Al Khazneh (The Treasury), Petra

The Big Picture Portfolio, #10

The Treasury, Petra

A doorway that effortlessly blends reality with fiction. Deep in the sandstone canyons of Jordan at Petra, monumental carvings are around every corner. Thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this particular one – known as Al Khazneh or The Treasury – is easily the most iconic. But here’s the thing – this magnificant facade is only the tip of the iceberg, and I’m not (just) talking about the Holy Grail.

FACT:

Where: Petra, Jordan

What:  Temple carved from solid sandstone, in the side of a cliff, at the bottom of a canyon

Height: Over 40 m (130 feet) – roughly a twelve story building

Founders: Nabateans (during the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris)

Date carved: 1st Centuary AD

Purported Function: Funerary (mausoleum/crypt)

Date of “rediscovery”: 1812 (by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt)

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MYSTERY:

Legend has it that pirates hid their treasure here, hence the name it’s known by today.  But then again maybe that was just a convenient excuse for an itchy trigger finger (note the bullet marks in the urn up top). Whatever the case, the truth of the matter is that The Treasury has more than a few stories that go along with it.

Part of Al Khazneh’s real treasure is its location.

The near walls in the image above mark the very end of a slot canyon known as the Siq. Audaciously narrow, nervously deep, and suitably long, there is no getting in and out of the Siq – only through it. At one end lies an open desert, and on other the fabled lost city itself. The perfect gateway and a very grand entrance.

As you navigate the final throes of the Siq a sliver of Al Kazneh emerges into view, the masterpiece in worked stone still framed by its parent material. With every step, the visibility of the monument increases and so also its scale in relation to you. Whether alone or in a crowd (both possible) it’s an experience not easily forgotten.

The Treasury was at least partially designed, placed, and protected for the purpose of impressing people. We’ll never know who exactly walked, trotted, or rolled down the Siq and how they felt upon seeing this building in the stone for the first or fiftieth time, but we can be pretty sure they were looking.

Don’t miss it for yourself.

PERSPECTIVE:

In front of the Treasury you will be confronted with a desire that you may not yet know you harbor – the urge to ride a camel. Panicked, I shunned this urge and distracted myself otherwise. I’m still not sure whether to be: a) proud of resisting; or, b) shameful of squandering such an opportunity.

Locomotion in Petra is actually a fascinating subject. Various beasts of burden (you’re the burden) and their masters make a roaring trade (one can pay handsomely for the honor) out of specialized kinds of movements all around the place.

Horses try to snag you at the very beginning, to take the “Indiana Jones” way into Petra by riding the escarpments to get a first look of the city from above. Camels bask in front the Treasury and cruise the canyon floors and valley bottoms beyond, counting on your innermost dromedarian desires. Mules and donkeys are rather more opportunistic, often popping up in places of topographic difficulty like the climb up to the Monastery – “Helicopter ride to the top, Sir?”

Not opposed to dropping a dinar or two if the time was right, I imagined enjoying a horseback approach one of my mornings, or a camel cruise some late afternoon after a long day of playing pedestrian.

It didn’t work out quite that way and despite traipsing around the desert for kilometers on end I ended up sticking to my own two feet. As I got to know my way around I started to become rather proud of the fact that I’d done it all on my own, inwardly spurning the thought of ever taking out my wallet for the dubious privilege of tottering around on high, a hapless tourist stranded on the back of some ass.

On my last afternoon in Petra I lingered as I had every day, enjoying, watching, and shooting the sunset. I had a sneaky plan in mind to leave the lost city by a different route that night. As everyone else walked one way up and toward the Siq, I walked another. My smugness quickly wore off, however, when an hour later deep pools of water made my more creative canyon route impassable. I was well prepared for it all, but the development definitely meant an extended and indirect walk back to Wadi Musa.

I shouldered my pack, got moving again, and had resigned myself to a very late dinner when I heard the click and clack of hoof on stone. I turned, and the dark outline of a donkey and his master appeared from under the stars before me.

I rode the damn helicopter out.