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الأردنّ (Jordan) - Magnificent Petra

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Travel pictures from Jordan

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn

Itinerary

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From 3 - 19 February 2006 I visited Jordan on a combined Jordan/ Egypt tour, organized by Overseas Adventure Travel. I was supposed to arrive on 1 February, but my flight from Boston to New York JFK was cancelled. The next flight was delayed, so I missed my flight from JFK to Cairo. I ended up staying in New York City for two days, since Egypt Air flies only every other day. I missed part of the Jordan trip, visits to the Dead Sea and Greek and Roman settlements in Jordan. Fortunately the visit to Petra started the morning after I arrived, so I didn't miss the visit to the most important site in Jordan. After Petra we visited Wadi Ram (often spelled Wadi Rum for English speakers, since Ram is pronounced like the English word Rum, just with a longer vowel) and then flew to Cairo for the Egypt part of the trip.

Security was tight everywhere. Every hotel has a metal detector in the entrance, and bags are searched frequently. I didn't feel uncomfortable with all the security, it hopefully helps to deter terrorists.

Much of Jordan is desert. All farmland must be irrigated, at least in the parts of Jordan that I saw. The weather was actually quite cold, the temperatures at night close to freezing, and during the day only around 5°C (41°F). Only rarely did they reach 10°C (50°F).

The food was very good. You usually get an assortment of salad-style dishes first, then an assortment of main dishes with chicken, beef, and fish. Deserts are usually very sweet. Hotel bars serve alcohol. Because of my delay in getting to Jordan, I didn't have any time in Amman, so I don't know whether there are regular bars (other than hotel bars) in Amman. For the same reason I don't know what the traffic situation is in Amman (I arrived late at night, and left Amman early next morning).

People seemed friendly, but because of my lack of free time in Amman, I can't say much more than that.

According to our guide, the education system in Jordan is very good. Education is free and according to our guide, more than 50% of the people go on to the university. The health care system is also very good, with basic health care free for all Jordanians.

I joined the tour on the morning of the third day. We left Amman and drove south on the King's Highway. Our first stop was Mount Nebo. It is known as the burial place of Moses. Early Christians had built the Church of Moses here. In the 6th century CE it was expanded into the largest monastery complex in the Middle East. There are exceptional floor mosaic in the church at Mt. Nebo. From there we went to Madaba to visit St. George's Church. It too has an exceptional floor mosaic. This mosaic is a map of the surrounding area with the Dead Sea and the Jordan River. This is the oldest existing map of this area. The next stop was at an overlook with a view of a reservoir in the Jordan River valley. The valley there was called Arnon's Valley in the bible. It is a very scenic location. From there we drove to Petra. We stayed in a hotel in modern Petra for two nights.

The ancient city of Petra was build by the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans were a nomadic tribe that settled in the area around the 6th century BCE. They were essentially highway robbers. They became rich by first plundering and then taxing the important trade routes through the area, the most lucrative trade being in frankincense. They managed to exert massive influence on the Middle East, not through conquests but through commercial power.

The construction of the Nabataean part of Petra is majestic. The huge temples and tombs are carved directly out of solid rock, not constructed by piling stones on top of each other. It is fantastic to see these buildings.

The Nabataeans were a thorn in the hide of the Romans. Eventually the Romans got fed up with the Nabataeans. Since Petra is in an enclosed valley, access is only possible through a very narrow gorge, As-Siq. That gorge is up to 200 m (660 ft) deep and as narrow as 2 m (7 ft). This gorge was easily defended, so conquest of Petra was not possible militarily. However, Petra had one weakness: All the water for Petra comes through that same gorge. When the Romans were really fed up with the Nabataeans, they just turned off the tap. 6 months later the Nabataeans surrendered, this was in 101 CE.

The Romans added their type of buildings to Petra: A colonnaded street, baths, and temples. The Roman buildings were mostly built in the traditional way out of stones. The exception is a very imposing amphitheatre, carved out of the rock.

During the Byzantine period, a bishopric was created in Petra. The byzantine church in Petra has some very nice floor mosaics. But after that Petra declined in importance.

