There are likely only a handful of sights worldwide that are as familiar and impressive as that of the towering façade of the Treasury Building in Petra. Everyone knows it whether from books, calendars or ‘Indiana Jones’…even if not all may realize that it is in Jordan.
The classic view of the Treasury is through a crevice between two towering cliffs and I had seen photographs taken from this vantage point countless times. However, for our first glimpse we were to have a different perspective, an adventurous one not afforded to many visitors.
We arrived at the Petra Visitor’s Centre at 6:30 a.m. and set off on our trek. We headed down the winding path towards the Siq—the narrow mile-long chasm that leads to the Treasury—but turned off short, our guide leading us towards the rolling sandstone hills and pock-marked mountains that lined the route. We were soon traipsing up hill using millennia-old steps worn smooth by feet, time and weather and clambering over rocks and boulders.
Our vertical trek continued. Mahmoud showed us some of the 3000 caves in the area which have served as shelters or homes for countless people over the centuries and which in some cases still serve that purpose today for truly nomadic Bedouin.
The indistinguishable path descended into narrow canyons where we weaved around vegetation, side-stepped heavy mud and hopped over stagnant pools. Mahmoud would stop periodically and eye the sky warily: in the distance heavy clouds clung to the mountain tops with wispy fingers obscuring the summits. He ushered us on, faster. Finally, only once we had started our ascent from the gorge did he confess that he was concerned that if it began to rain heavily in those mountains, we could have been troubled by a flash-flood.
After hiking for 1.5 hours, Mahmoud suddenly stopped, stepped aside and pointed down. There, perhaps 50 feet beneath us and on the opposite side of the chasm was the legendary Treasury Building. There was silence from our group. We wandered forward to the edge of the cliff-top and gazed in awe and wonderment at one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Our first glimpse may not have been the classic view through the aperture of the Siq, but it was even better…and a just reward for our 90-minute trek.
Rising from below was the buzz of conversation and excitement from the hundreds of visitors massed around, yet we felt as though we had the site to ourselves. We each found our own spot of solitude and stared contemplatively and silently at the magnificent structure below.
After perhaps an hour we began our descent, this one far more inclined than our long and circuitous ascent. We emerged from behind the small gift shop and tea house that sits at the end of the chasm opposite the Treasury, much to the surprise—and in some cases the envy—of the visitors around us, and got the more customary views of the Treasury. Then we turned around and gazed skyward to the point we had just occupied.
“Come on,” ushered Mahmoud. “Now we see the rest of Petra; the Treasury is just the start.” And with that we set off to explore one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world.