The Lost City of Petra is one of the world’s most famous and intriguing landmarks, with the mystery and intrigue of the Pyramids in addition to the sprawling beauty of Machu Picchu. It is no wonder that it has become a favourite spot for famous moviemakers, with movies including Indiana Jones and the Transformers II.
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, The Treasury, 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 site, starting early so that you can escape the crowds and desert heat. The walk to Petra via the Siq (a narrow passage that leads to the Lost City of Petra) is particularly beautiful if you can make it before the crowds.
Visiting Petra as a non-Jordanian is quite expensive at 50 Jordanian dinars for a one day pass (two and three day passes are also available). However, the sites 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 depending on what you want to see. This is highly recommended, as it will help you gain a better understanding about this immense site which can be a bit overwhelming without a guide.
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!
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.
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 site spreads over approximately 270km2 and incorporates dozens of individually impressive buildings in various degrees of preservation. Unlike many other historical sites 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).
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 sites, though, is that neither have names that are particularly accurate – there is no evidence to suggest that this site has ever been used as a Monastery. Similarly, no real treasure (yet) has ever been found in the Treasury.
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 that used to live in the Lost City of Petra for centuries, who now today instead live nearby, 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.
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.
Author: Georgie McRae