When you think about Jordan – The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to be precise – you immediately think of Petra. The Lost City of Petra. The abandoned city, the city half-built, half-carved into the rock, surrounded by mountains, the Rose city (this is due to the color of the rocks it was carved in). The caravan city. Originally known to the Nabataean tribes as Raqmu. Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who managed to make this place a major trading hub due to its strategic location.
It was here where Indiana Jones – Harrison Ford together with Sean Connery was on the quest for the Holy Grail. The movie’s well-known Canyon of the Crescent Moon was inspired by Petra’s Treasury. Keyword being – INSPIRED – it’s not a reliable copy – especially not with all the labyrinths pictured in the movie. It is, in fact, a rock facade – quite flat. No labyrinth whatsoever.
Now it truly is an abandoned (by its dwellers) city – but also full of tourists as it is a rare tourist attraction. Of course, It wasn’t like that at all years ago. Even though we don’t really know when precisely Petra was built, it surely was filled with life – between 400BC and 106 AD it used to be a capital – capital of the Nabateans empire.
The Nabatean people were in control of the vast area of land – between the Red Sea in the South and the Dead Sea in the North. It was the caravan center for the incense of Arabia, the silks of China and the spices of India, a crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria.
Also – the Nabatean tribes were experts in water irrigation systems, water capture systems – quite ingenious in their times. Remember it’s the desert – such skills must have been priceless.
Scholars excavating Petra say they only discovered 15 % of the city so far – the remaining 85 percent is still untouched.
Once a thriving city – the center of the empire – Petra started its decay in 106 AD when the Roman Empire formally took control over it. The serious earthquakes, and the fact that sea routes started gaining importance resulted in the fall of the city around 700 AD.
As a result of the long and complicated history of Petra, you can see a lot of Greco-Roman influences melted with the dominant Arabic style of the architecture.
Petra was rediscovered again in the early XIX century. “It is one of the most elegant remains of antiquity existing”, the Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt wrote in his diary in 1812. He was the one who – in disguise – managed to sneak into this well-hidden place. Since the times of Crusaders, the city was isolated from the Western civilization. Its location was well known to local Beduins but the fear of treasure hunters sealed their silence. When you look up the Treasury you will see a giant urn that is carved in the pink rock right above the entrance. The Treasury is actually called this way because of the popular belief that the Pharaoh treasure is buried here. When you look closely you’ll see a lot of gunshots on the facade. They are left by the people looking for the legendary treasure. Obviously, they were hoping the urn would react like a giant pinata.
If you like your history lessons – you might also like to know that back in the day Petra was a home to some 30k people. And the whole country was 4 times the today Jordan.
In 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world. Also was also chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the “28 Places to See Before You Die”.
When you enter the place you first have to take a walk to reach the famous Siq.
Siq is a narrow canyon that is nearly 80 meters (!) (260 feet) high and 3 – 4 meters wide. This really might be overwhelming. You fell your own insignificance faced with the contrasting powerful nature. Along the way in the Siq – a lot of horse/donkey riders will be passing you as well as some carriages. This might be interesting as they are usually wearing traditional Beduin clothing. Not the first pic though – those guys are not Beduins;))
At the very end of the Siq, you’ll get to Al Khazneh – the Treasury itself. That’s when you can actually feel like Indiana Jones discovering forbidden places…
This is what Jean Louis Burckhardt wrote about seeing Petra’s Treasury for the first time:
“An excavated mausoleum came in view, the situation and beauty of which are calculated to make an extraordinary impression upon the traveler, after having traversed for nearly half an hour such a gloomy and almost subterraneous passage as I have described. The natives call this monument Kaszr Faraoun or Pharaoh’s castle and pretend that it was the residence of a prince. But it was rather the sepulchre of a prince, and great must have been the opulence of a city, which could dedicate such monuments to the memory of its rulers.” — Johann Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land
When you finally pass the Treasury, you’ll reach the Street of Facades, then the Theater and Royal Tombs.
On your way to the Monastery – you’ll see a lot. Doesn’t make much sense to describe it all here – you just gotta go and see it for yourself:)
The Monastery was actually built as a temple – possibly dedicated to the Nabatean king, and a tomb, but during the Byzantine era was used as a church – hence the name. Its facade is so enormous – over 10 meters – that it seems like an optical illusion almost. The door itself is taller than a regular house.
Also, when you’re there – you’re invited to reach the top of the world:D Quite a temptation!
If you decide to go back after dark you will definitely not regret it:
– along the way, you’ll get a couple of ‘pit stops’. Their hosts will see to it that you don’t suffer from hunger or dehydration. Those are beduins’ tents – fully equipped to prepare a variety of local foods. At the end of your journey – at the Monastery – there’s even a restaurant – quite nice, given the circumstances:) – with an amazing – breathtaking view at the Monastery.
– It’s a good idea to get yourself a Jordan Pass -there’s a couple of options available. When you have it, you don’t have to pay any visa fees, nor do you have to pay for the tickets to Petra as well as to 40 other attractions in Jordan.
– If you’re not a child or a tiny adult – do not use the donkeys. It may seem like a great idea but it’s really not. They really suffer awful conditions. If you got there with your legs, you can finish the hike, it’s not that difficult.
– Included in your ticket is a horse ride. You can do it as long as you remember that tip is obligatory. And it’s not a small one too.