Petra – Jordan’s Incredible Historic World Wonder

The Treasury in Petra

Petra's Treasury viewed from the gorge

Marhaban! مرحبا

It’s already been 2 months since I have been back from my incredible trip to Jordan and some of it seems like a dream. Was I really there? Did I really get a chance to see the Lost City of Petra, the newest member of the family of Wonders of the World? It’s a good thing I have a camera with me to get some proof of the fact that I was in one of the most spectacular places on the face of the planet. Jordan was full of wonderful surprises and Petra was no different. Of course I had known about Petra, but I wasn’t aware at how incredibly vast the site is and that there is so much to see.

Petra, the capital of the Nabataean empire of King Aretas IV, was in it’s prime around 9 B.C. to A.D. 40, but the kingdom had been in existence since the 6th century B.C. The Nabataeans were masters of irrigation and other water technology, and this is a skill that comes in handy in such an arid environment. This was a very modern civilization with brilliant engineers and craftsmen, as is well evidenced by the photos you are about to look at.

The Treasury or al-Khazneh at Petra in Jordan

The Treasury or al-Khazneh at Petra in Jordan

Petra played a vital role as a centre of trade and commerce for the silk, spice and other caravan trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome in ancient times. The Seleucid king Antigonus, the Roman emperor Pompey, and Herod the Great all tried to gain control of Petra without much success, and the city remained in Nabataean control until Petra was finally absorbed into the Roman Empire in 106 A.D.

Sadly, in 693 A.D. Petra was hit by a terrible earthquake that devastated its water management systems and many of its buildings were destroyed. After Saladin and his armies took over this part of the middle east, Petra was largely abandoned and faded from memory in the western world, thus earning it’s nickname of the “Lost City”. This incredible city, that was craved out of mountains, was lost to the west for hundreds of years until a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab scholar, infiltrated the Bedouin-occupied city in 1812.

Camels resting at Petra’s Treasury in Jordan

Camels resting at  Petra's Treasury in Jordan

Petra’s ruins are among the world’s most renowned archaeological sites. While many, if not most, of the buildings that were not directly carved into the mountains are now nothing but rubble, the ancient city remains standing today, thousands of years later. This is a testament to the ingenuity of the Nabataean people, who were able to construct towering structures half-built and half-carved into the rock.

Today, Petra is Jordan’s most popular travel and tourist destination and for good reason. I hope that the photos will give you a good idea of the immensity, beauty, and history of this archeological treasure, but needless to say being there is an experience of a lifetime  and photos just can’t capture the feeling of standing amongst such incredible ruins. I would encourage everyone to visit this unique and magical place. If you are a fan of history and love to travel, then Petra just has to be on your list of must see places. Trust me, you will be in awe from the moment you arrive, and will have wonderful stories to tell when you get back home.

The Treasury stands over 40 meters high.

The Treasury or al-Khazneh at Petra in Jordan

As you meander along the dusty and narrow Siq (the gorge leading to the Treasury) you will see the remnants of the water delivery system that the Nabataeans engineered. The Siq is at it’s widest approximately five meteres wide, however it reaches hundreds of meters upwards. It zigs and zags for nearly a kilometer and the first view that you get of the fabled city is the view in the very first photograph at the top of the page. What a great way to build up the suspense, hiking for a distance in an impressive gorge, until you are faced with the Treasury! What a sight to behold, it is an incredible feeling  to stand there and take slow steps towards the entrance to Petra and have the Treasury be revealed in such a spectacular fashion. Those Nabataeans had a bit of flair for the dramatic. :)

Popular belief has it that the Treasury, also known as al-Khazneh, was constructed in the first century B.C. However, the true purpose of the structure remains a mystery to today. One thing that most archeologists and scholars agree upon is that it was not a treasury. More likely it was a temple or royal tomb. The facade is adorned with ancient god figures believed to be El-uzza (associated to the Egyptian goddess Isis) as well as Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus. The inner chamber is 12 square meters and in the rear you can find an ablution basin that was used for ritual washing. This would give credence to the hypothesis that the Treasury was a temple of sorts.

In ancient times, and all the way to the 19th century, there was a stream that flowed in front of the Treasury, but it was diverted and the plaza was leveled off to make it easier for tourists to get around safely.

The Urn Tomb was one of the Royal Tombs of Petra

Petra - The Urn Tomb

Petra the New Wonder of the World

Petra was recently selected as one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World”! A well deserved honour, if you ask me, and it is in good company. Here is a list of the finalists that were selected and a list of the 7 winners of the prestigious title of Wonder of the World.

