Posted by: lifeinthelevant | May 4, 2009

Visting Jordan – Part 2 – Petra

Man, have I been lazy! It’s been a month since my last post and high time that I published Visiting Jordan – Part 2. The last post left me overlooking the Nabatean city of Petra – so, let’s make some progress there and actually visit!

Petra was once the capital of ancient Edom – descendants of the biblical Esau. But during the Babylonian exile starting in 586 BC as the southern kingdom entered captivity, the Edomites began trickling into Judah. This left Petra open to occupation by the surrounding Nabatean tribes that slowly began occupying the formerly Edomite territories. By the first century BC they had made Petra their capital and carved most of the rose red city you see today directly into the surrounding mountains!

Here are some of the most photographed structures in Petra: (The Treasury, The Monastery, and The Theater – click to supersize)

The Treasury

The Monastery

The Theater

There’s something remarkably serene about Petra – maybe it’s the calming effect of the dull reddish hue all around you or the stillness of the desert. The structures are indeed magnificent and it’s amazing to see the level of artistic detail that survives even two millennia after they were carved. This is in spite of their being fully exposed to the elements. Put it’s grandeur, serenity and antiquity together and you can begin to see what so inspired John William Burgon to pen his famous poem on Petra:

It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labor wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.

Petra EntranceIf you were looking to pick a city as your capital, there’s yet another reason to pick Petra – it’s virtually impregnable! You enter the city after walking through narrow mountain gorges where you can barely have two people walk abreast in some places – kinda tough to march an invading army through. Add to that the tricky terrain and vertical rock faces all around from atop which stones could be thrown at you and it’s easy to see why this city wouldn’t need a large defense budget.

What you see on the left is the entrance to the city!

The only downer with Petra is that after all the grandeur and glory on the outside it’s disappointingly sparse and empty on the inside – a metaphor for all kinds of things I’m sure!! The interiors are usually just giant halls without any divisions into rooms or corridors or any other obviously livable structures. On a pragmatic level this made sense to me. The Nabatean cities were strategically placed to control the trade routes across the desert and profit off the merchants traversing these routes. So, it seems important for them to have built an impressive looking city on the outside – which would be all that most pass-through merchants would ever see – but it would have been a tremendous effort with little reward to do something similar on the inside. Feel free to shoot this theory down or suggest another!

A note to future travelers: Don’t opt for the horse-cart rides if you visit Petra. Most of Petra is very rocky and you’ll be tossed around the cart like a bag of rocks in a cement mixer! It’s a lot more relaxing to use your own two feet and just observe the sheer look of terror in the eyes of the cart-riders as they rock on by 😉

And this brings us to the end of the post on Petra. The next post should be a little write up on living the Bedouin life in Wadi Rum near the Saudi-Jordan border.

Thanks for reading!



  1. The pictures were amazing, and I’m glad you had the camels in the foreground to get an idea of size! Your write-up was tempting enough to consider visiting; keep blogging regularly enough, you never know who you may run into!!

    Take care, and be safe!

  2. The Treasury reminds me of a scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies! Wonderful pictures…. next best thing to being there in person. Thanks for posting.

    • That’s exactly right! A few scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (’89) were shot in front of the Treasury.

  3. Beautiful. Waiting for your next update.


  4. It’s been a little while since you posted about life in the Levant–inquiring minds want to know what is happening!

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