Petra at night

Petra's Hidden Treasures

We first saw Petra at night, beneath the slash of stars framed by the canyon walls. The Treasury, towering over us, was illuminated from beneath by a field of candles, the muted orange glow throwing the great façade into soft relief. A wistful desert melody echoed from the rock, the sound of a Bedouin flute, rising and falling tones, like some primeval speech layered over the whispering crunch of sand and stone underfoot. We sipped sweet tea and became lost in it. By sunrise the mystique was lifted. We set out on a clear blue morning, weaving through narrow mountain trails, and were soon greeted by the sight of the Treasury once more, the full soaring height of it now clear in the sunlight.

The Treasury, Petra The Treasury, Petra

More than just an impressive monument, the great structure is a time machine – I spent long moments visualising its past, elaborate ceremonies and gathered armies arrayed before the great columns. Iconic though it is, the Treasury is but the first of many wonders. The sheer scale of Petra is mind-boggling – the ancient city spans over 100 square miles, a vast and sun-baked labyrinth of temples and tombs carved into the very rock of the desert. We explored for hours, and around every bend there was some new mystery waiting for us.


Looking upon Petra’s wonders feels like looking thousands of years into the past, into a time when everything was different except the human instincts to create and to survive. The ingenuity and skill of the Nabataeans (the tribe who first began carving into the rock) is staggering – sophisticated channels drew in water from the surrounding area, neutralising the deadly threat of the desert's dry sands. Fenced off by impassable mountains, Petra was impervious to invading armies – the only feasible entrance was the narrow, winding canyon leading to the treasury, which would have been a death-trap to hostile forces.

The Monastery, Petra The Monastery, Petra

Standing below the great tombs of the Nabataean Kings, or the gargantuan mountain-top monastery in all its glory, one can’t help but be awed. The blood and sweat and sheer force of will which brought this wonder into being are hard to imagine, but impossible to escape. Question after question occurred to me: what would life have actually been like here? How would these people have seen the world? What would we have had in common, and which differences would have been irreconcilable, impossible to understand?

Wadi Rum
Whatever the answers, there’s one thing I do know: I won’t be forgetting Petra any time soon.

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