A city carved in stone

A two thousand year old city, carved into the rocks of Jordan, was the biggest surprise of our cruise. It was the grand finale of our three months at sea, but when we started it was not even on the program.

Originally, our last stop before returning to Italy should have been the pyramids of Giza outside Cairo, but it was no big surprise when Costa decided that Egypt of today is not a safe place for western tourists. Giza was at some stage substituted by Crete and the Knossos, but halfway into the trip itself Crete was cancelled in favour of Aqaba, Jordan and the wonders of Petra.

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Sunrise the morning before arriving the Bay of Aqaba. Did anybody ever wonder why this is called The Red Sea?

Petra is, quite literally, a city carved in stone. The Nabataens, a people who ruled the area until they were concurred by The Roman Empire in AD 106, constructed the city between 2500 and 2000 years ago. The Romans developed the site further, building roads and expanding the theatre, among other things. Petra was important because of the trade routes, but the city declined when the routes shifted with the growth of Palmyra further north. Palmyra is one of the treasures of history that has been greatly damaged during the barbaric IS rule in parts of Syria.

Petra started to decline, and was also hit by nature. The city was abandoned after a big earthquake in 515, and was not reintroduced to the outside world until the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt came there in 1812.

Today, as a tourist, you travel to Petra via the town of Wadi Musa. For us, coming by bus from Aqaba in the south, the trip takes two hours. From the bus station and the visitors centre you enter Petra by walking downhill into The Siq. This is a narrow gorge where you walk a path from tree to eight metres wide, flanked by vertical rock walls from 10 to 100 metres high. As The Siq winds it’s way thru the mountain the sunlight comes and goes, and the rocks glow like stone on fire wherever the light can find them.

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In The Siq, entering Petra.

After a kilometre or so the gorge opens up creating a narrow plaza, and here we are met by the most impressive of all constructions in Petra. The overwhelming el-Khazneh, in English called The Treasury, comes straight out of the mountainside like an installation from an Indiana Jones film. And that is exactly what it is, of course. Parts of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, was filmed here.

We continued down The Siq till it ended, close to a construction known as the Urn Tomb. The route we walked covers maybe two thirds of Petra. Further to the west there are numerous sights in other gorges and on other mountainsides. One of the downsides of cruise tourism however, is the strict timetable. We had to walk back, which meant uphill, and our ship would not wait for us if we missed our bus.

We were very glad we had done some exercise on the cruise. One and a half hour of uphill walking was something we had been looking forward to. On top of it all our personal trainer, known as The Coach, came whistling by, laughing. Not on foot, oh no, he had chickened out and rented a horse!

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The Treasury, visited by a broad collection of fiction heroes ranging from Indiana Jones to Tintin.

We could easily have done the same, because all over The Siq and the various sights we found horses, mules, camels and horse carts for rent. DHH wanted to take one, but ES refused. She had set her mind on walking all the way up – and she made sure we did it!

Our little post cannot do Petra justice; it is simply one of the most beautiful places mankind has ever created. The softly shaped rocks, the huge monuments, the ever shifting light and just the thought of human creativity dating several thousand years back; the sum of all this just blows our minds away! Our pictures do not do the place justice either; no camera technology in the whole world can recreate the images we are left with after our four hours visit. But if you have read this far then by all means look at the pictures, and then sit down and see if you can find a way to go there yourself before you die!

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