Take a step back in time and see the wonders of the lost city of Petra Jordan! From the marvelous design of the Petra Treasury to the enchanting Petra at Night tour, Petra is a place worth visiting and should be included on every adventurer’s travel bucket list!
It is magical how the city has stood the test of time, being carved from sandstone and all. Now we get to explore the temples and ruins of Petra in all of their glory! Travelers flock to the ancient Treasury (Al Khazneh) building that housed the Holy Grail in the famous flick. Do a Google search for Petra and 90% of the photos will be of this iconic sandstone temple facade, camels lying on the dusty ground before it. But, there is so much more to Petra.
Below are some things that would help you understand what Petra is and places to visit when planning your trip!
Petra Archaeological Site
What is Petra Archaeological Site
Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage site situated in southern Jordan and is also part of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Due to its stunning architecture and labyrinths, it became a popular tourist spot for those visiting Jordan. There are over 30 incredible sites spread over 60 square kilometers, from temples to tombs to elaborate buildings.
What’s impressive about Petra is that the whole structure was carved from the mountainside, making use of the region’s natural land formations! Pretty cool, right? The beautiful red sandstone where it was etched from also earned it the name Red Rose City.
History of Petra
The Nabataeans (nomadic Arabs) originally called it Raqmu or Raqēmō and made it their capital around the second century BC. It became a vital trading point, especially for spice, back in its time due to its location with Europe and Asia.
The inside of Petra houses numerous quarters, temples, and tombs. They also created water systems like dams and reservoirs, making it possible to do gardening and farming in the arid region.
The place was later conquered by the Romans at around 63-64 BC. Petra experienced devastating earthquakes during 363 AD and 551 AD. Because of new trading routes and the damage from the earthquakes, the city of Petra fell into ruin. It was later rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
The Treasury at Petra Archaeological Site (Al Khazneh)
The Treasury or Al-Khazneh represents the beauty of the ancient Nabataean architecture. It is said to be the tomb of the Nabataean King Aretas IV. With its elaborate design and the legends surrounding it, it is no surprise that The Treasury is the face of Petra.
Why is it called the Treasury in Petra?
The place was named from the Arabic word Al-Khazneh, which means “The Treasury” in English. There are two famous legends about how it got its name.
The first one is that the Egyptian Pharaoh created Al-Khazneh using magic to store his treasure during his pursuit of Moses and the Israelites. The other is that pirates have put their treasure on the urn. Bullet marks can be seen on the stone urn, as some people have tried shooting back in the day in hopes of getting the treasure inside.
Where is the Petra Treasury?
The Petra Treasury is the one that will greet you after passing the 1-kilometer narrow passageway called the Siq. It is a fitting image of what you can expect from the other sites in Petra.
How was the Treasury in Petra built?
With the tools used by the Nabataeans before, you might be thinking about how they were able to create such magnificent structures in Petra. With today’s technology, we were able to see a glimpse of how they did it.
The ancient Nabataeans used giant steps to put their masons safely on the side of the mountain as they carved the buildings out. As for the Treasury, it was said to have taken around 4 years to complete.
What’s inside the Treasury at Petra?
If you’ve watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the temple they used to shoot one of their scenes is, in fact, Al-Khazneh! In the story, the temple was the final resting place of the Holy Grail.
In real life, what is inside Al-Khazneh? The answer is… none. There is nothing inside (sorry!). Entry inside The Treasury is forbidden as well, in line with their efforts in preserving the integrity of the ancient structure, as well as the other sites in Petra.
Other Ruins to Visit in Petra
Bab el Siq
Bab el Siq (which means gateway to the Siq) is the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra. This wide valley is already home to several sights.
These sights include three massive tomb blocks called “Djinn blocks” by the local Bedouins. After that, you’ll also see the Obelisk Tomb, which has four pyramid-shaped pillars on top of it. On the bottom of the tomb is an ancient banqueting hall called the Triclinium, which has some gravesites on both sides.
