Jabal Haroun – Aaron’s Mountain – is the holiest site in Petra and one of the holiest in Jordan, venerated by Muslims as the resting place of Prophet Haroun, as well as by Christians and Jews (Haroun is Aaron, brother of Moses). Some local resistance to tourists casually climbing the mountain simply for the views, or to gawk, still persists: you should bear in mind that this is a place of pilgrimage. The trip there and back takes at least six hours from Petra city centre, involving a strenuous climb of almost 500m (a donkey can take you for all but the last twenty minutes), and you shouldn’t attempt it without a guide, six to eight litres of water, some food, respectable clothing and a sense of humility. Don’t bother if you’re expecting an impressive shrine (it’s small and unremarkable) or outstanding views (they’re equally good from the Monastery and Umm al-Biyara). If you choose to visit, you should consider bringing a sum of money with you to leave as a donation.

Rosalyn Maqsood, in her excellent book on Petra, explained the power of Jabal Haroun well:

Believers in the “numinous universe” accept that certain localities can be impregnated with the life-giving force of some saint or hero – transforming the sites into powerhouses of spiritual blessing. Traces of their essential virtue would cling to their mortal leavings even though their spirits had passed to another and better world. Holiness was seen as a kind of invisible substance, which clung to whatever it touched. So the virtues (the Latin word virtu means “power”) of saints would remain and be continually renewed and built up by the constant stream of prayer and devotion emanating from the pilgrims who found their way there. These places are visited to gain healing, or fertility, or protection against dangers psychic and physical, or to gain whatever is the desire of the heart. Jabal Haroun is such a place… There is nothing there, really, and no one to watch you – so why should you remove your shoes, or leave an offering? Only you can answer this.

From the cultivated area near the Snake Monument, a path leads down into the Wadi Magtal ad-Dikh. A little beyond a cemetery on the right-hand side, and past a rock ledge called Settuh Haroun (Aaron’s Terrace) at the foot of the mountain, where pilgrims unable to climb make an offering (Burckhardt slaughtered his goat here in 1812), there is a reasonably clear path up the mountain. Check in the tent at the bottom of the mountain whether the guardian will be around to open the shrine at the top; if not, you should collect the keys from him before heading up. Read a detailed account of the route at w walkingjordan.com.

The summit

A plateau just below the summit was the location of a Byzantine monastery dedicated to Aaron; excavations here are ongoing. The small domed shrine of Haroun on the peak – visible from all over Petra and Wadi Musa – was renovated by the Mamluke sultan Qalawun in 1459, replacing earlier buildings which had stood on the same site. Up until then, the caretakers had been Greek Christians, and it was in the late sixth century that the Prophet Muhammad, on a journey from Mecca to Damascus, passed through Petra and climbed Jabal Haroun with his uncle. The Christian guardian of the shrine, a monk named Bahira, prophesied that the boy – then aged 10 – would change the world. Today, pilgrims bedeck the shrine with rags, twined threads and shells, the Muslim equivalent of lighting a candle to the saint.

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