Petra – the stunning ancient city in Southern Jordan, half hidden in the wind blown landscape; voted as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World.’ Petra is of the worlds most treasured Unesco Heritage Sites, and most famous archaeological sites. The word Petra means pink city, and is derived from the Greek word Petros meaning rocks. When you see it in early morning or evening light you can see why its often referred to as The Rose City.
Petra is a must visit whilst in Jordan. Fair to say it’s the leading highlight of a country blessed with more than it’s fair share of top sights.
The walk in through The Siq (pronounced ‘Seek’) is amazing in itself stretching for around 1km, but nothing prepares you for the site of the treasury peering through the rocks! It’s remarkable, an ancient city carved into the sandstone rock. The once lavish city fell into obscurity, hidden for centuries until it was uncovered by a Swiss explorer in the early 1800’s.
One of the reasons that Petra was declared as one of The Seven wonders of world is apparently due to the use of Juniper wood that was used in the foundations of the structures to act as shock absorbers, to protect them from collapse during earthquakes which can be quite common. UNESCO described the site as ‘one of the most precious cultural properties of mans cultural heritage’. It is also known for its innovative water management system, which made the area inhabitable.
And of course famed for being part of the set in The Last Crusade, where Indiana Jones searches for The Holy Grail. What better setting than a real location called ‘The Treasury.’ Now a popular tourist attraction ‘The Al Khazneh’ is a giant, ornately carved sandstone temple facade, dating back to the first century AD. The Mummy Returns was also filmed there.
Only 13% of Petra is uncovered, the rest remains below ground and still unexcavated so one can only imagine what it must have looked like in its full glory.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.Mahatma Gandhi
The city of Petra was established as a trading post by the Nabateans, an Arab Bedouin tribe indigenous to the region which is now South West Jordan. They accumulated a huge amount of wealth and an envious Greek Empire attacked in 312 BC. The Nabateans successfully fought back using the advantage of the mountainous terrain which served as a natural wall.
The Romans later successfully attacked in 106 AD and ultimately forced The Nabateans to surrender. They ruled for some 250 years until an earthquake destroyed many of its buildings. Eventually The Byzantines took over for a period of 300 years.
By the early 8th century Petra was largely abandoned and no longer significant politically or culturally. It has always been noted by historians and archaeologists though for its unique architecture and innovation made by the Nabatean Bedouins that established the city.
Given its rugged and mountainous terrain it wasn’t a logical place to build a city. However, the Nabateans took advantage of the geography as they erected its key structures.
The Nabateans literally carved the key buildings out of the stone surfaces. As its pre-dominantly sandstone its a relatively soft rock to cut into. Later the Romans and Byzantines wanted to leave their own marks on the city and it began to take on a mix of the different cultures that occupied it.
Walks and trails
There are many choices of places to walk, in fact you could spend days wandering around Petra. Whilst The Treasury is stunning, for me the Monastery was more impressive, and worth the hike up to view it. The view looking down on ‘Ad Deir’ is amazing, plus there’s a bar at the top!
The monastery is one of the largest monuments in Petra measuring 47m wide by just over 48m high. It dates back to the earliest 2nd century AD. It was initially used as a meeting place for religious associations. And later the hall was re-used as a Christian chapel, crosses were carved into the rear wall hence how the structure got its name.
The High Place of Sacrifice is another popular trail. It’s a place of worship on a plateau on the mountain. You can reach it by climbing rock cut steps to the top where you will be rewarded by spectacular views of the ancient city below, and of the wider area. The High Place was used for important religious ceremonies.
The Royal Tombs are also worth a visit if you have time. It contains 4 magnificent facades adjacent to each other. You can combine a visit to both these and The High Place of sacrifice in one afternoon.
There are many other choices but these 3 are the most popular walks – I’d say the view down on The Monastery was one of the highlights of my whole time in Jordan so do walk up there if you can!
Food and drink
There are two main places for lunch once you’re at the centre. I’d recommend the Bedouin tent which offers local food. You can get a buffet lunch for 12 dinars, or they offer shawarma if you want something cheaper or lighter.
The gates open at 6am and close at 7pm in summer and 5pm in winter. I stayed in hotel Edom, great location just a couple of minutes walk to the gates of Petra.
There are some nice restaurants locally, I’d recommend Sandstone though some of the mixed grill / kebab dishes the meat were a little dry. But opt for the local dishes, stews etc and most of them are delicious. It’s also one of the few restaurants in town that does serve alcohol! Though if you sit outside prepare to drink your wine out of a mug as they deliver you a ‘cappuccino’, whilst they are respectful of the local culture.
My Mom’s recipe is another great choice, whilst I would never normally opt for a restaurant with a name like this, it came recommended and does have delicious dishes with a lovely roof terrace. All the local dishes were lovely and in my opinion nicer food than Sandstone, but it doesn’t serve alcohol so depends where your priorities lie but I would say its worth a visit for the food.
Petra by night
Absolutely worth the money to see Petra by night and experience it from a different perspective. You get to walk down The Siq by candlelight, see The Treasury lit up and enjoy local music.
The view is outstanding with candles everywhere lighting the way it adds to the magic. It’s an amazing experience just to sit and enjoy the lights and music and soak it all up.
Tickets are around 17 dinars, it’s worth buying your tickets earlier in the day to avoid queuing at the gate as it gets busy. The price includes a complimentary cup of local tea.
If you have the time Little Petra is also worth a visit. I cycled there from Petra which was tough and the uphill felt a little relentless at times! But was worth the effort!
Also known as Siq al-Barad meaning ‘The Cold Canyon’. As its name suggests it is a much smaller version of Petra, though its free to enter and usually quieter than Petra so worth a visit whilst you’re there.
It was probably built during the height of The Nabatean influence in the 1st century. Whilst the purpose isn’t entirely clear, its believed it was a suburb of Petra, meant to house visiting traders on the Silk Road.
Other Jordan highlights
For more information on Jordan and places to visit other than Petra see my Jordan post. https://mysolofootprints.com/2022/11/03/jordan-highlights/
There are so many other highlights all worth seeing in this beautiful country and I will definitely return one day!