A June 1999 trip
to Petra by wanderluster
Quote: This journal focuses on the Petra section of our month long honeymoon to Egypt and Jordan. We stayed at a unique restored bedouin village while we explored the ancient ruins of Petra, hiking to high places, temples and tombs of forgotten people.
Today archeologists and bedouins co-exist harmoniously in this ancient city, while tourists explore beautiful facades, mysterious caves, and worn paths to high places. Hidden from the public by guarded bedouins for hundreds of years, much of Petra is undiscovered, as archeologists unearth new findings continually and predict that 75% of the ancient city has yet to be excavated.
Highlights for me included hikes to remote areas around Petra, including Al-Beidha, wandering around isolated places pondering the purpose of mysterious structures, the museum, and the conversations and interaction with the director and her archeological team from Brown University who were unearthing important revelations about the Great Temple. I thoroughly enjoyed being here, absorbing the history, fascinating assortment of architectural styles, and the natural beauty of the compelling sandstone mountains.
Top archeological sites:
1) The Great Temple south of the Colonnaded Street (1st century BC).
2) The Petra Church (5th century) likely contains the oldest Byzantine mosaics in the
world, amazingly preserved!
1) Al-Deir (The Monastery): It takes an hour to ascend this paved path, but the real fun
begins once you scamper up to the very top of the urn!
2) High Place of Sacrifice: An hour and a half steep climb leads to alters where animals were sacrificed.
3) Al-Beidha: Two hours by foot leads to a 9,000 year old village!
Taxis and free shuttles from hotels in Wadi Musa are widely available. We stayed at Taybet Zaman (a very cool place) where we had the option of riding a free shuttle that would deliver us to Petra at 9:00 in the morning and pick us up at 2:30 pm, or hiring a taxi one-way for JD4 ( US).
Once at Petra, tourists can easily walk the level entry passage and Siq leading to the sites, or riding a horse for JD10. Horse-drawn carriage rides are also available, costing JD20 for two passengers. Further inside the site, tired tourists can travel by donkey to the Monastery if a one hour hike is unappealing.
To reach Al-Beidha, you can walk two hours north of Petra, or hire a taxi to drive you there for JD7 round trip. Taxi drivers will wait for you as you walk around the site, generally taking an hour.
Taybet Zaman, now a five star hotel, is a restored bedouin village high on a hill overlooking desolate landscapes. Stone homes are connected by stone archways, walls, terraces and roads that wind through the complex in a maze-like manner.
Original inhabitants of this village were Nabataean people from western Arabia. They were nomadic farmers who collected sandstone blocks and rubble to build winter shelters for their families and animals. In the spring, they gathered their belongings and journeyed to better pastures, living in tents or caves until the cold forced them back to these permanent structures.
By mid-century, their dwellings contained two rooms–one for the animals and a second one for the families. Walls, constructed from sandstone, were two feet thick. There were no windows or running water. Families lived on yogurt, humus, figs, tomatoes, olives and bread. In 1950, there was pressure to move to more modern homes with more space for growing families, and by 1960 it was almost deserted as a living community.
In 1990, restorations began, employing many of the former residents. Investors gave priority to hiring bedouin locals, and ensured their success by sending young people for vocational training in Amman to learn all aspects of hotel operations. As a result, 125 of 171 employees yet today are local villagers.
All 105 rooms are original shelters with stone walls, floors and arches, decorated with local crafts. Windows and large tiled bathrooms have been added for modern convenience, while wonderful Dead Sea bath products add a touch of luxury.
Stone terraces and private nooks provide spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, while stone pathways weave under archways and through the tiered village to a Turkish bath, pool, recreation room, restaurant, bar, bakery or souk.
Sahtain restaurant serves all three meals buffet style in an intimate, exotic atmosphere, dimly lit with beautiful furnishings. Scrumptious food, impressively arranged, offers a taste of traditional Arabic mezzehs (appetizers) such as humus, tabbouleh, tahini, and main courses of kebabs, mensaf, musakhan and kofta. We stayed four nights and never had the same meal twice. Wonderful, delectable dishes!
Near the restaurant is the souk, an assortment of high quality shops where local artisans can be observed at work crafting pottery, clothing, hand-blown glass or jewelry. A large selection of spices and incense are also sold. We bought frankincense and myrrh! Shops are open till 11 pm.
