Petra, the "Rose red
city, half as old as time", is every bit as impressive as I had imagined.
Despite the insufferable swamp of clichés at every turn and the thousand
images I had already seen, I was still overawed by the drama and mystery of
the place. I even succumbed to a "Petra by
night" tour as I felt I would otherwise be unlikely to see the place by
candlelight. It was very much bigger than I had imagined; the
normal photos are just of the Treasury, which is undeniably impressive, but
does not convey the fact that the city is spread over an area the size of a
modern city, not just some tiny archaeological site.
Although in the company of an
undeniably knowledgeable guide, I was constantly frustrated by the endless
dates and events, caveated with "we don't really understand how..." when
confronted with the kind of questions we really want answers to. Bizarrely, for all the
glamour of the facades of these troglodyte buildings, there was virtually
nothing inside, at most just a couple of empty, cubic rooms. I
wondered whether it was just the public buildings which were carved into the
rock, mere showpieces, but there was clear evidence of some homes at least
partially dug into the rock. But, "we cannot be sure" if this is
how most people lived...it was all rather unsatisfactory and I was left with
more questions than I started.
Much of the place is
either eroded by centuries of flash floods, or buried in the sediment which
followed, adding further to the mystery of doorways halfway up a cliff face
or half buried in the road.
has "persuaded" the former inhabitants to move out of the historic ruins, to
take up wonderful new homes with electricity, water and TV, so every day
they come down to flog their rocks, coins (occasionally historic euros!),
and other tourist tat. Nothing really worth anything.