The 20 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World, alphabetically:

  1. Acropolis, Athens, Greece (450 – 330 B.C.) Civilization and Democracy
  2. Alhambra, Granada, Spain (12th century) Dignity and Dialog
  3. Angkor, Cambodia (12th century) Beauty and Sanctity
  4. Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (before 800 A.D.) Worship and Knowledge
  5. Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1931) Welcoming and Openness
  6. Colosseum, Rome, Italy (70 – 82 A.D.) Joy and Suffering
  7. Easter Island Statues, Chile (10th – 16th Century)  Mystery and Awe
  8. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France (1887 – 89) Challenge and Progress
  9. Great Wall, China (220 B.C and 1368-1644 A.D.) Perseverance and Persistence)
  10. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (532 – 537 A.D.) Faith and Respect
  11. Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan (749 – 1855) Clarity and Serenity
  12. Kremlin/St.Basil’s, Moscow, Russia (1156 – 1850) Fortitude and Symbolism
  13. Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Peru (1460-1470) Community and Dedication
  14. Neuschwanstein Castle, Fussen, Germany  (1869 -1884) Fantasy and Imagination
  15. Petra, Jordan (9 B.C. – 40 A.D.) Engineering and Protection
  16. Statue of Liberty, New York, USA (1886) Generosity and Hope
  17. Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom (3000 B.C. – 1600 B.C.) Intrigue and Endurance
  18. Sydney Opera House, Australia (1954 – 73) Abstraction and Creativity
  19. Taj Mahal, Agra, India (1630 A.D.) Love and Passion
  20. Timbuktu, Mali  (12th century) Intellect and Mysticism
And the winners are…

The New Seven Wonders of the World

  1. Great Wall, China (220 B.C and 1368-1644 A.D.) Perseverance and Persistence
  2. Petra, Jordan (9 B.C. – 40 A.D.) Engineering and Protection
  3. Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1931) Welcoming and Openness
  4. Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Peru (1460-1470) Community and Dedication
  5. Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (before 800 A.D.) Worship and Knowledge
  6. Colosseum, Rome, Italy (70 – 82 A.D.) Joy and Suffering
  7. Taj Mahal, Agra, India (1630 A.D.) Love and Passion
Petra’s theater was built in the 1st century A.D.
The Theater at Petra

Petra’s theater, which was also carved out of solid rock, was built in the 1st century A.D. and has a seating capacity of over 6,000 people. The theater’s 45 rows of seats are divided horizontally by two diazomata. To keep the sun out of the spectators’ eyes, its cavea faces north and east. The front of the theater, including most of the stage, was badly damaged by floods and earthquakes. Many people believe that Petra’s theatre was built by the Romans, this is not so, as the construction was completed well before the arrival of the Roman Empire in the region.

View from inside one of the Cave Tombs in Petra

View from inside one of the Tombs in Petra

Petra

They seem no work of Man’s creative hand,

Where Labour wrought as wayward Fancy planned;

But from the rock as if by magic grown,

Eternal—silent—beautiful—alone!

Not virgin-white—like that old Doric shrine

Where once Athena held her rites divine;

Not saintly grey—like many a minster fane

That crowns the hill, or sanctifies the plain:

But rosy-red,—as if the blush of dawn,

Which first beheld them were not yet withdrawn:

The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,

Which Man call’d old two thousand years ago!

Match me such marvel, save in Eastern clime,—

A rose-red city—’half as old as time!’

John William Burgon

Tourists walking through Petra

Tourists walking through Petra

How to visit Petra

The Petra Archaeological Park is big… And I mean BIG! The Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority (PDTRA), established in 2009, controls the entire Petra Region (755 km2) including the Petra Archaeological Park, which covers 264 km2 of the land. I did say big didn’t I? Granted, the site that is open to tourists is much smaller than the above mentioned lands, but even so it is large enough to require some pre planning in order to see the site properly.

I was fortunate to have a guide from the Jordan Tourism Board taking me to all the great places I saw in Jordan, so I’m able to relay some of the information that he shared with me about Petra and how to take advantage of your time there. If you would like your own guide at Petra, licensed tour guides can be booked from the Visitor Center to take you through the site. The guides speak Arabic, English, French, Greek, and Italian.

Let’s begin with the passes that you will need to purchase to visit Petra.

  • They do not accept credit cards, so bring Jordanian Dinars only
  • You can buy one, two, or three day passes
  • Children under 15 enter free
  • Locals, Residents, Students with a valid Jordanian university ID, and Arab Nationals pay only 1 JD for access to Petra
  • Camel and donkey rides are also available on the site after the Treasury, at extra cost.

Ticket Prices

Tourists spending only one day in Jordan, like daily visitors from neighbouring countries, will be charged different (higher) entrance fees than those spending more time in Jordan (overnight visitors). Cruise ship passengers are considered overnight visitors too.