Room rates range from $155 to $224 US per night double occupancy. A free shuttle bus leaves for Petra (10 km away) at 9am daily and returns at 3pm. Taxis cost JD4 ($7 US) for the twelve minute ride. Splurge and stay here while visiting Petra. You won't regret it. It was by far our favorite place to stay on our honeymoon...romantic, intriguing, historical and unique!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 13, 2002
Taybet Zaman Beduoin Village
10 km south of Petra
Attraction | "Petra's Hike to Monastery"
The hike to this monument took an hour each way. Although the path rises to an incredible vantage point over the Petra valley, the walk was easy. We followed the broad sandy (sometimes stone) path which gradually climbed up and around the mountain.
En route we passed the Lion Tomb where two lions are carved into the stone. A bedouin woman and her two children sat nestled in the shaded tomb, selling trinkets to passing tourists. Young boys rode by on donkeys, offering rides to the top for JD5 ($7 US). There was no need. Even a woman afflicted with cerebral palsy was able to hike the entire trail without assistance.
We met several people on this hike. Oddly enough, it was the first and only place during our month long honeymoon to Egypt and Jordan that we encountered other Americans.
Reaching the top of the mountain, we immediately saw the impressive two story Monastery with it's columns, capitals, windows and urn intricately carved out of the rock. Standing 45 meters tall, the gigantic facade dwarfed us. It's hard to visualize the sheer size of this structure from a photo, but the door alone was 26 feet tall! Inside was a plain single room.
Staring at this massive monument makes you wonder who on earth built it and why?
Originally Nabataeans, nomads from Southern Arabia, drifted to Petra in the 4th century BC. Gradually their mountain fortress became a trading station as caravans passed though, their safely promised in exchange for a hefty toll. Nabataeans prospered financially and architecturally as a result of the increased contact with the outside world. Greek, Roman and Assyrian designs influenced the constructions of their monuments. The Monastery, or Al Deir, is believed to be their temple, and was built on this high place for religious significance.
Feeling adventurous, I talked David and one of our new friends into hiking to the top of the urn. "Up there?" he asked, pointing to the tippy top of the monument, 45 meters from the ground. "Yup. Let's go!"
It took awhile to find the trailhead. Facing the monastery, it was to the right, up the hill until a rough staircase and dirt path led off to the left.
We followed this very steep trail and helped each other cross dangerous gaps in the rock as we climbed up, up, up, finally emerging onto the roof.
I wandered over to the edge, while David shouted out warnings. Looking down to the ground below, tourists appeared tiny in the distance. It was a cool vantage point. Mountains were everywhere...Wadi Araba between the Dead Sea and Red Sea, distant Sinai and Neger mountains in the west, and Jebal Herun, the mountain peak where Moses' brother Aaron is entombed, his white shrine visible.
Ancient City of Petra
Petra Gates To El Khasneh
Ma'an Governorate, Jordan
Attraction | "Exploring Al-Beidha or "Little Petra""
Prehistoric man who wandered through these sands were hunters and gatherers of wild plants. Early inhabitants who lived in these caves began to settle into a community, raising sheep and goats while tending to crops of wheat, barley, lentils, olives and dates. Later, in 3,000 BC, they began making pottery and burying their dead in rock cut tombs.
Nicknamed "Little Petra" the village resembles the original Petra, prior to Roman influenced architecture. A narrow valley winds through massive sandstone mountains where ancient homes are carved into the rock. At first glance, they appear to be tombs, but most in fact are residences with fireplaces, stairs and workshops.
Even in bright sunlight, these rock carved residences recede into shadows. A playground maze of confusing stairs cut into the rock connects these tiered shelters and begs exploration. Some of the stairs leading high up the mountain lead nowhere, not a shelter, plateau, or path. Others strangely stop abruptly 12 feet from the ground. Was the valley floor higher at one time? Were the stairs created in different time periods? What was the purpose of the stairs that led nowhere? What were their customs, beliefs, traditions? What was everyday life like for these people?
We walked and climbed around these rock sculptures, fascinated by the realization that this was once a living village housing hundreds of people. Now deserted, these empty homes and tombs seemed to whisper the secrets of these forgotten people. Living, healthy plants with profuse pink blossoms grew in contrast to the stark backdrop of the dark mountains, while local bedouins and their families picnicked inside the caves.
