splendid job of showing us some out-of-the-way places and interesting photo scenes, and headed back (once again under hot sunshine) on the long pull up towards our hotel. I took the opportunity to take a couple of final shots; for example, the light on the Façades was wonderful,

and there was still a glow to the rocks as they reflected light from the paths.

In front of the Treasury was busy and buzzy,

we were passed by a couple of mounted Police, in distinctive pointed hats

and there were by now plenty of hustlers at the top of the path down waiting for marks to come by to try to get them to do a horse ride down to the site.

We’d done about 7.5 miles by this stage and were glad to get back to the hotel. Garmin reckoned we’d ascended a total of some 500 metres as we went down into Petra, up to the High Place, back down into Petra and back to the hotel.

so we felt we’d earned the short sleep we awarded ourselves back at the hotel, along with, of course, a cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey. After a few hours’ rest, Saeed came and picked us up to take us to a lunch consisting of a traditional Jordanian dish – Maglouba, or “upside down meal”. There’s a particular serving trick of turning the meal over from the pan onto the plate so that the rice is on top of chicken and vegetables; served with salad and yoghurt. En route, he took us to a high viewpoint over Wadi Musa and Petra.

I think you can make out some details of the site, but I’m not sure.

The fissure in the middle is the Siq, and you can make out some other details of tombs, but I can’t be certain of what I’m looking at. Perhaps we’ll revisit the spot tomorrow, when the sun is more favourable, and be able to make out more.

Lunch was in a café/restaurant called TimeOut, in Tourism Street, Wadi Musa. It looks like a rather ordinary café from outside

But behind the café front there’s a rather fine dining room

where we had a rather fine meal. Yes, I have a photo. No you can’t see it.

And that was pretty much it for the day. Tomorrow we leave Petra for one of the other tourist tick boxes in Jordan, Wadi Rum. We’ll be staying in the nearest I will allow myself to approach camping, a geodesic-shaped luxury tent. According to the website, this will let me “wake up in the wild outdoors without compromising an ounce of luxury. Expect the same amenities and facilities as you would have in a top-class hotel.” I shall whinge ceaselessly if this has over-egged my expectations.

However, the luxury doesn’t extend to any form of online access, so I’ll be going radio silent for the next couple of days. However, please keep the faith and come back over the weekend to catch up with whatever adventures have befallen us come our way in our absence from the whirl of the world-wide web.

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