Visitor Type Price

  • 1-Day Visitor 90 JD
  • Overnight Visitor 1-Day Pass 50 JD
  • Overnight Visitor 2-Day Pass 55 JD
  • Overnight Visitor 3-Day Pass 60 JD
  • Children under 15yrs Free
  • Locals, Residents, Students, Arab Nationals 1 JD

In my opinion, you will need at least two days to see Petra properly, and I would highly recommend the three day pass if you have the time.

The Monastery or Ad-Deir at the top of an 800 step climb

The Monastery at Petra in Jordan

Day One:

Plan on visiting “Little Petra” which is not far from Petra itself. Visiting the smaller and lesser known part of Petra will give you an idea of what to expect and if you have a car it’s just a short drive away. I’m guessing that you’d have no trouble getting a taxi to take you there as well. I found it to be an interesting tease on what was to come at “Big” Petra. I’ll have some photos of Little Petra in a future blog post.

After taking the time to visit Little Petra and having settled into your hotel, go purchase your (hopefully 3 day) pass to Petra. At this point I would suggest doing only Petra by Night on the first day and leaving the exploration of the site to the two following days. Petra by Night is a magical experience, one deserving of it’s own series of photos, so look for that soon on my blog as well.

The Siq and Treasury are lit by over 1,500 candles plus whatever moonlight is available, and it will take your breath away. The experience (especially if everyone is quiet) is one you will never forget. I found it to be the perfect introduction to the Lost City and I was transported back thousands of years in my mind as I sipped on tea, took my photos, and listened to the narrative and music. Needless to say, I was ever so eager to see sunrise the next morning, knowing full well that I would be seeing so many more astonishing historic sites in Petra.

The facade of the Monastery measures 47m x 48m

Ad-Deir (Monastery) - Petra, Jordan

Day Two:

Yes, that’s your alarm clock and wake up call at 5 AM! Do yourselves a favour and get to the entrance by 6 AM. You’ll be one of the few people that take advantage of the quiet solitude of strolling through the Siq while it is devoid of voices, other than your own. It is a truly beautiful thing to experience and approaching the Treasury while there are no (or few) other people around; it will amplify the awe that you feel. It is a totally different experience in the day as it is at night. If you don’t want to (or can’t) walk the site, hire a horse-drawn carriage to enter the site and then you can hire a donkey, horse, or camel inside the site (the donkeys are quite useful for climbing).

Be sure to pace yourselves and understand your level of physical fitness. While this isn’t a mountain climbing experience, you will be walking (or riding) quite a bit, usually under a hot sun.

Spend the day exploring Al-Siq, The Treasury, Street of Facades, The Theater, The Royal Tombs, The City Center, Qasr Al-Bint Temple, and Al-Habees Museum; then have lunch and relax for a spell, your feet will love you!

After lunch and a rest, stay indoors and check out the Petra Archeological Museum while the sun is still high in the sky. The best time to attempt the 800 plus step climb to the Monastery (Al-Deir) is late afternoon when it is in the shade. It is well worth the climb! (see photos below). Once at the top, you can once again relax in a rest area partly inside a cave just in front of the Monastery. There is a gift shop that sells  beautiful silver jewelery and other items that are made by the local Bedouin people. Relax, have a cup of Arabic coffee or tea to boost your energy before the trek back down. The return is all downhill and that’s a nice way to end the day. You’ll experience the most beautiful golden sunset light in Petra on the tail end of day two if you manage to be leaving close to the closing time of 6 PM.

What a day!

I couldn’t resist a self portrait at the Monastery

 

Ken Kaminesky at the Monastery in Petra

Day Three:

Today would be a great day to forget to set your alarm. Sleep in you brave explorer, you deserve it! Today’s trek back into Petra will be a shorter one but still exciting. You’ll once again enter via the Siq, Al-Siq, see the Treasury, High Place of Sacrifice, The Lion Monument, The Garden Temple Complex, The Triclinium, The Renaissance Tomb, The Broken Pediment Tomb, The Roman Soldier Tomb, and then with a great big smile on your face head back to your hotel for a well deserved dinner of local Jordanian food.

That’s 3 days that you’ll never forget!