By the time of the Muslim invasion in the 7th century CE, Petra was mostly forgotten. From then on there was not much activity in Petra. The local Bedouins lived in Petra, but were reluctant to tell outsiders about it. In 1812, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a young Swiss explorer re-discovered Petra, and the rest is, as they say, history.

The excursion to Petra starts in modern Petra. A road leads down a valley towards the gorge. Along this road there are many buildings and monuments, and some ancient inscriptions on rock walls. This part of the trip can be done on horseback.

After about 1 km (0.6 miles) you get to the Siq, the gorge. This part of the trip can be done either on foot or a horse-drawn cart. Some parts of the gorge still have the old Roman stone cover. These stones show deep ruts from the carts that the original inhabitants used. The water for Petra was brought in through the gorge. On the left side was an open channel for water for livestock and irrigation. On the right side was a covered channel for drinking water. There were various prayer sites in the gorge, some buildings in the wider areas, and remains of stone-carved figures.

Then you get your first glimpse of the Al-Khazneh (the Treasury), one of the most magnificent buildings in Petra. A temple carved out of orange-red sandstone, glowing in the sun. It is an awesome sight!

From Al-Khazneh you continue in a fairly narrow valley for a bit more, before the valley opens up. There are more buildings carved out of the rocks in that part of the valley. You can hire a camel or a donkey, or continue on foot. All the walls of the main valley are riddled with tombs carved out of the rock. The most impressive part is the east side of the valley. There is a facade, over 100 m (330 ft) wide, with one impressive tomb after another.

You continue into the valley to the Roman part of Petra. There are temples, baths, and a street lined with large columns. On the other side of the valley, opposite the Roman ruins are the ruins of the byzantine church with the floor mosaics.

So far you have seen the main part of Petra. There is one more part that is worth seeing, the "Monastery". It is a spectacular temple, carved out of the rock, similar to Al-Khazneh. This one is high up on a mountain behind Petra. You reach it by climbing up some 1000 steps. You can either walk up, or hire a donkey. I decided on the latter, since walking up to the Monastery would take most of an hour. The donkeys climb the regular stairs. They are very sure-footed. The ride up the mountain was fine, but I wouldn't try to stay on one of them on the way down, the ride up was wild enough. From the top of the mountain you have impressive views, both toward modern Petra and toward the mountain ranges on the other side. The Monastery is as spectacular as the Treasury, except for the colors. The walk back down the mountain takes about ½ hour. I had sore legs for the next couple of days from walking down 1000 stairs.

From there you walk back to As-Siq (or hire a camel or donkey), and then walk back through the gorge. For the last part, the road from As-Siq to the visitor center you can take a ride on horseback. That was a welcome relief after walking around Petra for about 7 hours.

Petra is a spectacular site. It justly deserves to be on the list of World Heritage Sites of the United Nations. If you ever visit Jordan, Petra has to be the most important part of your visit.

The next morning we drove further south to Wadi Ram. It is a very scenic desert area with spectacular desert vistas. In one small gorge in Wadi Ram are stone carvings of different figures and ancient Arabic script. These come from Nabataean times. There live about 5000 Bedouins in this area. The major tribe there are the Huweitat. They claim to be descendants of the Prophet Mohamed. We visited a camp of these Bedouins. They have replaced the camels and donkeys with 4-wheel-drive vehicles and hang on cell phones just like everybody else in Jordan, but I think they are still quite a bit poorer than the average Jordanian.

There is life in the desert, but you don't see much of it. I saw some desert plants, and a desert beetle in Wadi Ram.

From Wadi Ram we drove back to Amman for our flight to Egypt for the second part of my tour.

The tour in Jordan was very well organized. The only problem I had was that my pickup from the airport, two days later than the others, was a bit disorganized. OAT was not very helpful during this problematic time of my trip. OAT did not help me with rearranging my flight after my first flight was cancelled, or with arranging for a hotel in New York after my second flight was delayed and I ended up missing the flight from New York to Cairo. But eventually everything worked out OK. Everything else during the trip worked out fine. The travellers with OAT are a bit older than they were for instance with Explore, but not as old as with Eldertreks. Like with Eldertreks, none of the travellers went out for a beer in the evening, everybody was in bed by 21:00.

