Petra: The SIQ & The Treasury

Petra by Night is only the beginning of the experience that is Petra. The Treasury is the iconic image of Petra. It is impressive because it was meant to cast an impression as you exited the SIQ, the narrow canyon that leads into Petra, and were over-awed by its imposing structure. It is called the Treasury because it was believed by raiders to contain hidden treasures, not because it was the centre of finance.

This is what made Petra, meaning The Rock in Greek (but not actor Dwayne Johnson), impregnable to attack. One, you couldn't see it hidden among the mountain range, even from 1800 meters on the highest vantage point on the nearby mountain top (see if you can spot Petra in the panoramic sweep in the video), and, secondly, even if you knew it was there, you were vulnerable to the defences set up in the narrow SIQ by the inhabitants of Petra, the Nabataeans, who migrated from Oman and Yemen and established Petra as a trading centre on the trade route.

The Roman road that leads through the SIQ into Petra begs the question as to how the Romans conquered Petra if it was impenetrable. The plan was simple. They cut off the water supply, which was delivered through an elaborate system of gravity fed water channels carved from the sandstone cliffs.

The Nabataeans surrendered without a fight as they were traders, not warriors. The caves and tombs carved out of the stone were carved from top to bottom rather than the other way to prevent the excavation collapsing. Bedouins lived in the tomb caves until 1985 and are now custodians of Petra.

The colours of the minerals in the rock reflect the belief that humans were formed from the soil and the seven minerals in the rock and are reflected in the different colours of people's skin around the world.

Although The Treasury is the most famous face of Petra, it is only the beginning of a vast complex of dwellings and tombs that weave their way through the mountains. The sheer awe inspiring sweep of Petra is indicated by the fact that only 4% of Petra, that's 4%, has been excavated. 96% is still buried, some of it as much as 20 metres deep. You can see the tops of buildings at what is ground level for us. Astounding and inconceivable.

Petra is located in the mountains of the Rift Valley that extends from Turkey to Tanzania.

Coming soon: Petra--The Theatre, The Royal Tombs and The Colonnaded Street. I told you Petra exists on a mind-boggling scale.

MOVIE FACT: "Inconceivable" was the word spoken by Wallace Shawn's character in Rob Reiner's film The Princess Bride. It's worth watching, or not, "As you wish" (another quote from the movie).