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From the Bucket List: Petra

April 22, 2017

There’s an unforgettable scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (or maybe it was the Last Crusade), where Indiana Jones is tearing through Petra’s siq on his horse, pursued by bad guys, leaning sharply to avoid decapitating himself on the sharp rock walls. That came back to me as we strolled about three quarters of a mile from the siq entrance to the Treasury,  the most famous structure in the ancient city. Suspense built as we made our way, but there are so many remarkable rock formations to photograph and minor monuments to discover that we were in no rush.

Before we even got to the siq entrance we could see evidence of the geological forces that formed this landscape millions of years ago, and the tombs carved into the rocks.

The Nabateans, a nomadic tribe of traders, began building Petra in the sixth century B.C., and it was home to 30,000 people at its height around the time of Jesus. They were sophisticated builders who constructed dams, cisterns and a system of conduits to manage water, creating an artificial oasis in the desert. The Romans conquered the Nabateans early in the second century A.D., and after major earthquakes in the fourth and sixth centuries damaged much of the city, it was abandoned until a British archaeologist “rediscovered” it in the early 1800s. Excavation began in earnest in 1929 and continues non-stop till this day. Tombs beneath the Treasury were discovered as recently as 2003.

As we entered the cool shade of the siq, the rock walls rose over 600 feet above and channeled us along the path. Fortunately, no one in our group was claustrophobic!


At some points, the siq narrows to about six feet, and as we drew closer to the Treasury I caught this first glimpse of what lay ahead.


The Treasury overlooks an expansive plaza, where young Bedouin boys hawk donkey and camel rides and “genuine” silver jewelry. A market area opposite the monument is comprised of souvenir shops and refreshment stands, and proudly proclaims it’s connected.

But the centerpiece is the Treasury.



Petra became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985. In preparation for that, the Bedouin who were living in caves and on the ledges were relocated to more traditional homes or apartments. We met a woman from New Zealand, Marguerite van Geldermalsen, who, after backpacking there with a college friend in the late 70s, met and married a Bedouin man, Mohammed Abdullah, and raised their three children in a cave until the relocation. Today she has a shop on one of the ledges and sells lovely silver jewelry made by local women. Her memoir, Married to a Bedouin, is a fascinating account of building a family in a totally unfamiliar culture, language and geography.

Next time: Beyond the Treasury.

From → Jordan, Uncategorized

  1. Marlo Quick permalink

    Just magnificent! The site and your photos.

  2. One of our favorite sites by far! Wonderful pics Diana!!

  3. Katherine Matheson permalink

    It was the Last Crusade!

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