The mysteries of the ancient world have always beckoned me like a life-force inextricably pulling me toward them…
With Sami playing in the Maccabiah Games in Israel it was an opportunity too good to pass up, not only to watch her play for her country but also to spend some time discovering some of these mysteries.
Once I got her game schedule I was able to plan a day trip to the ancient city of Petra. Although the logistics of getting across the frontier from Israel into Jordan was a little daunting, I decided rather than to do it single handedly I’d go with an organized tour group. Yeah, not normally my style…
From Tel Aviv, Eilat is a 50 minute flight south and situated on the Red Sea. Our tour would then cross the border at Aqabar into Jordan and then from there drive the 2.5 drive north into the desert to modern day Petra.
Keeping your hydration and energy up were going to be the most important thing, especially since I was making the trek in the middle of the summer.
As with all day trips it was an early start having to be at the airport for 5:00 am. Fortunately the tour was flying out of the domestic airport close to the city (Sde.Dove airport). It was a quick 15 min taxi ride from the hotel, but as usual security was extremely thorough, although to be honest everywhere you go in Israel the security is super tight…which is totally understandable.
The first question you’re asked, even before you enter the terminal or get to the security checkpoint is “are you carrying a weapon?” Coming from Canada this is a little disconcerting, but where ever you are in Israel there are soldiers and police with automatic weapons everywhere you go, and they have no issue with surrounding you and asking questions.
Once you get past the front door then it’s onto next security check – no one is exempt from this second security screening by the way. The questions are a mix of the usual, name, date of birth, country of origin etc. However, what stumped every one of them was “where is Clunes?” And why were you born in Australia but live in Canada?
They were genuinely perplexed!
After arriving into Eilat, our tour guide met our group and put us on the right bus, which is sort of important given that there were a number of tours leaving all leaving at one time and could easily be confused. The drive from the airport in Eilat to the Jordanian frontier is only 5 minutes and thats on a slow day…
We arrived at the border crossing around 8:30 AM and with not another soul in sight we literally paid our entry visa fee and were shepherded through the Israeli border checkpoint and found ourselves confronted with about a 400 meter walk across no-man’s land to the Jordanian side. Nothing but a road fenced with high barbed wire…just like in a movie.
It was already baking hot with the temperature hovering in the mid 30’s and with the ambient heat rising off the road ahead of us providing a shimmering heat mirage – nice touch! 🙂
Once on the Jordanian side of the border and we were again duly questioned and checked, our entry visa paid (yes, you pay twice…) and were then put on a bus for our drive to Petra. If you’ve seen the movie Martian, then you’ve seen the landscape in Jordan (no seriously that’s where they filmed it). Not a tree to be seen for as far as the eye can see, nothing but mountains and stoney desert.
After a bio break midway into our journey, the drive saw us rise up into the mountains to over 3500 feet above sea level, before weaving our way through some pretty rugged country and then finally winding our way down into a valley to the modern-day town of Petra.
Like many of the villages in Jordan it was a hodgepodge of old and new dwellings often jumbled together.
The ancient city of Petra entrance is almost like an amusement park entrance, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but tourism is tourism no matter where you are in the world I guess…
Our guide Naczar explained that it was about a 2 km walk down a slight grade into the ancient city, it was incredibly hot as we walked along the dusty gravel road down into the gorge, sweat dripping from every pore in my body in the baking sun.
We stopped a couple of times on our walk, although not far in distance with the hot still air and the large age gap in the people on our tour it made for a slow and often laborious hike. About half way into our hike we entered the narrow gorge system that led into the ancient city.
The first thing you see between the towering cliffs is a small snippet of the hand carved building, before it opens up to a large open gorge. The Treasury building is across from the narrow entrance and is simply awe inspiring! (see above – note the scale with the camel…yep its enormous!)
Standing at the bottom looking directly up takes your breath away…not only because of the sheer size and scale of this architectural beauty but also by the intricacies of the craftsmanship created over 2000 years ago and still on display to this day.
Today given the volume of tourists visiting the sight you’re unable to go inside the chamber, but merely stand outside in awe.
Our guide explained how they carved this truly incredible building. The first thing was to carve out the rooms from the sandstone cliffs. Then, once this was complete they then brought in sand from the desert, remember they had no wood nor scaffolding to begin carving this enormous structure so they filled the gorge with sand, pushing it to the top of the cliff, then the artisans and craftsman began working on the carving, slowly pushing the sand away as they went.
The carving itself took ten years to complete…yes, ten years of painstaking and meticulous carving by what I would imagine was a large group of artisans. The Treasury building is the best-known building in Petra (thank you Indiana Jones!), but far from the most impressive. The ancient city is only 55% excavated, and for as far as you can see around the mountainous gorges they are covered in palaces, homes and tombs all carved meticulously from the ancient sandstone cliffs. It must have taken thousands of workers and hundreds of years to carve this city.
However, just when you thought you couldn’t be surprised by the beauty of Petra just a short walk away are the Royal Tombs…
Now that is breathtaking!
By the time we returned to Aqabar the sun had already set (around 7:30 pm) but the temperature was still over the 40C mark and with not a breath of wind with like walking into a blast furnace as we walked the 400 meters back the Israeli border crossing.
I finally made it back to my hotel in Tel Aviv at 11:00 pm that night after a long and satisfying day discovering and quenching my love of ancient history. Petra had always been high on my list of places that I’d wanted to visit but my tour of Petra even surpassed my greatest expectations – by a long way.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit it’s an absolute must see!