While small groups of locals visited inside the rocky caverns or relaxed on a high plateau, we were the only tourists exploring this sandy canyon that Friday. It was quiet, and intriguing. Toward the south end of Al-Beidha, two miniature replicas of Petra's Treasury and Monastery monuments exist, their facades sculpted into the base of the sandstone mountain. Nabataeans are credited for their creation, likely carved during in 6 AD, long after the Neolithic people disappeared.
Those who don't wish to walk can take a taxi from the entrance to Petra. For JD7 ($10 US) taxi drivers will take you there and back, and wait for you for about an hour while you walk through the canyon. Go! It is a beautiful place, peaceful, remote and mysterious!
Al Beidha (Little Petra)
North Of Petra
Attraction | "Petra's Siq"
Reaching the Siq, the path narrowed as it winded through towering sandstone mountains for half a mile. During the time of Christ, Nabataens built a grand triumphal archway that connected the two halves of the mountain at the entrance to the Siq, to prepare visitors for the cultural civilization that existed within that rocky perimeter. Since fallen from an earthquake that shook Petra in the 19th century, only remnants of the arch are visible on the sides of the entry. (Wonderful drawings from artist David Roberts in 1839 show what the arch originally looked like.)
As we continued along the Siq, the sandy path turned into pavement. At one time, the entire Siq was paved by brick although only a small section of original brick remains. Empty niches cut into the walls of the mountain were used to display figures of their god, Dushara, who was symbolized by sculpted rock. Carved alters and strange stone staircases that ended five feet from the ground decorated the sandstone walls, colored in swirled lines of red, black, yellow, white and beige. Rickety horse-drawn carriages carrying elderly tourists rambled past us as we walked along the brick path, admiring ancient water channels cut into the rock.
These water channels, chiseled into the rock by the Nabataeans 2,000 years ago, follow the roadway on the left, while original terra cotta pipe that carried water from Moses' well in Wadi Musa can be seen on the right. Both provided a vivid, visual reminder of why these people likely prospered in such a desolate land. They were able to collect rain water, pipe it, store it, and conserve it in an elaborate hydraulic system that provided adequate water for 30,000 people and protected their civilization from drought. Mastering their water supply was a great engineering feat considering that the desert only received six inches of rain a year.
Near the end of the Siq, the mountains close in on each other, their dark walls contrasting dramatically against a magnificent pink two story building that became suddenly visible through a cleft in the mountains as we rounded the last bend...beautiful, surprising and breathtaking! Visions of Indiana Jones and scenes from his movie, The Last Crusade were inescapable.
Stepping out of the Siq, the Treasury majestically came into full view. We had arrived in the ancient city of Petra.
Petra: The Siq
Entry Hike Into Petra
Attraction | "Petra's Amphitheatre"
Even today the incredible ruins exude a certain drama as the grandstand surrounding the stage is accentuated by mysterious dark caves and tombs.
Constructed out of rock, this outdoor theatre held 8,000 patrons in seats chiseled from stone. Long staircases cut into the pink sandstone led to the forty rows. Climbing them proved difficult in places, as the stone was badly eroded, leaving smoothed edges instead of steps. Seats in the nose bleed section were practically nonexistent, as one could slide right down to the next tier on worn waves in the stone. The stadium was massive. I can only imagine the boisterous crowds that would thunder their approval or distaste at the end of an entertaining theatrical production.
The stage had an orchestra pit that measured 125 feet across, and a four foot high stage where the plays were performed. The stage was constructed in classical form, with three entrances onto the stage. Common plays viewed during that time included tragedies and comedies by Greek playwrights Sophocles, Euscleyes, and Aeschylus. Leaders of Petra also used the stage to make important speeches.
Under the stage were dressing rooms and a slot for the curtain to be lowered into at the beginning of a performance. There were water channels dug into the rock to drain rain from the theatre.
Archeologists believe that although the theatre's design is Roman, it was the Nabataeans who built it around the time of Christ. Romans tried to exert their control over the Nabataeans in 63 AD, but King Aretas III managed to retain his independence by paying fees and pacifying Pompey by adopting Roman designs which influenced the buildings constructed during this time.
