Jordan 1974 part 5 – a visit to Petra
One day, when I was occupied at the Jordan Television station (where was advising them on film production), it was suggested to my wife Janet that she might like to visit the Dead Sea. She went by taxi which she shared with an American who was staying at the Hilton. She saw the Sea and all the surrounding country. It was another memorable day out, but more memorable for the fact that when she got back to the hotel, she gave the taxi driver a generous tip and the American gave him nothing.
When I had done all I could at the Television Station, Janet and I were offered a short holiday down south. We were driven first to Petra.
John William Burgon‘s Poem “Petra”. refers to it as the inaccessible city which he had heard described but had never seen. It was written in 1845:
It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour 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that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;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.
A Rose-red city half as old as time. It certainly looked like it. When we went there in July 1974, it had had, comparatively, few visitors since it was discovered by Burkhardt in 1812. Annually, no more than a hundred people would go there. Today, it is a World Heritage Site and was listed by the BBC as “a place to see before you die”. Well we have seen it.
When one approached the entrance, the rock face rose some three hundred feet, almost straight up. The entrance was no more than eight feet wide. There was the remnants of an ancient archway which was called Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian had been in the area around 120 AD and was the same man who built the wall in the north of England.
I found an etching of the Arch from a drawing of the mid nineteenth century. It showed the arch with only a few pieces missing, so that the bulk of the damage had occurred in the following hundred years.
At this site, the Romans were thwarted by the Nabbateans when they tried to gain entry to occupy the city which had risen inside the rocky surroundings.
Here, also, the Bible tells of Moses leading the Israelites who also wished to enter, and occupy the city. They were thirsty in a terrain that appeared to have no water. The Nabbateans would not let them in, fearing that they might be overcome. How wise they were. Moses struck the ground outside the entrance to Petra and water emerged from the ground. It is now known as “The Spring of Moses”. (But I did not see any water there)
From the entrance there is an alleyway called the Siq which winds down towards the outer edges of the city. It is possible to ride a horse down this Siq and our guides did just that. We walked. Sometimes the alleyway narrowed, so that a horse rider could barely pass through. No wonder the Romans took so long to invade the city. It did not matter how many legions they had outside the city, only a handful of men could attack the entrance and only a handful of men were needed to defend it. Scaling the rocks was impossible, even for the Romans.
The Siq runs for about a quarter of a mile and opens out into a circular space, about twice the size of a tennis court. Facing the visitor is a building that looks Roman in design. It is called “The Treasury” because, I was told, there is a large pot over the central portico which resembles an ancient money pot. Behind the Treasury, and to one side, there is a pathway that leads to the rest of the city. Inside is the wonder of the place. Houses and temples carved out of the rock, an amphitheatre and various accommodations. The Treasury, as I have said, resembled a Roman building.
Some of the locals, having been told that the city was carved out of the rocks, believed that the face of The Treasury was also carved out or rock. I do not believe so, I think the Romans built the façade on the outside of an existing excavation as I believe they also did with the El Deir, also known as “the Monastery”. Both had columns which looked like they had been added, rather than carved out of the solid stone.
We did not go very far into the interior, Janet was becoming exhausted and when we finally got outside the city, she had to sit down for quite some time to recover.
Additional links: Jordan 1974 part 1 – A journey into the unknown
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