The lounge at the Monastery in Petra

The lounge at the Monastery in Petra

The lounge at the Monastery in Petra

Tips for your visit to Petra

  • The ideal time for photography is like in most places, early morning and late afternoon.
  • Stay hydrated! Make sure that you drink at least a couple of litres of water a day. Dehydration will ruin your trip, trust me.Wear a hat or head scarf, the sun can be brutal, even if you don’t immediately feel it.
  • Wear sunscreen SPF 45 or higher. This is not the place to work on your tan. Seek the shade wherever possible, it’s easy to get sunstroke in the desert areas like Petra.
  • Comfortable shoes and good wool hiking socks are a must. Be kind to your feet, they take you everywhere you go.
  • Wear quick drying clothes, cotton is not your friend when hiking.Bring a light jacket, it actually does get cool even if the sun is out.
  • Be respectful and keep in mind that this is an Islamic country. Modesty in dress code is recommended.
  • Bring snacks like trail mix. You may find yourself in need of a quick energy boost.
  • Have coins available for tipping.
  • Bring your camera!
  • Stop and talk to the Bedouin people, they will likely ask you to join them for tea and a chat. Please tip them something appropriate like 1-2 JD.
  • Be quiet and respectful at the Petra by night ceremony, talking during the proceedings makes you the tourist that everyone hates.Don’t try and do the tour in one day, trust me.
  • For an enhanced experience, hire a guide.

The Monastery or Ad-Deir

The Monastery at Petra

The couple in the photo above are totally dwarfed by the immense facade of the Monastery, which measures 47m x 48m. Similar to the Treasury, the Moanstery’s name is misleading and is not, nor ever was, an actual Monastery. Inside the Monastery you will find a single room with double staircases and the actual past use of the structure is still debated today. Some say that it may have been dedicated to the deified Nabatean king Obodas I, who ruled in the 1st century BC.There is a path that leads to the top of the urn, at the top of the center column of the facade, but it is generally not permitted for anyone to access it without special permission.

The Siq, the principal route into Petra

the Siq, the principal route into Petra

United Nations (UNESCO) World Heritage Site

UNESCO’s World Heritage mission is to:

  • Encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage
  • Encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List
  • Encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites
  • Help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training
  • Provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger
  • Support States Parties’ public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation
  • Encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage
  • Encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.

The Petra Archaeological Park (PAP) covers a 264 dunum (264,000 square metres) area within Wadi Musa, which is considered a tourism and archaeological site and a World Heritage Site registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1985.

You can read more about Petra on the official UNESCO World Heritage Centre website.

Who else is on the list? World Heritage List

Light and shadow areas of the Siq in Petra

Light and shadow areas of the Siq in Petra

Light and shadow areas of the Siq in Petra

Personal thoughts on Petra

There are a lot of special places on the face of the planet, and then there are the exceptionally amazing places like Petra that defy description. Even with all the photos I have posted today, I have just scratched the surface of the sights to see in the Lost City. I could have shown hundreds of photos, but I’m saving some for a few future articles that I’ll be posting here on my blog. I could have used a week, if not more, to truly capture Petra’s charm and beauty with my camera, but that just wasn’t possible. Just for this reason I’d love to go back one day to continue what I started there.

One of the things about this job is that I rarely get the chance to just absorb the feelings in a place like Petra. I’m too busy trying to get my shot, and then moving to the next one. While I realize that I’m lucky to be visiting such incredible historic sites, sometimes I wish that I could do it with no camera and just enjoy the serenity, beauty, and grandeur of the place. Then again, I would never forgive myself for not taking the best possible photos that I can in these types of places, since I never know if I’ll be fortunate enough to return in the future. This way, with the photos that I have, I am always able to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the places that I have travelled to and loved. As I take a look at my images, months and years later, my mind races with the incredible memories of the people I met, the sights I saw, the foods I enjoyed, and the feelings that I experienced.

With these photos, that I have shared with you today, I hope that I was able to convey some of what I believe makes Petra such a fantastic and unique place. Jordan was a trip filled with historic and natural wonders and I would urge  anyone with a love of history, sense of adventure, or a curiosity of different cultures to consider Jordan for one of those trips of a lifetime.

Ma’a salama!

مع السلامة

 

The Siq in Petra at sunset with the moon in the sky

My gratitude to the team at Royal Jordanian for getting me to Jordan in style!

Flying Crown Class is a little slice of heaven… Thanks RJ!

Royal Jordanian
If you enjoyed this photo essay and the information in the article, please take a moment to share it with your friends on your favourite social media platforms by clicking on the buttons below.

Comments (112)

Add A Comment

  1. Amit Shir says

    Unbelievable experience for me and my family, Because they were always wanting to remarkable tour and I decided to go to Petra ,Because I came to know about the place and tour details from one of my friends ,when I got my experience ,I have no words to say , best time to arrange your Israel Petra tours is spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), which offer best climate. April month is the peak time in this aspect. However, the best time to enjoy the grandeur of Petra by early morning and the middle of the morning or by late afternoon.Thanks so much to mantis-tours.com for their service and ambience .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *