| Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2016
World Cruise Sector - Dubai to Southampton
Today was the highlight of our cruise, an expensive and long trip to visit Petra. Petra is one of the most fabulous places in the Middle East and the capital of the Arab kingdom of the Nabateans. It is one of the seven Wonders of the World from 2007 and is a UNESCO Heritage Place. The city was partially destroyed by an earthquake in AD 363, hence the absence of housing.
The original timetable was to leave the ship at 0800 but then the itinerary changed and consequently the journey from Salalah to Aqaba was reduced from 4 days to 3 days. The Queen Elizabeth cannot cruise much faster than 22 knots and so the arrival in Aqaba was delayed and our tour was rescheduled to 0930. Petra is 80 miles from Aqaba so the journey by coach was expected to take about 2 hours. The ship actually arrived at 0915 and the first 3 coaches departed together shortly afterwards. There were over 1200 passengers going to Petra as well as 300 crew so there was a long procession of coaches along the main highway which mostly all stopped at a roadhouse with a view towards Petra. 30 minutes later and our coach had parked in front of the Petra Palace Hotel where we would be returning in the afternoon for lunch. It was only 5 minutes walk to the entrance at the Visitor Centre.
When we were handed our tickets we understood why the tour was so expensive. Entrance to Petra was 50JD, about $75. Since our previous visit from the QE2 in 2001 the town had grown with a number of 3* and 4* hotels and souvenir shops. The new Entrance Gate and Visitor Centre had been opened in 2014. There were toilets, souvenir shops and cafes inside the entrance and the whole visit seemed much more organised and tidy. We remembered the horse rides and the carriages which were available for people who could not walk as far as the Treasury.
We followed our guide along the path towards the Siq. Progress was slow and the group stopped many times. There are three massive Djinn blocks which are squared monuments. Then the tombs begin. The first is the Obelisk Tomb carved by the Nabataeans in the 1st century AD. Above the tomb are four pyramids and a niche with a statue that symbolizes the five people buried there. Below is the Triclinium, a banqueting hall. On the opposing cliff face there is a double inscription written by Abdomanchos which indi ates the tomb was to be used for himself and his family. We then reached the dams and tunnel which supplied water. Having a good water supply was very important for any town of size. The dam was built to divert the flash floods of Wadi Musa from the siq to Wadi Al Mudhlim and Wadi Al Mataha. A tunnel which is 88m in length was cut in the rock for this purpose.
The Siq is a narrow gorge in the rocks and is 1.2 km long. Horses and carriages are available as far as the Siq but only the carriages can share the path inside the Siq with pedestrians and it was amazing that no collisions occurred. The old paved Roman road remains in places and the walk down to the Treasury is not difficult. It is well paved and gently sloping downhill. Two water channels run along both rock sides. The group stopped just before the end of the Siq and then glimpsed the Treasury between the high walls of the Siq. We were impatient to go and look at more of the site so left the group to explore. Lunch was available until 1630 so we had several more hours ahead.
The Treasury or Al Khazna is Petra's most magnificent facade. It is almost 40 metres high and intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes and figures. It is crowned by a funerary urn which according to local legend conceals a Pharaoh's treasure. The Treasury was probably constructed in the 1st century BC. Many tourists only get as far as seeing the Treasury because the pavement afterwards becomes suddenly very uneven and the only alternative to walking is to pay for a donkey or camel ride. We knew that the pavement was uneven but we were wearing good walking boots and there was no problem. Beyond the Treasury in the Outer Siq there are more Nabataean tombs in the Street of Facades. Beyond these tombs on the left is the Theatre. It is the only theatre in the world carved into the rock and can seat 4000 spectators. It is possibly of Greek design although the back wall of the stage was rebuilt by the Romans.
Further along and on the right are the four Royal Tombs. This area is a good place to stop for a drink, snack or ice cream and there are several souvenir tents alongside the steps which can be climbed to the Urn Tomb. This derives its name from the jar that crowns the pediment. It was probably constructed around 70 AD. The tomb is preceded by a deep courtyard with colonnades on two sides. High up in the facade there are three niches that open into smaller burial chambers. In 446 AD the tomb was adapted to serve as a Byzantine church. The next Royal Tomb is the Silk tomb which is remarkable for the swirls of different coloured rock that make up its facade. The third tomb is the Corinthian tomb and is similar to that of the Treasury but is severely eroded. The fourth tomb is the Palace tomb which dates to the early 2nd century and has a grandiose five storey facade. A dam and water reservoir are behind the monument and drain rainwater to a pool. We were only able to visit the Urn tomb.
From the courtyard of the Urn tomb we could see that much more of the site had been excavated since our previous visit in 2001 and we regretted wasting time in the Siq listening to our guide. We did not have enough time to walk all the way to the Ad-Deir (monastery) but decided to walk as far as we could until 1500 then turn back. We predicted it would take about an hour to get back to the hotel for lunch and to arrive there at 1600 was perfect for our 1715 bus departure.
The path was paved and we made good progress, passing the public fountain or Nymphaeum. Six Nabataean columns decorated the facade and it is shaded by a wild pistachio tree that is said to be 450 years old. The colonnaded street was refurbished during Roman occupation and was one of the principal shopping streets of ancient Petra. A few of the original columns have been restored. At the end of the street is a restored three-arch gate, the Temenos Gate. Just before, and on the left, is the Great Temple which is being restored by experts from Brown University. It is one of the major archaeological and architectural monuments of central Petra. It is estimated to cover an area of 7000 square metres. The columns are approximately 15m high and so the temple would have been a minimum of 18m. The style and quality of the friezes and capitals suggest the sanctuary was constructed at the end of the 1st century BC. The final monument was just beyond the Temenos Gate and is the Qasr al-Bint. It is almost square and set on a podium. It was the main and most important temple of Petra, dedicated to Dushara. Next time we visit Petra we must continue to the Lion Triclinium and Ad Deir.
Our brisk walk back still gave enough time to take more photos, especially as the light was better in the afternoon - especially for the Treasury. And there were fewer people now that most of the tours had departed or were having their lunch.
We reached the Petra Palace Hotel well before 1600 and found lunch was still available and there were excellent choices for starter, mains (local lamb with rice and yoghurt) and local desserts. We also found they sold local Jordanian white and red wine and were able to try both by negotiating with another couple who also wanted to taste the local wines. They were also better value that the imported canned beer, at 9JD for a half bottle. The white was chardonnay sauvignon blanc blend and the red was cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. We had time to check two supermarkets for local ground cofee but it seemed to be normally a coffee cardoman mix which we did not fancy, and quite expensive at 5JD for a small bag which was not freshly ground. We hope to find coffee in the next port, Istanbul.
After a long drive we were surprised to see a long line of wine waiters with glasses of champagne and orange juice to welcome us back to the ship. There had been over 1200 people on tour and we had all returned after the start of dinner at 1800. There were also officers and crew to chat with and the Chief Sommelier persuaded us into a second glass of bubbles. Having lunch late we only wanted a cheese plate and the ingredients had been collected the previous day and stored in our fridge. We presume the self-service Lido was busy.
To reach the Suez canal tomorrow it was only necessary to travel today at 10 knots and by the evening we were close to the holding area.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 11th May, 2016