The best of Petra, the hidden city built 2000 years ago

August 17, 2019

The best of Petra, the hidden city built 2000 years ago

I recently visited the city of Petra in Jordan, one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. It’s incredible with many accolades endorsing its magnificence.

In 1985 the Petra Archaeological Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 28 places to visit them before you die. Then to boot, in 2007 it was named one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World.’

The Treasury – the first significant building you see after walking through the Siq – the narrow canyon

Where is Petra?

In case you’re not sure where Petra is, it’s hidden amidst the rugged, desert canyons and mountains in what is now the southwestern corner of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It’s about a three and a half-hour drive from Amman, the capital city.

About Petra

It is not known exactly when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire between 400 BC and 106 AD. It grew rich through trading frankincense, myrrh, and spices, more precious than gold. Now I understand why the ‘Three Wise Men’ took these goodies to Jesus, on his birth!

The Nabataeans were eventually conquered and absorbed into the Roman Empire. The empire continued to thrive until a large earthquake destroyed much of the city in 363 AD. The earthquake, combined with changes in trade routes eventually led to the downfall of the city and it was ultimately abandoned. By the 750 AD, Petra appeared to have been largely deserted, except for some local Bedouin people from the area. It remained like this until 1812 when a Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt set out to find Petra. He had converted to Islam and had heard the locals speak of the ‘lost city’ hidden in the mountains of Wadi Mousa. In order to find the site without making the local people suspicious, he disguised himself as a pilgrim looking to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Aaron. In doing so, he got a glimpse of the legendary city, revealing the secret of Petra to the world.

What to expect?

I’d seen pictures of some of the monuments and ruins at Petra, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
The long walk through the ‘Siq’ takes you to the main entrance of the city. The ‘siq’ is a narrow gorge no wider than three metres in some parts. It wends it way for approximately 1.2 kilometres and ends at Petra’s most elaborate ruin, the breathtaking Al Khazneh (the Treasury.)

Walking in the Siq

The Treasury, along with the Monastery are the most impressive monuments you’ll see. It’s carved directly into the red sandstone cliff face, standing 36.5 meters high. Its unusual name comes from a Nabataean legend. The Pharaoh had placed an urn at the  top of the monument. It’s believed it was full of treasures. Bullet holes surround the urn as people tried to knock it off its pivot to retrieve the gold.

The Treasury is a facade, with only a couple of small rooms

Having left the Treasury we followed the main trail with our guide. It took us past the Main Theatre, Royal Tombs, Great Temple as well as dozens of tombs and other structures within the Petra site. Carved directly into the vibrant red, white and pink sandstone cliff faces, the architecture is a blend of Nabataean and Greco-Roman. Many of the structures were originally covered in marble, however when the city was abandoned it was looted by thieves and the treasures lost forever.

How far do you walk to explore Petra?

We walked a total of about 8km along the main train, but should you choose a more strenuous trail or continue up to the Monastery the walk is much longer and more difficult. However, there is an alternative. If the heat is too much or the eight-kilometre walk is too long, transport is at hand. You can choose a donkey, horse or a small carriage pulled by a donkey.

Whats happening about the excavations?

Only 15 per cent of Petra has been excavated, leaving 85 per cent of it still underground and untouched. UNESCO will not allow more excavations, mainly conducted by the universities, unless funds are available for the restoration works on the excavated sites.

What happened to the local Bedouin people that lived there?

The local Bedouins were living on the site until quite recently. However, the government built them a village nearby and they have been relocated. When visiting the site, the locals are easily spotted, selling tourist souvenirs and beckoning you to have a ride on their horse or donkey.

How big is Jordan?

Jordan is about a third the size of New Zealand with about 10 million people. Their population has increased significantly over the last 10 year with large number of refugees including 1.3 million people from Syria.

Tips for visiting Petra

  • A tour guide is a ‘must’ to get the most out of the hidden city. When purchasing a ticket, request a quide at the same time. Their standard tours take about 1.5 hours.
  • In the peak of the season, April, about 4,000 people a day visit Petra. We visited in late May it was nothing like that.
  • We only walked the main trail, a little over 8 kilometres. This trail is considered easy. However, there are more strenuous trails with hundreds of steps if you are wanting a real workout.
  • The site opens at 6am which is the best time to visit as the temperature is manageable and the tour buses are yet to arrive.
  • If you are a keen photographer the best time to take photos of the Treasury is between 9-11am and 5-6pm when the sun strikes it directly. The whole facade is lit up with a reddish-pink glow.

Getting around Jordan

The best way to get around Jordan and see the many sights is with your own private driver, or a small tour group.

2020-03-04T14:38:23+13:00August 17th, 2019|Jordan|

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