Because of my travel snafu I didn't see enough of Jordan, but what I did see was spectacular. It is certainly worth a trip.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn


Jordan

view jordan riverView of the Jordan River valley towards Israel. (289k)
goat herd partsA goat herd. As in many parts that I saw, the land was very dry and desert like. (369k)
olive groveAn olive grove. (347k)
local village mudA local village with mud brick houses. (329k)
mosques plenty butMosques were plenty, but not as many as for instance in the United Arab Emirates (399k)
houses unfinished topMany houses were unfinished at the top. According to our tour guide, this is intentional. The plan is to add floors as children grow up and have their own family. The generations like to stay in the same house. (378k)
plenty truck trafficThere was plenty of truck traffic on the main road from Amman. (465k)
large cattle truckLarge cattle truck. (314k)

Bedouins

bedouin settlement wadiA Bedouin settlement in Wadi Ram. Camels are largely replaced with 4WD vehicles. (757k)
young child bedouinYoung child in the Bedouin camp. (454k)
bedouin men posingBedouin men posing for tourists. (503k)
old weather beatenAn old, weather beaten, Bedouin man. (516k)
bedouin camps tooIn Bedouin camps too the cellphone is ubiquitous. (346k)

Early Christian Churches

outside early christianOutside the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. (593k)
ruins around earlyRuins around the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. (534k)
floor mosaics earlyFloor mosaics in the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. These mosaics were really fascinating. (385k)
floor mosaics earlyFloor mosaics in the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. (553k)
floor mosaics earlyFloor mosaics in the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. (573k)
floor mosaics earlyFloor mosaics in the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. (600k)
floor mosaics earlyFloor mosaics in the early Christian church at Mt. Nebo. (651k)
floor mosaic mapFloor mosaic map in the early Christian church St. George's in Madaba with the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. (584k)
floor mosaic mapFloor mosaic map in the early Christian church St. George's in Madaba. (473k)
floor mosaic mapFloor mosaic map in the early Christian church St. George's in Madaba. (611k)
floor mosaic mapFloor mosaic map in the early Christian church St. George's in Madaba. This is the ancient Ashkalon. (424k)
floor mosaic mapFloor mosaic map in the early Christian church St. George's in Madaba. (565k)

