14May2012

Lost City of the Giants

Petra-Monastery



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Winding your way through a narrow, towering canyon where camel trains the size of armies once brought frankincense, myrrh, silk and slaves, that first glimpse of Petra, the lost city of the Nabateans, rose pink in the afternoon sun, is gobsmacking.

The Treasury at Petra emerges from the darkness of the Siq.

The thing that grabs you, first of all, is the scale.

Petra is enormous. It extends for at least 60 square kilometres through canyons, up mountains and along river beds — most of its ruins are sized for giants.

View of the treasury at Petra

A mere two storeys high, the Treasury (never a treasury, but rather a king’s tomb) stands almost 40 metres tall, or eight to twelve times life size.

Several of his successors built even bigger, though most were damaged by the series of earthquakes that left the city abandoned.

Tomb of the Urn at Petra: tall templed tomb with three storeys of arches below it.

Even the public buildings that lined Petra’s colonnaded main street were, pretty much, on steroids. This temple, still only partly excavated, was the largest religious structure in the Middle East.

I mean, in Petra, even the boulders are big…

Boulder leans against wall and over rock cut stairs at Petra, Jordan.

But, seeing we’re talking giant-sized…

This is us in the doorway of the Monastery.

Me and Z as tiny pixels in the corner of the Monastery door at Petra, Jordan.

As with so much in Petra, nobody knows exactly what this building was used for, but most likely it was built to worship a dead god-king.

The enormous Monastery building in Petra, Jordan.

And this is the Monastery itself.

It is big. Ridiculously big.

And even after the pyramids, Luxor, Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China, the scale of Petra just amazes.



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We spent three days exploring Petra, which proved, in places, a masterclass in terror. I’ll write about it in more detail just as soon as my calves stop aching and my pulse rate heads to normal, but if you visit, which I recommend, I’d allow at least that time: a one-day ticket costs 50 dinar (or roughly $80), a two-day 55 and a three-day 60.

18 Comments

  1. Mary says:

    How incredible. It is certainly on our short list of sights to see this year. I wonder if they charge for children?

    • Theodora says:

      Under-12s are free, Mary, but over-12s pay full price. Which is quite eyewatering, but does even out a bit over three days.

  2. I really dug Petra when I was there many moons ago. I spent a full three days there and I agree with you — you need that time to see it all properly.

    • Theodora says:

      Oooh, you’re in the Middle East! How long are you there for? We’re Lebanon next, then Egypt-Israel, arriving Israel late June…

  3. Barbara says:

    This is beautiful. Thanks so much for the wonderful picture tour. I especially like that we can project our own ideas on what this place might have been. Amazing that archeologists are unclear.

    Looking forward to the master class in terror!

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    Wonderful pictures! What was the terror? Heights? Look forward to hearing more….

  5. Ainlay says:

    So that’s why your calves are aching, I thought you went on a trek! I’ve been to Egypt but somehow never got to Jordan. Would love to take the kids to Petra. Are you ever going to South America?

    • Theodora says:

      South America is under discussion, funnily enough. I’d like to. I’m also getting a bit obsessive about Africa…

      IMHO, there’s not THAT much more to Jordan than Petra. So it’s worth doing for that — plus some nice Crusader castles — but the Dead Sea is better done from Israel, and Red Sea better done from Egypt.

      Mind you, maybe I’m just jaded because I spent 5 sodding hours covering what might be 100k but certainly isn’t 100 miles, and was, in theory, 2 hours on the bus…

  6. Rachel says:

    Wow that is large! Don’t really get a sense of it until you notice those tiny things are people in the photos! haha
    What a great sight! Will have to add it to my list of things to see! Thanks for sharing the photos!

  7. Leigh says:

    More beautiful, wonderful inspiring photos. Thank you.

  8. Jesse Morrell says:

    I believe it really was made by giants and occupied by them. Only giants would need a door that big. They were descendents of the Nephilim, known as the Horim. They excavated dwellings out of the sandstone cliffs and mountains of Edom, especially Petra. In the Hebrew Scriptures, their name means cave dwellers.

  9. Alexandra says:

    We’re hoping to visit Jordan next March. Did you travel through the country on your own or did you use local guides to assist you? We aren’t sure how easy it is to tour the country on our own and any info of that nature would be fantastic!

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Alex, We used a local guide to show us the unusual routes in and out of Petra, but otherwise we did indie travel. I’d recommend hiring a car if you can because public transport connections really aren’t good, and you’d see a lot more if you can get out into the desert stretch of country. There’s a minimum period for car hire — I forget what it is — which is why we didn’t do that, but I’d thoroughly recommend exploring with your own wheels. It’s a low-hassle country by the standards of the Middle East. Theodora

  10. Vincent says:

    This is an amazing heritage site. I mean how can someone be so good and carve that. It must take, like forever.

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