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A walk around Petra

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Two Bedouin friends and their camels

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PHOTOS OF JORDAN

Petra - the Baïda region: Jebel Haroun and "Little Petra"

SEE THE PETRA PAGES FOR FULL INFORMATION ON PETRA AND NEARBY

I should like to acknowledge the help given by Dan Gibson who has kindly allowed me to use some of his photos on this web page. The photos are copied from his magnificent website  http://nabataea.net/petra.html and in particular the page http://nabataea.net/beidha.html. You should certainly spend some time looking at this website if you are interested in Petra and the Nabateans.

I
The "Elephant Rock", on the road to Baida when leaving Um Sayhoun (see the map of Wadi Mousa region)

Um Sayhoun is the "Bedouin village" of the Bdool tribe, who formerly occupied the caves in Petra. The houses in the village and the land they occupy were given to the Bedouin in perpetuity in exchange for "liberating" Petra. They were also granted the absolute right to pitch their tents in the area known as "Baida" with the exception of the land nearest to the main road, which is owned by the villagers of Wadi Mousa, who use it mainly for growing wheat and barley (see photos below). Beyond a certain distance from the road, this is "Bedouin territory" and no buildings are allowed anywhere in Baida.

This does not, of course, mean that they do not in fact install their tents just about anywhere they wish in Baida!

You can see the traditional black tent, its back turned to the road and facing on to the "yard" in front, and sheltered by the rock cliff. The gap in the hangings is an entrance for visitors; the tent is wide open on the other side, but this is not the side that is shown to the world. (See "The Bedouin of Wadi Rum" for some notes on Bedouin tents and the customs associated with them).

The origin of this tribe is uncertain. They do not seem to be related either to the Bani Sakher or to the Howeitat. It has been suggested that they are descended directly from the Nabatean inhabitants of Petra.

Besides the Bdool, the other Bedouin tribe in the area is the Ammarin tribe. They are further to the north and thus further from Petra. Few men from among them work in Petra, and they are on the whole much less prosperous than the Bdool. They do run a tourist camp in Baida, and would like to see it used by more people. At the moment, some guides bring tourists out there for an evening, and very occasionally a group hiking in the area will sleep there, but this is all. You can see more details and photos of this camp at www.bedouincamp.net.

The Ammarin tribe are connected to the Beni Attiyeh - see the map of Bedouin tribes and territories.

The area of Baida is a rocky one and in many places you can see much the same sort of formation of rocks as at Wadi Rum. It lacks only a little, perhaps the colours of the sand and the rocks, to be as beautiful as Wadi Rum, but also has the attraction of views and roads down to the Rift Valley of Wadi Araba.

This is a view over the Rift Valley taken at sunrise from Jebel Khatoum. You can see the tumble of stone and inaccessible mountains that seem to stretch forever. This particular viewpoint is a fair way in from the road, you would need a 4x4 and somebody extremely knowledgeable to take you there.

On the left you can see the "Petra Hills from the other side" (the second from the right is Um El Biyara) and on the right another view of the Rift Valley. This view is a bit further to the south than the one from Jebel Khatoum, and the country is flatter and less intimidating.

Photo taken by Dan Gibson

Baida is in fact much more fertile than you would expect when looking at the rocky outcrops. Here is a field of wheat being grown, and there are many trees in tucked away in corners. In the Nabatean times it was a garden of green, and at one point you can still see a winepress used by them. Nearby there is a large cistern carved into the rocky hill and accessible by a staircase. This is used by the Bedouin to water their flocks, and except in a very dry year holds water all the year round. The Nabateans were masters of water conservation, it is said that not a drop of water that fell on Petra was wasted.

Here is one of their dams on Jebel Kubtha, and if you feel up to climbing Um el Biyara (don't try to do this without a guide!) you can see many of the water cisterns they built there.

The hundreds of goats that roam in Baida climb the rocks with alacrity, often in places where humans would hesitate to venture. There is always somebody accompanying them, the Bedouin are omni-present in Baida. The other views are taken from the hills above Baida and give some idea of the many rock massifs there.

"Little Petra"

The big - for most people, the only - tourist attraction in Badia is "Little Petra". This is a narrow valley, entered by a narrower opening, that is referred to as the "Siq Barid" or the "Cold Canyon". It seems to get its name from the cold wind that almost always blows through it.

Photo taken by Dan Gibson

Inside the valley, which is really a canyon in itself, the walls are lined with tombs and the remains of grottoes, previously inhabited by the Nabateans. There are many fascinating tiny staircases mounting the cliffs towards what must have been "houses" at that time. In one of the photos higher up, you can see that the herd of goats is taking advantage of one of them to get a start on climbing.

Photo taken by Dan Gibson

The Neolithic Village in Baida

The Neolithic village in Baida is a few hundred meters from the Siq Barid, if you follow the cliffs around to your left. This is supposed to be the earliest site discovered when men actually cultivated the soil, rather than living as hunters-gatherers. The older part of it is supposed to date from 7000BC. At this time the living places were as you see above, huts semi-sunk into to the ground and rough shelters built above. Later the settlement was rebuilt, with buildings arranged around corridors and larger rooms, possibly for communal dwellings.

Some sixty houses have been excavated and it is believed that the village contained up to several hundred people. This was possible because of the fertility of the region, and even today when the rainfall is far less than it was nine thousand years ago, you can still see fields of wheat growing nearby. The grain was ground in the "mill" that you see here, there are a number of them lying on the ground in the village. If you enlarge the photo on the left, you can see a broken one in the foreground of the photo.

A final reminder of the broken ground running down to the Rift Valley. This is actually taken from Rajif, further to the south, but shows a typical view of Wadi Araba.

SEE THE PETRA PAGES FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PETRA AND NEARBY

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©Ruth Caswell 2002