Unrest in the Middle East means far fewer travellers are visiting Petra, the ancient Jordanian city carved into sandstone cliffs. But those who do venture forth are rewarded with near-private moments of magnificence.
The Siq was quiet this windswept morning. Standing at the narrow, red rift opening to the ancient city of Petra, I knew there was a dust storm on the distant horizon, but at that precise moment gazing skyward, all I could see was the outline of a solitary tree clinging from a crevice high above. Only the clattering of occasional horse carts driven by men in long grey robes and red-checkered scarves, and the footsteps of a handful of tourists interrupted the silent, sandstone corridor leading into the columned main street of Petra’s city centre.
Until recently, large crowds and a carnivalesque atmosphere were an unavoidable part of the Petra experience, even for those who veered off the ancient Nabatean city’s beaten paths to explore more obscure sites strewn over its 1,068 hectares of mountains and valleys. Lost to the Western world since the time of the Crusades, Petra was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812.