Next on your journey is passing through a narrow 1.2-kilometer gorge called the Siq (Arab for “the Shaft”). The long walk is not without its share of sights. Aside from the rose-colored stone walls that surround you along the way, you’ll encounter several sites and sculptures made by the ancient Nabataeans on the stone walls.
At the end of the Siq, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Petra’s most elaborate structure, The Treasury (Al-Khazneh)!
Petra Royal Tombs
- The Urn Tomb: Aptly named Urn Tomb due to the large urn crowning the top of the pediment. Situated high on a mountainside, you’ll have to take several flights of stairs to reach the tomb. It was believed to be the tomb of Malichus II, who ruled the Nabataeans from 40 to 70 AD. It was later converted into a church. An inscription on the rear wall can be seen depicting the blessing of the place by Bishop Jason in 447 AD.
- The Silk Tomb: The tomb got its name from the dazzling colors of the rock from which it was etched. It is also the most colorful compared to the other tombs in Petra and is definitely worth checking out!
- The Corinthian Tomb: The Nabataeans have adapted a Corinthian style in making the pillars, which is why it is called the Corinthian tomb. Evidence of water basins can be seen at the front of the said tomb. You will also notice that its appearance is similar to the Petra Treasury, especially the six upper pillars. Unlike the Treasury, though, the urn at the top is missing. The doors and windows of the Corinthian tomb are arranged asymmetrically, varying in shapes and sizes.
- The Palace Tomb: Last on our list of the Royal Tombs is the Palace Tomb and is one of the largest in Petra. It got its name due to its similarity with the Roman palace design of the Golden House of Nero. Another fun fact is that the Palace Tomb is one of the structures in Petra that is half-carved and half-built, especially the upper parts. Regardless of this, it is still considered one of the finest monuments in Petra.
High Place of Sacrifice
This well-preserved site, situated atop Jebel Madbah, is the most accessible of Petra’s High Places. The location is reached via a flight of steps just before the Theatre: turn right at the obelisks to reach the sacrifice platform.
The obelisks stand more than 6 meters tall, and they’re notable for being carved out of the rock face rather than built into it: the negative space surrounding them reveals the truly massive scale of the excavation. Their iron-rich stone sparkles in the sun and acts as totems of this once-holy site, dedicated to the Nabataean gods Dushara and Al ‘Uzza.
The altar area features a wide rectangular triclinium. A big stone block in the center of the High Place is preceded by three stairs. The circular altar lies next to it, accessible by three more steps; surrounding stone water troughs were used for cleansing and purification.
The Theatre was carved out of rock by the Nabataeans more than 2000 years ago, cutting through several caves and tombs in the process. It was partially deconstructed to make way for other structures, yet it is still a must-see in Petra.
The seating area had a capacity of around 3000 people in the past, with 45 rows of chairs divided into three horizontal portions by two corridors. The orchestra part was carved out of the rock, but the background to the front stage was built in three floors with frescoed niches and columns inlaid with marble, rather than carved out of the rock.
The Colonnaded Street, which runs downhill from the Theatre, is the ancient city’s heart. The Nymphaeum can be seen on the right side at the beginning of the street, shadowed by a 450 old juniper tree.
The ruins of the Royal Palace and the modest remains of the market area can also be found along Colonnaded Street. Various trading activities and transactions once took place at the said market area. The Temenos Gateway marks the end of the street.
Ad Deir (The Monastery)
The Monastery (a.k.a. al-Deir or ad-Dayr in Arabic) is roughly an hour’s journey north of Petra’s city center, giving the Treasury a run for its money as Petra’s most spectacular landmark.
The Monastery is artfully carved, though not as elaborately decorated as the Treasury, and it is so large that even the gateway is several storeys high. Its name, like that of other Petra monuments, is a misnomer: it was most likely a Nabatean temple.
Wadi Musa (which means Valley of Moses) is the closest town to Petra, so it is ideal for those who want to explore the ancient city for a couple of days.