Petra - City in the Rocks

view mountain rangeView of the mountain range around Petra. One of the gorges in that range is the one leading to Petra. (579k)
sunrise petra lookingSunrise in Petra looking west. The dark band above the mountain range is earths shadow against the sky. The sun is still a little bit below the horizon in the east. (293k)
sun rose aboveThe sun just rose above the horizon, and starts illuminating some of the peaks around Petra. (321k)
road modern petraThe road from modern Petra towards the gorge that is the entrance to ancient Petra. There were already numerous tombs and other structures outside of ancient Petra. (563k)
ancient building roadAncient building on the road to Petra. (571k)
ancient monument roadAncient monument on the road to Petra. (514k)
obelisk tombs roadObelisk tombs on the road to Petra. (511k)
ancient writings roadAncient writings on the road to Petra. (721k)
gorge petra narrowerIn the gorge to Petra. This was one of the narrower passages. (496k)
wider areas gorgeThis was one of the wider areas in the gorge. (551k)
handful trees grewA handful of trees grew in the gorge, finding some soil in some cracks in the rocks. (693k)
gorge too chambersIn the gorge too where chambers cut in the rock. (671k)
shows original floorThis shows the original floor of the gorge. The stones showed deep ruts where carts had moved. (511k)
view shows waterThis view shows the water channels. On the left the open channel for watering life stock and farms. On the right is the covered channel for drinking water. (409k)
place worship gorgePlace of worship in the gorge with inscriptions. (687k)
remains states carvedRemains of states that were carved out of the rock in thew gorge. To the right is a person, to the left of that are the feet of some camels still visible. (441k)
first view al-khaznehThe first view of the Al-Khazneh (the Treasury) in Petra from the gorge. (311k)
al-khazneh petra viewedAl-Khazneh in Petra viewed from within the gorge. (343k)
al-khazneh petra allAl-Khazneh in Petra. All this is carved out of the bedrock. (507k)
details treasuryDetails of the Treasury. (436k)
details treasuryDetails of the Treasury. (445k)
chamber treasury noteA chamber in the Treasury. Note the colors of the rocks. (371k)
rock formations valleyRock formations in the valley of Petra. (619k)
valley petra bedouinsIn the valley of Petra. Bedouins there offer camel and donkey rides. (674k)
temple carved bedrockTemple carved out of the bedrock. (446k)
closer view templeCloser view of this temple. (568k)
whole valley fullThe whole valley is full of tombs carved out of solid rock. (714k)
tombsTombs. (652k)
closeup tombsCloseup of some tombs. (685k)
closeup tombsCloseup of some tombs. (502k)
less elaborate tombsLess elaborate tombs carved out of rock. (598k)
amphitheater carved rockAmphitheater carved out of the rock by the Romans after they conquered Petra. (681k)
roman temple areaRoman temple area in Petra. (596k)
roman temple areaRoman temple area in Petra. (661k)
roman temple columnsRoman temple columns. (518k)
stairs way monasteryStairs on the way up to the Monastery. (646k)
narrow part stairsNarrow part of the stairs to the Monastery. The donkey had no problem handling all this. (411k)
bedouins donkey wayOne of the Bedouins on a donkey on the way back down the stairs. (552k)
rock formation wayRock formation on the way up to the Monastery. (789k)
view top stairsView from the top of the stairs over the mountain range around Petra. (632k)
modern day petraModern day Petra behind the mountain range protecting ancient Petra. (746k)
monastery spectacular templeThe Monastery, another spectacular temple carved out of solid rock. (517k)
monastery modern petraThe Monastery with modern Petra in the background. (551k)
full view monasteryFull view of the Monastery and the surrounding mountain. (684k)
full view monasteryFull view of the Monastery. (475k)
close-up monasteryClose-up of the Monastery. (458k)
ruins early christianRuins of an early Christian church in Petra. (768k)
floor mosaic earlyFloor mosaic of the early Christian church in Petra. (601k)
detail floor mosaicDetail of floor mosaic of the early Christian church in Petra. (483k)
view mountain eastView of the mountain on the east side of Petra with the most magnificent tombs. (752k)
view tombs eastView of the tombs on the east side of Petra. (728k)
palace tomb leftThe Palace Tomb on the left and the Corinthian Tomb on the right. (782k)
urn tombThe Urn Tomb. (778k)
closeup palace tombCloseup of the Palace Tomb. (633k)
closeup corinthian tombCloseup of the Corinthian Tomb with the Palace Tomb on the left. (677k)
close urn tombClose up of the Urn Tomb. (684k)
colorful rock formationColorful rock formation near the Corinthian Tomb. (627k)
small tombs carvedSmall tombs carved out of these colorful rock formations. (524k)

Wadi Ram

desert around wadiDesert around Wadi Ram. (397k)
desert around wadiDesert around Wadi Ram. (481k)
seven pillars wisdomSeven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Ram. (348k)
mountains wadi ramMountains in Wadi Ram. (531k)
rock formations wadiRock formations in Wadi Ram. (699k)
small sand duneSmall sand dune. (508k)
rocks look likeThese rocks look like a layer cake, with chocolate running down the sides. (629k)
small gorge wadiA small gorge in Wadi Ram. This gorge had figures and ancient Arabic texts carved in the walls by the Nabataeans. (460k)
narrow gorge stoneIn the narrow gorge, stone carvings on the left side. (514k)
stone carvingsStone carvings. (495k)
closeup stone carvingsCloseup of stone carvings. (636k)
ancient arabic textsAncient Arabic texts and figures carved in the walls of the gorge. (478k)
ancient arabic textsAncient Arabic texts carved in the walls of the gorge. (425k)
carved ancient arabicCarved ancient Arabic texts in another part of Wadi Ram. (785k)

Desert Life

desert plantsDesert plants. (517k)
small desert bushSmall desert bush. (646k)
desert flowerDesert flower. (518k)
desert beetleDesert beetle. (697k)


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© Dr. Günther Eichhorn
Retired
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