Petra: Rose-Red City, Jordan

The path to Petra was lit by candles shrouded in simple paper bags. Their muted, flickering lights danced on the canyon walls. Above, the full moon glowed like a searchlight, bathing the rippled mountaintops in yellow light. As the canyon narrowed, the candlelight played on walls marbled in shades of brown, orange, pink and red. The wind came in soft, regular drafts, like the earth’s own breath. The ambiance was eerie, mysterious, and beautiful. We felt as if we were taking part in an occult ritual.

The walls of The Siq had closed around us. Only a thin, snaking strip of the star-dappled sky was visible above. In front, we could only see as far as the next curve in the canyon. As we came around a bend, the walls ahead appeared to open like a grand portal. There, beaming with the reflected light of a hundred candles, was the spectacular façade of the Treasury. In its design, symmetry, and proportions, the “Treasury” is a masterpiece of classical architecture. What makes the Treasury truly amazing, however, is that the entire structure was hewn from the canyon walls almost two millennia ago. The ghostly sound of a woodwind emanated from the Treasury. A Bedouin man emerged, playing a flute. We were completely entranced by the scene.

Petra occupies an arid valley in southern Jordan. On all sides, the valley is surrounded by odd-shaped, bizarrely-eroded mountains. There are so many natural grottoes in the rock that, from a distance, it is impossible to discern the natural from the carved. The sandstone is easily weathered by rain. Many rock faces appear to be ‘melting,’ with tendrils of red stone hanging down like icicles. When these cave-like formations extend to the next ledge of stone, they can be confused with the columns carved to decorate the tombs. The colors are bewitching: layer upon layer of different hued stone – pulled, pressed, and twisted as easily as taffy. Some colors leach and blend with others. The effect is magic: a fellow tourist compared it to Moab, in southern Utah. Petra would be worth visiting for its strange landforms, beautiful colors, and amazing hiking – even if the ancient city did not exist.


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