The story of Petra

Our third of three “Fun” Times tour, we were skeptical yet hopeful for the start of our two-day Jordan tour under their questionably capable hands. Our plans were to go see Petra and Wadi Rum, the two most famous tourist attractions in Jordan.

A rocky start to the day

After realizing we were a group of over 250 people, we predicted the trouble ahead, as we had been well-groomed by this company to expect large crowds and poor planning. After being dropped off at the border at 8:30am, we were ushered through Israeli security fairly quickly. It was in no man’s land that we sat for hours. First priority was given to the one-day tour as they had to be back at the border later that day.

Two and a half hours later, it was finally our turn. It was just shy of 11:30am before we set off in our trusty bus with our trusty tour guide talking us through the schedule of events. Lunch would be at 4:30pm and we’d have “plenty of time” to visit Petra.

The wonder of the “Lost City”

We arrived at Petra much later than expected and were rushed through the winding rock caverns to the illustrious Treasury, the iconic building that defines the city today. Said to be “lost” for hundreds of years, our tour guide told us that Jordanians scoff at that statement. The city was never lost in their eyes.

 

Once a trading center, Petra was created by the Nabataeans, an Arabic nomadic kingdom that reigned in Jordan during the third century BC. A Bedouin tribe of nomads that moved through the Arabian Desert wherever they could find food and water, they built their capital, Raqmu, in the center of the most important trading routes at the time.

At its peak, the city was inhabited by 20,000 citizens. Little is known about these people and how they lived, so your imagination will have to take over. What is known is that their religion mirrored those of the Romans and the Greeks.

Al-Khazneh, the Treasury, is said to have been built as a tomb for their king. Its name, Treasury, comes from a legend that outlaws hid their loot in the stone urn on the second level. The sandstone urn has been riddled with bullets because of this lore. Alas, thieves were all disappointed as the urn was and always will be solid. Another popular theory is the building served as a treasury for the Egyptian Pharaoh.

The significance of this place isn’t just captured by its beautiful carved buildings. Its water management system was also way ahead of its time. The Nabataeans created an artificial oasis in the middle of a desert. Flash floods have always been and still remain a problem in this area. The Nabataeans controlled the floods with homemade dams, cisterns, and conduits.

Conquered by the Romans in AD 106, the city dwindled in importance as the years wore on as earthquakes and floods left the city in ruins.

Taking a moment to relish the moment

Despite the chaotic nature of the tour, I took a moment before turning the corner to find the treasure of the Lost City. If you have the opportunity to visit Petra, do this. Breathe. Take it in. Savor the moment.

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a glimpse of the Treasury

Stepping around the corner, craning my neck, I saw a sliver of the Treasury through the narrowed rock walls. Carved into rose-colored rock, the Treasury dwarfs everything in sight with its sweeping pillars and massive carvings.

The details have eroded away, but it does not take away from its dominating presence. In fact, those imperfections are what make it special. Sandstone is a soft rock easily affected by the winds. It’s almost as if you’re seeing this place frozen in time, just for that moment, before it continues on its seemingly infinite lifespan. It’s seen more before I arrived, and it’ll see much more after I’ve left.

 

We marveled at the beauty of the Treasury before moving onward to explore the rest of the city. Down the path the city opened up to showcase a huge area containing the real heart of the city. While we didn’t have ample time to explore, the impression of this city left its mark. And the craziest part is that it’s said 85 percent of the city remains underground. What’s left to be discovered is, again, left to the imagination.

Tourism’s impact

The magic of the moment was stained by the hordes of people and the rushed nature of the tour. Surrounded by tourists and hawkers dressed like pirates trying to squeeze an extra dollar took me away from the majesty of the moment.

Tourism has also taken its toll on this place. Hotels, souvenir shops, donkey rentals, hagglers are all working to hook their next victim. Flash floods are a huge problem, when just days earlier a rainfall almost closed down the place. Earlier in the month, over a dozen tourists died in a flash flood. Humidity and oils from the mass crowds are starting to affect the rock itself, leaving holes and unnatural stains that destroy its integrity.

Another world wonder off the list

The rest of the day was not nearly as noteworthy, but this exhausting day will forever stay in my memory. As chaotic, disappointing, and exhilarating this day was, it remains a dream come true. Petra is one of the world wonders I’ve been meaning to cross off my list. This silly list of world wonders my sister and I put together years ago were these foreign places with little meaning behind the stunning photographs we’d seen.

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lookout point above Petra

Now having seen five of the original seven, I’ve come to respect the meaning and history behind these places that keep them so beloved by so many people. It’s truly awe-inspiring to witness these different parts of history and be a part of their new history moving forward.

And for the record, I am now tied with Sophie in our race around the world.

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