Pages Navigation Menu

Travelling in Jordan: Petra. Part three

Siq Gorge

Siq Gorge

In the morning, while we were still under the impression of the night spectacle, Farris was already waiting for us in the lobby, to take us to a sightseeing tour to ancient Petra and its vicinities.

The latest news reports were broadcast from the neighbouring Syria. The country was hit by the worst snow storm in one hundred years. There was so much snow that the whole country was paralyzed, and more snow was coming. If the same kind of storm had hit Petra, we would have been able to get out of there only when the snow would be cleared, or when it would melt, and the roads would dry up. So, in order not to waste any more time, and hoping not to be overtaken by the elements, we headed for ancient Petra right away.

Multicoloured Rocks of Petra

Multicoloured Rocks of Petra

The morning was cold and windy, and in the gorge there were very few people; as if everyone had been prepared for the coming calamity. The way to the gorge was winding and the first things on our way were the Djinn Blocks and a tomb where four people had been once buried. This was obvious because of the peculiar architecture of the cult edifice. The top of the tomb was crowned with four obelisks. Next to the Djinn blocks and the tomb, on both sides of the rocks leading into the gorge, we could see the caves cut in the solid rock. It is difficult to say for what purposes these rooms were used – whether these were burial chambers, or they were used as dwellings.

Closer to the entrance of the gorge we passed over a small bridge, which was built above a dried up riverbed. Farris told us that this river bed was formed by a spring which Moses opened up by striking the rock. This dried up riverbed is known by a tragedy that happened in the last century, when after some heavy rains powerful mud flows took the lives of a whole group of tourists.

Niche in Rock of Siq Gorge

Niche in Rock of Siq Gorge

Next our eyes saw the gorge itself. The spectacle was really unforgettable: precipitous rocks hang over a narrow path on both sides, as if joining 100-150 meters above to make something that look like a tunnel. The bottom of the gorge is covered with gravel, small stones and sand. It is quiet, cool, and a little eerie in the gorge; there is virtually no sunlight – all you can see around is red, purple, grey, blue, brown, and dark-red rocks.

Here and there on the rock ledges lonely trees and bushes are growing. Unsophisticated irrigation system is laid on both sides through the entire gorge, which supplied the ancient city with water.

Al Khazneh

Al Khazneh

As you walk along the gorge, you notice how the colours of the rocks change from terracotta to ochre and dark red hues, and from the ochre – to grey and then light blue, followed by almost white. The colours of the rocks make the gorge look mystical and mysterious. In twilight, here and there your eyes suddenly start to notice rather big niches that look like the ones made for statues, sometimes you run across bass relief images. The further we moved following the turns of Siq gorge the more niches we saw in the rocks, sometimes they were grouped in twos and threes, and some of them were framed on both sides by pilasters.

In many places of the gorge there are traces of ancient sanctuaries and altars. One of the altars has been very well preserved. As some historians believe, on a stone block there is an engraved image of god Dushara – a large rectangular within the altar with clearly distinguishable square eyes, and his wife – a smaller rectangular. As it turns out, gods also have wives.

Al Khazneh's Pediment

Al Khazneh’s Pediment

Over two and a half kilometres along the winding path in the gorge we covered unnoticed. After almost one hour of walking, we came near the exit from the gorge. As a rule, man is able to walk five kilometres in the same amount of time, but in the gorge, just like in a cave, time is distorted. After we turned another dark corner, our eyes saw something that caused our admiration and astonishment. On a sun-lit open surface, there was a majestic terracotta-pink building hewn in a rock with columns and a graceful façade. This is what the main attraction of ancient Petra looks like – the Al Khazneh Temple.

Fanciful Architecture of Petra

Fanciful Architecture of Petra

In Arabic, Al Khazneh means the Treasury. Al Khazneh is a monumental building wholly cut from a rock, or, to be more precise, cut in the rock, which is 40 meters high and 25 meters wide. Art scholars were able to identify Horus (Egyptian god with a face of a falcon), Greek goddess Nika, two belligerent and beautiful Amazonians, and two centaurs in the sculptural frieze. Despite its name, the scientists fully believe that Khazneh is not a treasure vault, neither it is a temple, – it is the tomb of Nabataean king Aretas IV, whose name is mentioned in the New Testament. You can read about king Aretas IV on my site in the article published on May 11, 2014.

After we acquainted ourselves with and examined Al Khazneh, we turned a corner and found ourselves in a terracotta-purple valley with the dwellings of the Nabataeans, burial vaults with niches for sarcophaguses cut in the rocks, amphitheatre, palaces, and mausoleums. Sometimes it is very difficult to understand this complex architecture – where the palace is and where it is a mausoleum. Most facades have a pyramidal shape and differ from one another in their sculptural details, roof shapes, and pilasters. Some buildings have two or even three tiers.

Square in Front of Amphitheatre in Old Petra

Square in Front of Amphitheatre in Old Petra

Petra is also interesting because of many hills in the city that served for its ancient dwellers as sanctuaries. In the 1930s, one of the most interesting monuments of ancient history was discovered in Petra – a road in the form of a closed circle in the centre of which there was a sacred rock. This sanctuary is located at the highest point in Petra and the utensils and coins found here give the ground to suppose that it existed and was used as early as in the first century of our era.

As we walked on, our attention was attracted to the sight of a huge Roman amphitheatre cut right in the rock. The amphitheatre’s capacity was over three thousand spectators and it was over ninety meters high. It is truly a unique ancient edifice. Next to the amphitheatre there is a lone triumphant arch of the times of Roman rule.

South of that place, on the highest peak of mount Zibb ˊAtuf’s range, there is a so-called Robinson’s High Place. This is the oldest sanctuary in Petra, built strictly in the tradition of the ancient people that was discovered in 1900 by English explorer Robinson. A steep staircase cut in the rock leads to a rectangular platform made in the solid rock half a meter deep. Directly to the west from this hollow there are square and round altars made from one piece of rock. In the Bible similar prayer elevations are mentioned, where religious activities were carried out in summer time.

After visiting the Robinson’s High Place we go back into the valley and our attention is caught by constructions hewn in the rock on both sides of it. Some ledges in the rock are used for the obelisks, and between them on artificial mountain terraces one can see the entrances into something that looks like homes, or temples, or sepulchres. The viewer receives so many impressions at this point that he starts to confuse the Hellenistic ornament with architectural style of the ancient Nabataeans and the art of the early Christians.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Яндекс.Метрика Индекс цитирования