Thursday, November 2, 2023

Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (and Indiana Jones locale)

Part of a seriesMiddle East, October 2023:

This masterpiece, Al Khazna (AKA the Treasury), is a stone-cut temple near the entrance of Petra, a onetime capital city winding among rock cliffs of Jordan. 

When it appeared in the climactic scene of the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, many Americans had no idea what it was.

But that first impression was built to last.

On 10/13/23, I got to visit Petra, and it instantly assumed the number 3 spot on my list of most stunning sites I’ve seen in real life (following Easter Island and Machu Picchu). *

It’s my fourth of the New Seven Wonders of the World (following the Colosseum in 1993, the Taj Mahal in 2015, and Machu Picchu in 2018).

The date of construction is uncertain. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, which flourished in the first centuries BCE and CE. 

The site opens at 6 am, so I got there at 5:59 am—and was about tenth in line. 

Petra is more than the iconic Treasury that welcomes you to the site. It’s an assortment of ancient temples, tombs, and other structures, some built into cliff faces. The bookend attraction is Ad Deir (AKA the Monastery), which resembles a wider variation of the Treasury. (The walk from the entrance to the Treasury is approximately 1 mile, Treasury to the base of the steps to the Monastery approximately 2 miles, and steps to the Monastery: 800. Then you have to walk back.)

Some recommended that I enter at the back of Petra, which involves boarding a truck for about 20 minutes to a point where you start walking to the Monastery. An upside: you would then walk from the Monastery to the Treasury and out—in other words, downhill and one way. A downside: by the time you get to the Treasury, it will be mobbed with tourists and camels—nearly impossible to get a solo photo. 

So I did not do that. I started at the start, walked all the way from the Treasury to the Monastery, then doubled back. I arrived at the Monastery at 8:15 am and arrived back at the Treasury at 11 am. It’s a better workout, plus you see everything along the trail twice, from a different angle and in different light. You also notice things you didn’t the first time.

An American who grew up in Jordan and attended ACS told me that the school used to take students on camping trips in Petra before it was a heritage site. No guards, no tourists, no merchants. The kids were given free rein to set up their sleeping bag in whatever cave they wanted. Some got too bold, went a bit too far, got scared, and relocated closer to others.

Highlights of my visit to Petra:

surely an authorized use of Harrison Fords likeness 
and the IP “Indiana Jones”

The Siq
(gorge that leads you into Petra proper)

I arrived even before the camels,
but just barely.

Not only my first time at Petra but also
my first cargo pants!

the Royal Tombs

“big sale”

the Monastery largely to myself

Across a sand plaza, facing the Monastery, are shops.
I am assuming this boy is the child of one of the employees.

Visitors willing to climb have multiple options for 
vantages like this...

...and this.

A visitor facing a formidable ravine (and Israel).

This Bedouin, who called himself “Arab Jack Sparrow,” lives in an open-air house in Petra, overlooking the ravine shown immediately above. He kindly lets tourists into his home throughout the day and offers drinks and trinkets for sale. He says he can get a cell signal from Israel and has wifi in a nearby cave, where he also retreats during inclement weather.

his house

admiring someone admiring the view

Zoom in to see the start of the 800 steps to
the Monastery.

This is 11 am and this is why you want 
to get to the Treasury first thing.

what I brought to Petra in my new desert cargo pants
(except the water bottle, which I held)

my steps after Petra...
but see also my steps for the day

As I politely declined purchasing anything in a particular, the merchant popped her head out as I walked on and said “Good when you smile.” It was so sweet but also sad because it suggested that many others don’t smile when they pass—and some surely don’t acknowledge her at all. I asked if I could take this picture and she said yes...with a smile.

* My personal list of New Seven Wonders (considering only places I’ve been):

  1. Easter Island (Chile, South America/Polynesia)
  2. Machu Picchu (Peru, South America)
  3. Petra (Jordan, Asia/Middle East)
  4. Taj Mahal (India, Asia)
  5. Colosseum (Italy, Europe)
  6. Stonehenge (United Kingdom, Europe)
  7. Angkor Wat (Cambodia, Asia)

Soon after noon, I went two hours south to Wadi Rum and had my second epic experience of the day touring the sweeping desert.

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