Petra and Wadi Rum

Aqaba, in southwestern Jordan, is the only seaport of Jordan. It is also our gateway to Petra. The town was built out of solid red rock and features intricate carvings. One enters the site through a half-mile long chasm and comes face-to-face with the magnificent Treasury, Petra’s ancient masterpiece.

Founded around 300BC, it was known to the Romans. Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans, and the centre of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it

Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m wide) called the Siq ("the shaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh ( known as "the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

A little further from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheatre has been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-coloured mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.

Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system.The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

In October 1917, Lawrence, as part of a general effort to divert Turkish military resources away from the British advance before the Third Battle of Gaza, led a small force of Syrians and Arabians in defending Petra against a much larger combined force of Turks and Germans. The battle at Petra is usually called the Battle of Wadi Musa. This was the result of the Ottoman commander Mohammad Jemal Pasha launching an operation to eject the Arab forces from Wadi Musa where they had a base after the capture of Aqaba. The Ottoman force was commanded by Kemal Bey and consisted of the 3 infantry battalions, a Circassian Cavalry regiment and 8 guns. They marched in 3 columns from Shaubak (Crusader castle), Ma'an (major garrison on Hejaz railway & Ottoman airfield) and Ain Basta (outpost on the road to from Ma'an to Petra). The Arab forces consisted of 350 regulars of the Arab northern army and 180 Bedu under the Arab commander Maulud Mukhil and Sherif Abdul Muin. After a brisk action the Ottomans withdrew losing 200 men dead or wounded; the Arabs lost 40 killed and wounded


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The Jordanian flag at Aqaba We bussed the 60 miles from Aqaba to Petra. An early start, and up over the mountains.
The approach road is fairly open at the start, and soon one starts to see the ruins of houses carved into the rock.
Then the road quickly narrows as it enters the Siq, this is a really awesome feeling as you walk in the narrow cut between towering rock walls. And after a long walk, suddenly you see the Treasury glowing pink in the sunlight. As quickly as it started, the Siq ends.
One cannot enter the Treasury nowadays, mass tourism has put paid to that, but the beauty of the building is on the outside not the inside.
Beyond the Treasury the original town opens up, and on both sides of the valley are the buildings and tombs of the Nabataeans.
We walked through the town to the Winged Lion Temple, where the boys took the opportunity of adding a shot for their photo album
We got a fellow passenger to take our shot, then climbed up to the Sextus Florentinus Tomb, which one could enter, the interior was plain.
And on to the Palace Tomb which showed quite a lot of signs of weathering. The local bedouin still wandered through.

From Petra, 120km by a good road, Wadi Rum, also known as The Valley of the Moon, is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan 60 km to the east of Aqaba; it is the largest wadi in Jordan. The weather and winds have carved the imposing, towering skyscrapers, described by T.E. Lawrence as “Vast, echoing and God-like". This is the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War I.

A maze of monolithic rockscapes rise up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750m creating a natural challenge for serious mountaineers. Hikers can enjoy the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces and explore the canyons and water holes to discover 4000-year-old rock drawings and the many other spectacular treasures this vast wilderness holds in store.

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The scenery speaks for itself. The first photo is the rock claimed to be the Seven Pillars (of Wisdom). We could have done with longer to stop and admire more often, but mass tourism prevented that. In the setting sun the colours were stunning.

As dusk feel we had dinner and a "show" at a bedouin camp. The main dish was lamb cooked for hours under the desert sand in sealed containers. Entertainment was provided by, would you believe, bedouin bagpipers. The music was loud and went on for hours. The food was not gourmet, the night desert air was cold, but it was never the less an interesting experience.

Then back to Aqaba, aboard the ship and we set sail for 4 days at sea to reach Oman. This was through known pirate waters. We even had blackout procedures at night. The Saudi and Yemen coasts do not welcome cruise boats, hence the unbroken journey to Salalah.

Our Holiday from Cairo to India on SS Voyager