There are also many restaurants, hotels, and shops selling local products and souvenirs in the area that you can go to. If you want to relax after a day of exploring, you can visit any of the Turkish baths, which is like a sauna/steam bath.
The Archaeological Museum of Petra and the Nabataean Museum of Petra
The Petra Museum will give you a cultural experience of the ancient Nabataeans and the artifacts they have dug up in the excavation of Petra.
On the other hand, the Nabataean Museum was founded back in April 1994. It consists of three main halls that house numerous artifacts from different periods during the time of the Nabataeans.
From learning about Nabataean history to seeing discoveries that date back since the Stone Ages, you will surely be amazed by the culture and way of life they have in the past.
Visiting Petra at Night
Visiting Petra at night will give you a magical experience that you should see at least once in your life. With over 1500 lit candles from the Siq to the Treasury, you will see why Petra has become a world wonder. When I visited, a group of roughly two hundred people started at the visitor center and walked through the narrow rock fissures that were only lit by candlelight. Not having seen Petra in the daylight yet, walking through the Siq was a very mysterious experience—we were surrounded by darkness. I definitely recommend doing Petra at Night before seeing it during the day!
After about a half hour walk you will reach The Treasury where burning candles placed in paper bags will light the surreal facade. When we arrived, thin mats had been placed on the ground for us to sit, and a Bedouin musician played music as we marveled at this magical part of the lost city.
Below are some things to keep in mind in this tour:
- It starts at 20:30 and lasts for about 2 hours.
- The tour runs weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so keep this in mind when planning your trip!
- Tickets can be purchased for 17 JD (around $24) at the Visitor Centre from 19:30 to 20:30. You can also buy them at local tour agencies or at your hotel. Kids below 10 years of age are free of charge.
Visiting & Getting Around Petra (How to & Tips)
Petra is about a 3-hour drive from the capital city of Amman, though we had made our way from Wadi Feynan where we spent one unbelievable night at the Feynan Ecolodge. This hotel ranked as one of the top 25 ecolodges in the world by National Geographic and it was easy to see why. Another option is to book a hotel in advance at Wadi Musa. For you to explore the wonders of Petra, a two to three-day stay is recommended.
It is best to rent a hotel (see recommended hotels below) in the nearby Wadi Musa, so that you can easily spend several days exploring. One day is not enough!! Keep in mind that Petra by Night only runs on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, so plan accordingly. See their website for current schedule.
If you don’t want to navigate Peta on your own, there are plenty of highly-rated tours and here’s just a few:
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As you can see, there are lots of things to learn and discover in this lost city of Petra Jordan! Much of it is still yet to be uncovered, so hopefully, there is something new to see in the years to come. Through its beauty and marvel, this wonder of the world has transcended time and reached us here in the present.
Essential Tips for Visiting Petra Jordan
Jordan is a mostly Muslim country located in the Middle East, sharing its borders with Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Petra is a 60 square kilometer archaeological site located in Jordan’s southwestern desert.
Map of Petra Temples & Ruin
There are regular flights from the U.S. on Jordan’s national carrier, Royal Jordanian, plus several other international carriers that will fly into Queen Alia International Airport located just south of Amman. From Amman, Petra is about a 3 hour drive or you can take a bus. A JETT bus runs daily for around $14 USD and will drop you off in Petra. Viator also offers a private transfer from the airport to Petra. Driving in a new destination can be a bit of a challenge, but if you choose to rent a car, RentalCars.com has great deals. The cost starts at around $30 USD per day. The roads are in good condition and the important signage will be in English as well as Arabic, but make sure you have a good map or GPS!
Visa: US Citizens will need a visa, which can be purchased at the airport in Amman. A single-entry visa that is valid for up to 60 days.
Language: Arabic is the official language. Many Jordanians in the urban cities speak English, though fewer will in the smaller villages, especially the Bedouin elders.
Currency: The local currency is the Jordanian Dinar. Some places will accept American Dollars, but it is not a guaranteed so exchange some money. ATMs can easily be found in Amman (and there is one at the airport), but can be challenging in the smaller towns.
