As you enter the Siq, the path narrows to about five meters and the walls tower over 200 meters overhead, casting enormous shadows on the niches that once held icons of the gods Dushara and al-Uzza. The icons were meant to protect the entrance and hex unwelcome visitors.
The entrance to the Siq was once topped by a ceremonial arch built by the Nabateans. It survived until the late ninth century, and you can still see remains of it as you enter the gorge.
The original channels cut in the walls to bring water into Petra can also be seen, and in some places the original terracotta pipes are still in place.
After winding around for 1.5 kilometers, the Siq suddenly opens upon the most impressive of all Petra’s monuments -al-Khazneh(Arabic for "the Treasury"). One of the most elegant remains of antiquity, it is carved out of solid rock from the side of a mountain, and stands over 40 meters high. Although it served as a royal tomb, the Treasury gets its name from the legend that pirates hid their treasure there, in a giant stone urn which stands in the center of the second level. Believing the urn to be filled with ancient pharoanic treasures, the Bedouins periodically fired guns at it: proof of this can be seen in the bullet holes which are clearly visible on the urn. Much speculation has gone into the barely distinguishable reliefs which can be seen on the exterior of the Khazneh, although consensus is that they represent various gods. The Khazneh’s age has also been debated, with estimates ranging from 100 BCE to 200 CE.
As the Siq turns right and leads down toward the city, the number of niches and tombs increases, becoming a virtual graveyard in rock arching around behind the 8000-seatAmphitheater. Originally thought to have been built by the Romans after their defeat of the Nabateans in 106 CE, it is now believed that the Nabateans cut the Amphitheater out of the rock around the time of Christ, slicing through many caves and tombs in the process. Under the stage floor were store rooms and a slot through which a curtain could be lowered at the beginning of a performance. Through this slot a marble Hercules was discovered several years ago.
After the Amphitheater, the wadi widens out and you soon come to the main city area, which covers about three square kilometers. Up on the right, carved into the rock of Jabal Khubtha, are the Royal Tombs. The first is the Urn Tomb, with its open terrace built over a double layer of vaults. The room inside measures 20 by 18 meters, and the patterns in the rock are striking. The Urn Tomb commands an impressive view and was once used as a church in Byzantine times. Next along is the Corinthian Tomb, allegedly a replica of Nero’s Golden Palace in Rome. Finally, the Palace Tomb is a three-story imitation of a Roman palace and one of the largest monuments in Petra . The tomb had to be completed by attaching preassembled stones to its upper left-hand corner. Around the corner to the right is the Mausoleum of Sextus Florentinius, a Roman administrator under Emperor Hadrian.
Continuing down the Siq, several restored columns mark the sides of the paved Roman colonnaded street. During the Roman era, columns lined the full length of the street, with markets and residences branching off on the sides. The slopes of the hills on either side are littered with the remains of the ancient city.
Along the colonnaded street you will see the ruins of the public fountain, or Nymphaeum. At the northwestern end of the colonnaded street is the triple-arched Temenos Gateway, which was originally fitted with wooden doors and marked the entrance into the courtyard, or "temenos", of the Qasr al-Bint. To the right of the Temenos Gateway, or Triumphal Arch, is the Temple of the Winged Lions. This was named after the carved lions that adorn the capitals of the columns. The temple was dedicated to the fertility goddess Atargatis, who was the partner to the main male god, Dushara.
Several hundred meters to the right of the street, near the Temple of the Winged Lions, is an immense Byzantine Church rich with mosaics. Each of the side aisles of Petra Church is paved with 70 square meters of remarkably preserved mosaics, depicting native as well as exotic or mythological animals, as well as personifications of the Seasons, Ocean, Earth and Wisdom. The church is thought to have been a major fifth- and sixth-century cathedral, throwing into question theories of Petra’s decline during this era. In December 1993, a cache of 152 papyrus scrolls in Byzantine Greek and possibly late Arabic were uncovered at the site. The scrolls, which constitute the largest group of written material from antiquity found in Jordan, are currently being deciphered and are yielding a wealth of information concerning the Byzantine period in the area. The Petra Church and its mosaics are currently being excavated and preserved.
Passing through the Temenos Gateway, one enters the piazza of the Qasr bint al-Faroun (in Arabic, "Palace of the Pharoah’s Daughter"). This Nabatean construction dates from around 30 BCE, and is also known as the Temple of Dushara, after the god who was worshipped there. It was probably the main place of worship in Nabatean Petra , and it is the only freestanding structure in Petra . The Qasr was in use up until the Roman annexation, when it was burned. Earthquakes in the fourth and eighth centuries destroyed the remainder of the building.
Just beyond the Qasr al-Bint is the small massif of al-Habis. Steps lead up to the small, free museum which has a collection of artifacts found in Petra over the years.
There are a number of places in Petra that require a bit of effort to reach, but the effort is well worth the spectacular views that await. As well as the following climbs, you can make the longer hikes to Umm al-Biyara—which may be the biblical precipice of Sela (2 Kings 14: 7; Isaiah 16: 1)—, al-Beidha, or the six-hour hike to the top of Mt. Hor and Aaron’s Tomb (in Arabic, Jabal Haroun). For these climbs either a detailed guidebook with maps or an actual guide is recommended. As always, bring plenty of water.
The easiest of these climbs is up to the Crusader castle, or Citadel, on top of al-Habis. The steps leading to the top start from the base of the hill on the rise behind the Qasr Bint al-Faroun. The path goes all the way around al-Habis, revealing more caves on its western side. The entire round trip hike takes less than an hour.
From the Qasr, it takes around an hour to reach one of Petra’s most spectacular constructions, al-Deir ("The Monastery"). To truly experience Petra’s immensity and power, a visit here is essential. The climb leads up the hillside, but the ancient path is easy to follow and not steep. Not far along the track, a sign points left to the Lion Tomb, set in a small gully. The two lions that give it its name can be seen facing each other at the base of the tomb.
The Monastery itself is similar in appearance to the Khazneh, but, at 50 [The amazing Monastory monument of Petra] meters wide and 45 meters tall, it is far bigger. Undertaken between the third century BCE and the first century CE, but never completed, it is less ornate than the Khazneh. The Monastery receives its name from crosses on the inside walls that suggest it was later used as a church. Al-Deir’s primary distinguishing feature is its crowning urn, which, unlike the Khazneh, is not backed against the rock. The urn can be reached via a series of ancient steps which connect the left of the facade with the rim of the urn. The views from on top are simply stunning.
One of the more popular hikes is the High Place of Sacrifice. This one-and-a-half hour trip is best done in the early morning with the sun behind you. Coming from the Khazneh, steps head up to the left just as the Amphitheater comes into view. Follow the right prong when the trail levels and forks at the top of the stairs. The top of the ridge has been flattened into a platform, and two large depressions with drains show where the blood of sacrificial animals flowed out. There are also altars cut into the rock, along with obelisks and the remains of buildings used to house the priests. The path then leads down to the Lion Fountain. A stone altar opposite the fountain suggests that it originally had a religious function. The first complex beyond this is the Garden Tomb, which archaeologists believe was more likely a temple. Below this is the Tomb of the Roman Soldier and the Triclinium (Feast Hall), which has the only decorated interior in Petra . The track then flattens out and leads by the site of ancient rubbish dumps, ending up at the Pharaon Column, the only surviving column of another temple.
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