When the Romans defeated the Nabataeans in 106 AD, they rebuilt the outer wall of the theatre, added Roman columns to the stage, displayed marble statues in niches, and expanded the seating to the current number of 8,000. During excavations, complete statues of Hercules and Aphrodite were discovered in 1961 under the stage.
Petra officially closes at 6 pm. There are no nightly sound and light shows performed here, such as those seen at the pyramids or temples in Egypt. But what about holding one-acts plays or classical music concerts here? Seems like a good idea to me...
Attraction | "Hiking to Petra's High Place of Sacrifice"
We accessed the trail between the Treasury and the Roman Theatre, climbing jagged stairs cut into mountain rock. Many of the steps near the top were badly eroded, their edges worn and smooth. Although we ascended the stairs for nearly an hour, the path didn't seem that steep (climbing Mt. Sinai was much more difficult). But the intensity of the sun did make us stop to quiet the pounding of our hearts.
Hiking on a hot day makes it hard to visualize the ancient religious processions that took place here at night. Nabataean priests silently led commoners up the steep trail in the dark, burning incense and playing weird music to commune with the gods. That was the purpose of this place, to perform religious rituals, and make sacrifices to their gods.
When we reached to very top of the stairs, the sacrificial area was not immediately visible. To the left were a couple of obelisks dedicated to Nabataean gods. To the right was another peak with a rocky path leading to the two alters at the edge of the mountain.
The Circular stone alter was used for killing the animals, allowing blood to drain down a carved channel, while the priest cleansed his hands in the cistern cut into the rock. The High Alter, a few feet to the right, was where the actual burning and offering of sacrifices took place. Seeing the sacrificial alters enlivened Old Testament stories remembered from my youth. The fuzzy story of Issac came to mind, a man who prepared to sacrifice his own son at God's command until God saw that he was obedient and provided a lamb to be sacrificed instead.
The alters are 3.400 feet high. Near the alters was a large platform made from stone. This is where the commoners sat to watch the sacrifices and partake in the ceremonies. The views from this high place were spectacular, as we could see the entire valley of Petra.
Exiting the high place, we turned right instead of left, choosing a different trail that would bring us to Wadi Farasa. A bedouin woman graciously pointed out the trailhead, and we began our descent. It was a bit tricky as the obscure path was unmarked in several places. A series of stacked rocks periodically acknowledged that we were on the right track. We passed the Lion Monument, almost unrecognizable from erosion, then lost the path altogether. We followed a sandy path that led nowhere, except to a large cave apparently used as a bedouin garage, as two trucks were inside. After two more dead-ends, we rambled down the mountain over loose rocks and sand and emerged on level ground near the Colonnaded Street.
Attraction | "Petra's Great Temple"
"Where's the Holy of Holies?" I asked David, perplexed. A woman overheard me and came running toward us. "Great question!" she exclaimed, eagerly informing us of how her team had uncovered things that would lead them to believe it wasn't a temple after all, but rather an administrative center. She introduced herself as Martha Joukowsky, the director of Brown University's archeological team who had devoted seven years to the project thus far.
Martha pointed out a wall covered in mud that exemplified what the temple walls had originally looked like before their excavations had begun. She excitedly showed us all over the site, telling us details about the theatre, water channels below the floors, and the uncovered friezes of blue, red and yellow faintly visible on the walls. Her husband was busy excavating one of the hundred columns, originally stuccoed in red and white colors. There were massive stairs on each side toward the back, which were partially covered in sand.
Ornate limestone capitals fell from their grand columns during earthquakes in 363 and 551 AD, which caused most of Petra to collapse. A flash flood in the 19th century covered much of the ruins in sand and mud. Excavations have taken place at a few of the sites, although most of Petra (some say 99%) has yet to be rediscovered.
So far the excavations at the Great Temple had resulted in finding coins, Roman glass, figurines, limestone friezes, ceramics, Nabataean bowls, juglets, limestone capitals and floral friezes. Many of these items can be seen in the small museum located near the Forum Restaurant, toward the north end of the Colonnaded Street.
The elaborate floral friezes and acanthus capitals lead the archeologists to believe that the structure was built by Nabataeans in the 1st century BC and was used until the 5th century AD. The theatre, discovered in 1997, has been excavated to reveal six hundred seats in the administrative center's council chamber.
