The third Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, made the ruins of Petra, in the Kingdom of Jordan, famous. I’ll admit that the imagery in that movie – namely the huge architectural façade carved out of the face of a sandstone cliff – inspired me to travel there when we found ourselves in the Middle East.
While Petra’s Treasury (or “Al Khazneh,” as it’s known in Arabic) is the most famous monument in the park, I actually found other parts to be more interesting. The colors of the rock inside the Urn Tomb were much brighter and had intricate veins throughout, while the biggest and most impressive rock-cut temple, the Monestary, stood at the top of a long stone staircase that rivals anything on the Inca Trail. The Siq, though… The Siq was my favorite part of Petra.
“Siq” is an Arabic word meaning “shaft,” and what an impressive shaft it is! Beginning at roughly the entrance to the park, it winds gently downward almost a full mile before opening directly in front of the Treasury. Except for perhaps an hour or two during midday, the sun never touches the bottom and while the rocky walls towering above you are aglow with sunlight, the floor is below is nice and cool.
The walls of the Siq were pulled apart by geologic activity and the lower sections have been worn smooth by countless flash floods. Part of the restoration of Petra was building a new dam to hold the waters back. Without the dam, the Siq would be a very dangerous place to be during one of the rare rainy days in that part of Jordan.
Taking a good photo in this natural canyon is more difficult than you might imagine. During the day, the sky and upper walls are incredibly bright while the bottom lies in shadow. Expose for the lower walls and the top will be totally blown out. During the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, the sun is at such an extreme angle that it barely illuminates the edges of the cliffs 600 feet above your head. Without illumination, those rich golden colors in the wall seem dull and grey. Sunrise and sunset are usually the best times to take pictures of landscapes, but canyons only benefit from that soft lighting when they’re running exactly east-to-west.
Looking over my Siq photos, I found a few with compositions that I really liked, where the wall’s curves snaked through the photo’s third lines and created interesting shapes with light and shadow. Unfortunately, the best of those had the sun directly overhead, rendering the floor of the Siq as nothing more than a hard white line. The sky is blown out in this photo, but it’s such a small element of the overall composition that it doesn’t even matter. The walls are beautiful, just as I remember them. I love the lone janitor with his bucket, too, about to go around the corner. Without him, we wouldn’t have the proper sense of scale.
Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 11:34am, 3 August 2011
Focal Length: 24mm
Shutter: 1/50 sec
Exposure: -1.3 step
Photoshop: Auto levels, minor saturation increase