Electricity: Jordan travel requires Plug C / D / F / G / J, 230v. Most outlets will be the same as the European with two round prongs. You will need an adapter and a converter if your devices are not dual voltage. I used the Celtic Universal Adapter with no issues.
When to Go: The best time to visit Petra is from March to May or late September to November when the temperatures are moderate and rainfall is at a minimum. In the summertime the temperatures can soar up to 115 degrees, which will make exploring the desert next to impossible. In the winter the daytime weather may be comfortable in the mid 60s, but the evenings will get down to the low 40s, which will be chilly if you are planning on doing Petra at Night.
Current Entrance Fees: Visit Petra Website
Where to Stay: The Mövenpick Resort Petra is conveniently located right across the street from the Petra Visitor’s Center. A simpler, no-frills option is Al Rashid Hotel in the city center who offers clean rooms and free breakfast. Petra Moon Hotel boasts a roof terrace that overlooks the beautiful Petra Mountains. The newly renovated Sharah Mountains is a family run 3-star hotel known for its cleanliness and hospitality.
Where to Eat: Try takings a cooking class at Petra Kitchen and then eat your deliciously homemade Jordanian meal. Don’t want to cook your own meal? Try the traditional lamb mansaf at the low-key Reem Baladi (Mid-Town on Tourist Street; Petra – Wadi Musa; tel. 0777312455). It’s where the locals go!
More Essential Tips for Your Petra Visit:
- Avoid taking photos of the local Bedouin people (especially the women) without their permission.
- Bring and drink lots of water. You are in the desert where it can be easy to get dehydrated. It doesn’t hurt to pick up a dehydration powder (Tactical makes a good one!) that can easily be put into your water in case you feel dizzy.
- Petra is massive and can not be seen in just one visit, This is especially true for photographers. One day is good for the classic trail, but if you want to do other hiking trails plan for 2-3 days. And it’s best to plan your route ahead of time.
- Tripods are placed to the right of the treasury when visiting at night, try to get there first in order to get a good spot.
- Restrooms are available throughout Petra, but are limited. Make sure to check the site map for their locations.
- It’d be wise to plan your route beforehand. You can find a map of Petra online (like this one)
- Petra is huge, so expect to walk long distances. Camels, donkeys, and horses with carts are available if you want a ride around the site which would cost you a couple of bucks. As we strolled, funny children were offering up rides on “air-conditioned” donkeys or camels, while vendors were peddling bracelets for 1 dinar and souvenir stands sold glass bottles filled with artistic layers of sand.
- For the best photos at Petra at Night, hang out until the end until the crowds leaves.
- An hour or two from entering, you will find Basin Street restaurant, a place to rest and get a mediocre buffet lunch filled with Jordanian dishes.
- Most importantly, help with the preservation efforts by not touching any potteries and other stuff.
- For general clothing tips read my post: What to Wear to Jordan as a Woman Traveler.
- Pack a scarf or a hat and sunscreen because there is not much shade in Petra.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes; light hiking shoes or sturdy sandals would work unless you plan on doing some serious climbing. A pair of Keens would be a good choice.
- Bring tissues, many times there’s no toilet paper in the restrooms throughout Jordan.
- A good pair of sunglasses is necessary for the dust and sun.
- It can get chilly at night, so bring layers of clothes. A long pair of warm pants and sweatshirt is a good idea.
- There can be some pesky mosquitos out there, load up on the bug repellant.
- If you plan on doing Petra at Night bring a flashlight to see the rugged ground you will be walking on.
- Jordan is primarily a Muslim country where many of the women choose to cover the curves of their body, hair and/or face. Though this is strictly a choice made by the individual, not a requirement, you should still be respectful to their customs by bringing modest clothing (no skimpy shorts or tops). Loose short sleeve t-shirts, ankle-length skirts, lightweight long pants, or capri-style are acceptable.
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