A handful of graduate students working along with local bedouin workers, stopped to talk with us about the project as we wandered through. It was exciting to interact with the team and hear about the latest discoveries from such enthusiastic voices. It was an unexpected surprise, and made me acutely aware of the important work that is currently being done on a vast historic site that has yet to be fully rediscovered.
For more information on this site visit
Attraction | "Petra's Byzantine Church"
Located northeast of the Colonnaded Street up on a hill, it is a site not commonly explored. The archeologist at the Great Temple told us to visit, and I'm so glad she did. It was a gem! (We were surprised to see so many pottery shards underfoot, including a clay handle from a pot, as we walked to this site.)
When it was built in the 5th century, the church originally had four limestone columns supporting a second story over the baptismal area, and a roof over the church. When Kenneth Russell discovered it in 1973, earthquakes had destroyed the second story, the roof and the columns. His archeological team excavated the church from 1992-1998, unearthing and reassembling beautifully preserved mosaics, the baptismal, and the marble floor. Archeologists believe that these may be the oldest Byzantine mosaics ever discovered. A large number of Greek and Arabic papyrus scrolls were also found on this site back in 1993, documents that recorded real estate transactions, marriages, dowries, inheritances, and divisions of property.
Inside the church are two side aisles which are paved with 70 meters of mosaics, depicting animals from Noah's Ark, humans, professions, the four seasons, mythological animals, and personifications of the ocean, earth and wisdom. The first mosaics to the right are the oldest in the church. Thankfully, these mosaics are fenced off to prevent further damage from tourist's tramples. Above, the roof has not been replaced, but a temporary metal tent top has been erected to protect the interior from the elements.
The floor mosaics symbolized God's earthly domain, illustrating how the seasons rule over time. Birds drinking from a vase symbolized mankind drawing strength from Christ. Wall mosaics, largely destroyed, symbolized God's heavenly domain with pictures of Christ, Mary and the saints.
Aside from the main sanctuary, there was a baptismal in the atrium. This baptismal was constructed out of rock, it's basin sunk into a squared platform bordered by four columns. Mosaic tiles of animals decorate the floor.
Inside the rectangular room is the large rock from which the water gushed forth thousands of years ago. Today bricks have been built around it, and around most of the spring, allowing easier access to the water. Walking across the brick floor, you can watch the water flow through the center of the room and out the building. In the middle of the room is an eight foot wide well where you can dip into the spring and drink the water.
Our guide insisted that the water was safe to drink, and proceeded to pour out our bottled water to fill it with Moses' well water. I knelt down near the mouth of the spring coming from the rock, cupped my hand into the water, and drank. It tasted cool, clean and refreshing.
But unfortunately it wasn't as safe as I'd hoped. Within a couple of days I was sick for the rest of the trip (and a couple of weeks back in the states...despite a double dose of antibiotics). Although tempting, don't drink the water!
Ain Musa is a perpetual spring, and was channeled by Nabataeans all the way to Petra, five kilometers away. The water channels that carried this spring water to the Nabataean capital are first seen in the Siq, along the canyon walls.
After visiting Ain Musa, our guide drove us to another water supply near Al-Beidha. We parked at the base of a large sandstone mountain and saw a small opening about fifteen feet up the side of the rock. Modern cement stairs accessed the small four foot hole. Donkeys, sheep and goats greeted us as we climbed the steps. Peering inside the dark cave, a huge hole, enormous and deep, became visible. Water was somewhere at the bottom of this massive cistern. I couldn't see the water, but could hear sounds down below.
Suddenly a bedouin woman appeared from the depths, precariously balancing herself against slippery surfaces as she struggled to climb to the top, her newly acquired water splashing out of plastic gasoline jugs as she ascended. The look of surprise and alarm must've shown on my face, because she laughed when she saw me. I watched in amazement at the effort involved in gathering water for her family...foremost climbing into that dangerous cistern, then fetching water in plastic gasoline jugs before transferring the water into capped containers, and loading the water onto donkeys before walking who knows how far to her home or village. I was full of questions but had no way of asking as our communication was limited to facial expressions and gestures. I pondered the everyday life of this bedouin woman, unchanged for centuries, and couldn't help but have respect and admiration for her.