The Rose City of Petra is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Tucked away in the red-sandstone mountains of southern Jordan, this designated world heritage site with its indisputable beauty makes a trip to Jordan a must.
Petra (meaning stone) was the capital of the Nabateans, an ancient Arab tribe who built the city around 312BC. Half built and half carved into the rock, the city is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges, housing more than 800 tombs.
Known for its breathtaking beauty, this remarkable site has featured in several Hollywood blockbusters such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lawrence of Arabia.
The best time of day to visit Petra is in the cool hours of the early morning, while the rays of the rising sun embrace the sandstone and accentuate its gorgeous colours.
When you begin your sightseeing tour remember to wear very comfortable shoes, as there is a lot of walking involved, not least because the entrance to the city is reached through a one kilometre long gorge.
The Siq: Petra’s entrance
A dim, 80m-high narrow gorge, the Siq, is the main entrance to the ancient city. Before you enter the Siq you will see three sandstone blocks thought to represent the Nabatean god of the mountains, Dushara.
The path twists and turns between spectacularly eroded cliffs and sandstone walls stretching for over a kilometer, and the walls close in as you pass through the heart of the mountain. As you approach the end of the Siq, the famous facade of Petra’s Treasury, the city’s most famous monument, looms before you.
The Treasury, with its 40m-high façade, is arguably one of the most elaborate monuments in the Middle East. Historians still do not agree on its original purpose, but many believe that a Nabataean king was interred there. Its name derives from the Bedouin belief that the urn carved into the centre of the second tier was used to hide treasures. Signs of this myth trying to be solved by the local Bedouins who have tried for years to shatter the stone urn can be seen from the bullet holes left on the surface of the urn.
The Street of Facades
The Street of Facades leads you to Petra’s massive 8000-seat theatre. Despite its distinctly Roman design, the theatre dates back to the first century BC, before the Romans arrived in Petra. The Romans later expanded the theatre.
The Colonnaded Street
Further on, you will come to the Colonnaded Street. Once the centre of ancient Petra, the Colonnaded Street brings you past elaborate temple complexes. A fifth century church and the temple of winged lions also stand to the right.
The Temple of Qasr Al-Bint
Directly ahead of the Colonnaded Street is Qasr Al-Bint – Palace of the Pharaoh’s Daughter -which used to be one of Petra’s main temples used by priests and dignitaries. The temple’s structure is especially unique, as it is the only one built from brick and not carved from the red rock.
The second most famous attraction in Petra is the Monastery. This is one of Petra’s largest monuments, located in the mountains above the city. As with the Treasury, the monastery is also believed to be the tomb of a Nabataean king. In order to be able to see and experience the greatness of the monastery, there are some 800 rock-cut steps to climb. The doorway alone – its only source of light – is eight metres tall. Nevertheless, there are many local guides in the area with horse and donkey carriages, which you can hire if you get tired along the way. There are also camel rides you can take; just make sure you hold on.