The Lost City of Petra

The Lost City of Petra is one of the world’s most famous and intriguing landmarks, with the mystery of the Pyramids in addition to the sprawling beauty of Machu Picchu. It is no wonder that it has become a favourite spot for moviemakers, with movies like Indiana Jones.

Paying a visit to the sight as a non-Jordanian is quite expensive, ranging around 50 Jordanian dinars for a one day pass (two and three day passes are also available). However, the sights are absolutely stunning and the fees paid contribute to the upkeep of this incredibly significant landmark. You can also hire a local guide for 20 – 50 JD.

The stunning gorge along the ‘Siq’

One of the most well-known sights of Petra is the so-called Treasury.  Some may have the impression that Petra is only this stunning, rose-colored, carved building face, however in reality this is just one small part of the elaborate complex. For this reason, it is recommended to devote at least an entire day to visiting the sight, starting early so that you can escape the crowds and the desert heat. The walk to the Lost City via the Siq (a natural narrow passage carved in the mountain) is a particularly beautiful journey.

The “Siq” (the Shaft in Arabic) leading to the Lost City of Petra

As you begin to walk towards Petra, the excitement and anticipation grows as you make your way through the 1 kilometre long gorge known as the ‘Siq’. The rocks above the walking path are many dozens of metres tall, often nearly entirely blocking out the sun. At the end of the Siq, you can begin to make out the magnificent carved Treasury through the slim and rocky opening. You have reached the Lost City of Petra!

The Treasury, the most well-known sight in Petra was built at the beginning of the 1st Century by the Nabataeans

If arriving early in the morning, you may be pleased to know there is a small shop/cafe very nearby to the Treasury, selling Jordanian coffee. While the café is nothing particularly special, it does give you a moment to take in the stunning views. This is also a good chance to hear some of Petra’s history, either from your guide or perhaps a written source.
One of the most amazing things about Petra is how many mysteries are still contained within the ruins. While scientists and historians have unearthed many facts about Petra, there are still plenty of unknowns, and many discoveries still being made. In fact, simply by brushing over the sand you can discover ancient artifacts such as vase fragments – who knows what other historical treasures are waiting to be discovered.

There are still several ongoing excavations, and undiscovered parts in Petra

What we do know about the Lost City of Petra is that it was a city literally carved out by the ancient Nabataean Empire, which was in its prime approximately 2,000 years ago. Given Petra’s central location to much of the world (linking China, India, much of Arabia and parts of Europe), it was a major trading hub and home to a very advanced civilization.

While Petra and the Nabataean empire thrived for awhile, it was eventually taken over by the Romans and declined rapidly. Earthquakes in 363 and 551 AD dealt the final death knells to Petra and it fell into disuse and was almost totally forgotten by the Western world. It was not until 1812 that the stunning complex was rediscovered by European explorers.

It must have been an impressive find, considering that the entire sight spreads over approximately 270km2 and incorporates dozens of individually impressive buildings in various degrees of preservation. Unlike many other historical sights where visitors are discouraged from getting too close, at Petra you are welcome to actually enter and climb most carvings and ruins (with the Treasury and Monastery being some notable exceptions).

A view on the valley of the “Lost City” from one of the carved buildings

The magic of Petra at your fingertips

While the Treasury is the one ruin that has really captured the world’s heart and imagination, the next most famous ruin is probably The Monastery. In fact, some people think The Monastery is even more beautiful than the Treasury – it’s just you have to climb over 800 steps to get to it! Luckily, the view is quite beautiful as you make your way up, and you’re free to take it at your own pace. For most people, it takes about an hour to climb.

Once reaching the top, you are likely to be awed by the sheer size of the Monastery. Although not as intricately detailed as the Treasury, it is much larger. One similarity between the two famous sights, though, is that neither have names that are particularly accurate – there is no evidence to suggest that this sight has ever been used as a Monastery. Similarly, no real treasure (yet) has ever been found in the Treasury.

The vast ‘El Deir’ Monastery

As you wander around the ruins, you are likely to meet Jordanian men, women and children, including many selling souvenirs and trinkets. Many of these people are Bedouins from the Al B’doul tribe who used to live in the Lost City of Petra for centuries, who now today instead live nearby the sight, and claim to be descended from the Nabataeans. Sometimes the ‘sell’ here can be quite determined – don’t be afraid to politely say no if you are not interested in a product.

The Bedouins living in Petra

Once you have seen enough of Petra, you can begin to make your way back. If you are tired, or just looking for a bit of fun, your entrance ticket entitles you to a free ride back on horseback. It is worth choosing carefully, as sadly not all of the horses seem well treated, but being lead back to the entrance while having a friendly conversation can be the perfect end to your visit to Petra.

The city of Petra, with the mountains hiding the “Lost City” in the background

Author: Georgie McRae

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