Day 68 – Aqaba, Jordon
At the top of the Red Sea, the sea is split by the Sinai Peninsula, with the Gulf of Aqaba being the right fork, and the Gulf of Suez being the left fork. At the top of the Gulf of Aqaba, lies the Jordanian city of Aqaba – immediately to the west of Aqaba, lies the Israeli resort city of Eilat. Aqaba is the southernmost city in Jordan, and is its only seaport.
Jordan is the last of our visits to Arab ports, and is surrounded by five countries – Israel to the west, the territory of Palestine to the northwest, Syria to the north, Iraq to the northeast, and Saudi Arabia to the east. Not much trouble among those neighbors – heh?
Unlike most countries on the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan has no oil or gas and relies upon agricultural exports and tourism. The population is about six million, most residing in the capital, Amman, in the northern part of the country. Like our last 2 ports, Jordan is a Muslim country, but has a Christian minority (about 9%) and reportedly there is no religious conflict here – all are respected. At first observation, the place looks more “moderate” and commercial and less religiously rigid; fewer men in traditional dress and fewer women in burkkas. The country is a Constitutional Monarchy and the current ruler is King Abdullah II, son of longtime ruler, King Hussein.
One of the primary attractions in this part of Jordan is Petra, an ancient site, “rediscovered” in the early 1800s and most recently named as a top UNESCO tourist site, and is our destination for today as we board our bus and meet our guide Quassai (pronounced “kwi see”). Note the “moderate” dress, compared to the dude in Oman.
Petra lies about a two hour bus ride north of Aqaba. While there is much history surrounding Petra, it is probably best known in contemporary times for the filming of scenes for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Petra was an important city on the trade routes of the area from about 300 BCE to 300 AD. Initially it was the central city for people known as the Nabataeneans, and was eventually occupied by the Romans, and conquered and abandoned by the Persians in the 4th century AD. For the past 10 years or so the ruins have been visited by a staggering 8000 people per day!
On our way to Petra, we passed near another often visited area – Wadi Rum, which is the area used as a base camp for Colonel T.E. Lawrence in 1917 as he aided the rebels in the Arab Revolution, to defeat the Turks, and establish the Arab & British dominance of the territory, until independence after WWII. In the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, Aqaba is the city which is attacked by Lawrence and the Arabs, free the city from the Turks.
The Wadi Rum area. This landscape is very typical of this entire area – barren and rocky.
As we entered the mountainous area near Petra, we passed several villages, strung along the ridge-lines.
Because of the recent popularity of the ruins at Petra, the town at the entrance to the site has grown rapidly, from a few hundred, to almost 30,000 people and has some scores of hotels including several five stars. Unlike those of us from the ships (there are two in port) most visitors stay for a few days in the hotels, for a more thorough inspection of Petra.
A little more history of Petra. As this map shows, Petra was a key point on the trade routes between Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Medina and Aden for almost 600 hundred years. It was the capital of the Nabataean people whose domain included all of the Sinai Peninsula, most of Saudi Arabia, and some of Syria.
During its 600 year reign as the trading capital of the area, Petra was ruled by the Nabataeans as well as the Romans, so its architecture reflects a mix of styles. There are early Nabataean tombs and a theater as well as later Roman tombs, baths, market areas and streets paved with typical Roman cobblestones. The reason we can visit and view Petra in its original form, is that for some reason, the city was abandoned as a trade center in about 300 AD, so unlike other ancient cities, waves of modernization were not built on the ruins of the previous city. Other than wear and tear from the elements, the city exists as it did 2,000 years ago.
This map, taken from my iPad, is an overview of the Petra ruins from the visitor center on the right to the end of the trail, 2 miles later on the left. I have tried to key some pictures to the map. It is a gentle downhill walk in – not so gentle on the way out
- 1. The visitor center.
- Pathway in
- The Djinn Blocks
- The Siq (like a narrow canyon – the only way in to Petra)
- The Treasury
- The Theater
- The Royal Tombs
Number 1 – The Visitor Center
Number 2. As one leaves the visitor center, you walk down this path for about a half mile toward the narrow canyon which leads you to the main area of Petra.
Number 3. The first items you come to are the “Djinns” which were believed to have been carved to ward off evil spirits, but may have actually been some form of tombs.
4. The Siq (like a narrow canyon – the only way in to Petra)
Number 4. Moving further down the path, one arrives at the entrance to the Siq, which is a narrow canyon leading to Petra. As the only entrance to the city, it was a very effective barrier to invasion. The Siq is over a half mile long, from 15 to 30 feet wide and the walls of the canyon are 60 to 70 feet high. The Siq was caused by tectonic plate movement, and was further shaped by wind and rain.
There are many formations carved by nature inside the Siq, in addition to the man-made marvels.
As you near the end of the Siq, the first view of the Treasury is breathtaking.
The names given to the tombs and facades in Petra, have nothing to do with their original purposes, they are simply names given to them based upon the way they look – this just looks like a treasury, but it was actually a tomb, as were most of the structures here.
Number 5. The Treasury.
These facades were carved into the sandstone cliff faces around 2,000 years ago and are remarkably well preserved. They are actually tombs, and regardless of the immense size of the façade, there is only a relatively small tomb room inside the opening.
As we moved past the Treasury, we came to the Theater, which looks much like a Roman theater, but was actually built by the Nabataeans, and held 5,000 people.
Number 6 – The Theater.
Across from the Theater, and continuing down the path were a series of tombs, carved into the opposite cliff face.
Number 7. The Royal Tombs
As we neared the end of our tour (even though there was much more to see if time permitted) we engaged a camel for Sally to ride back up to the Treasury (about ¾ mile, uphill).
When she dismounted back up at the Treasury we began the uphill trek back to the visitor center. It was a whole lot easier coming down than going back up!
After lunch at one of the local hotels, we boarded the bus for the long drive back to Aqaba.
Sally spotted a couple of camels on the way back plus noted that there are still Bedouin tents in the area and shepherds.
We returned to the ship and as the sun set, the Mosques began the evening call to prayer, the moon rose over Aqaba, and we set sail for the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.