Jordan | A Slow Stride into the Lost City of Petra

“A rose-red city half as old as time,” poet John William Burgon has said of it in his 1845 Newdigate Prize winning poem Petra.

Concealed from the rest of the world for many centuries before it was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812, the ancient city of Petra stands out for its rock-cut architecture where old settlements, royal tombs, temples, and palaces were directly hewn out of massive rock walls.

Levy Amosin

Established by the Arab Nabataeans as their capital city as early as 312 BC, Petra showcases the construction and engineering skills of the Nabateans as evidenced by their ancient water irrigation designs modern engineers studied with admiration and emulated by present-day urban planners. Situated at the slopes of the biblical Mount Hor and surrounded by the mountains of Wadi Aqaba, Petra gives the impression of a city that completely grew out of the rocky mountains.

Hazel Tolentino
The ancient homes which are chiseled from the walls as it appears today

We started our brisk walk from the wide walkway enveloped by small hills dotted with royal tombs and ancient settlements. The further we went the narrower the path leading to the Treasury becomes. I savored each step, stopping to appreciate the glistening colorful walls. Not long after, we reached the part where the canyon becomes slender and the famous Siq would start. The Siq is a mile-long narrow gorge that features stunning rock-wall formations gleaming of dramatic rose-red and glittering golden hues when kissed by the seeping sunlight.

Marky Ramone Go in Petra
the famous Siq of Petra
The dreamlike sensation of walking along the Siq presents the appropriate antecedent before one rests their eyes on Petra’s most elaborate ruin, the Al Khazneh or “the Treasury.”

Jordana Montelibano
The Treasury
Magically cleaved directly into a sandstone cliff, the well-preserved condition of the Treasury serves a visual banquet that lingers in your sight and summons you to just stare longer. I stood there in sheer awe, mesmerized by the façade, when a local Bedouin tapped me on my shoulder asking if I wanted to ride his camel for a photograph.

Mishi Magno
the ampitheater of Petra
The Treasury is anything but related to the ancient Nabataeans’ finances. The Al Khazneh was originally constructed as a tomb during King Aretas IV Philopatris’ reign in 1st Century AD. The term “Treasury” originated from a legend when Bedouins fired multiple rounds of ammunition at the urn placed on top of the Al Khazneh, hoping to break and spill out the gold coins they believed was hidden inside the urn. They later found out to be made of solid sandstone and stores no secreted treasure.

Gretchen Filart
Some of the doors lead to ancient tombs such as this one
The history of Petra runs far back and in wild fashion. It witnessed numerous passing of kingdoms and sustained the reigns of many kings under the Nabataeans to the Romans until its decline during the Byzantine era.

As centuries of bygone history still stood before us, I stared at the surrounding cave walls and the amphitheater  impressively sculpted into a solid hillside sandstone wall. I made an attempt to imagine what it was like during the glorious years of Petra. I closed my eyes to briefly summon a vision of a lively city, where wives are peeking out of their homes calling their husband workers to take a break from axing and grinding the thick sandstone walls carving new tombs and temples. I was dwelling deeper into my imagination when a young Bedouin boy tugged at my hand. “Two dollars for postcards,” he tells me, while showing a bundle of 10 postcards. I said, “Sure, but let’s take a selfie first.” He held my hand and dragged me to a spot where the sun shone.

Marky Ramone Go and a Bedouin Kid

After taking a self-portrait together, I handed a two-dollar bill to the young Bedouin when he asked me “one dollar more for my school,” grinning. I handed another dollar to him before he happily walked away. What is one dollar more anyway, in a place where the ancient Nabataeans gave more than they could, their artistry, craftsmanship, courage, and a lot more, to build a city that remains long after their kingdoms have gone forever.

We met the woman who authored the book "Married to a Bedouin", Marguerite van Geldermalsen who fell in love with a Bedouin when she went to Jordan for a solo backpacking trip in 1978. She now sell her book and other souvenir items inside Petra. Her Bedouoin husband died in the early 2000s
As we conclude our jaunt to Petra and started our walk back, I stopped along the Siq and touched the face of the outer wall and wondered what if the walls could talk. Then I started my walk again, through the history concealed and engraved at every corner of the Lost City of Petra.

*This article appeared on the Lifestyle pages of the July 24, 2016 issue of Manila Bulletin*