Petra, authentic jewel of Jordan
Petra is the most known historical site of Jordan and one of the Ancient World’s seven wonders. Built in Shara Mountain’s heart by Nabatean, it prospered between the 1st century BC and the 1st Ad, becoming a vital part of a major trading route, connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. It was later annexed to the Roman Empire but a strong earthquake in 4th century AD and a change of the trading routes, brought the inhabitants to abandon the city. In 1812, a Swiss explorer and geographer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, “discovered” Petra and since that moment, the “lost city” has become increasingly known to start to attract visitors.
The site of Petra – How to visit
Visiting Petra is very easy, and it satisfies a wide range of passions like archaeology, trekking, photography, but the site is vast, and it takes time to complete your trip. From the entrance gate, after only 10 minutes walk along the “Main Trail” (it’s almost 4 km long and basically flat), the first thing that will take your breath away is the Siq, a narrow gorge leads visitors into Petra. The Siq resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain, and it’s 1.2 km long, between 90 – 282 mt high and, at some points, no more than 3 mt wide.
At the end of the gorge, you’ll start sighting the most famous and known monument of Jordan: the Treasury. This magnificent facade, called “Al Khazneh” and mostly known as the Treasury (pic nr. 1), is almost 40 mt high and intricately decorated. It’s crowned by a funeral urn which according to local legend conceals a Pharaoh’s treasure. Leaving the Treasury, continuing on the Main Trail along the outer Siq, you’ll find the Street of Facades, a row of Nabatean tombs carved into the cliff on both sides. It is believed that these interfaces represent some of the senior officials in the city of princes, but unfortunately, most of them are badly damaged.
At the end of the Street of Facades, on your left, there are some rock-cut steps to reach the High Place of Sacrifice (see the trails guide below). Going on along the Main Trail, you’ll get to the Theatre. Carved into the mountain’s side and built more than 2000 years ago, it consists of three rows of seats and could accommodate almost 3000 spectators.
On the opposite side, there are the Royal Tombs, four magnificent facades carved into the cliff, adjacent to each other. From right to left, you’ll first meet the “Urn Tomb”, reachable through rock steps, its name come from the jar that crowns the pediment.
Next to the Urn Tomb, there is the “Silk Tomb”. With its swirls of different coloured rock and one of the most dramatically coloured tombs in Petra. Then, you’ll find the “Corinthian tomb”, that combines various elements of both Nabatean and classical architectural style, and finally the “Palace tomb”, dated back to 2nd century with its 12 decorated columns and four gates.
Leaving the Palace Tomb, going on along the path lining the cliff, you’ll find a junction. On the left, you can reach the Byzantine Church or the Main Trail, on the right, after a few minutes walk, you’ll enter the steps of “Al Khubtha trail” that lead on the top of the cliff until you get its edge to see the Treasury from above (see the trails guide below).
Back on the Main Trail, the Roman part of the site starts. Once left the Nymphaeum, a semi-circular public fountain decorated with six columns and now shaded by a juniper tree said to be 450 years old, you’ll walk through the Colonnade Street, one of the principal shopping street of the ancient Petra. Initially built by Nabatean, it was later refurbished during the period of Roman occupation. The street was paved in horizontal and vertical ways to facilitate vehicles’ movement as it curved from the middle to allow the draining of water.
On the left side, the Great Temple, built around the 1st century AD by Nabatean, is estimated to cover 7000 square meters. At the end of the colonnade, takes place a triple gate that leads you to a temple dedicated to Dushares (daughter of the Pharaoh): Qasr al-Bint. It was the leading and most important temple of Petra, approachable by a flight of 26 marble steps.
On the other side, there is the Black-Winged Temple, which is dedicated to the God of Lat and Uzza, who is the mate of the major Nabataean gods. The Main Trail ends up here after 4 km. Close to the temple, you’ll find the sign indicating the beginning of the “Ad Deir trail”, known as the Monastery and the only restaurant on the site, the Crown Plaza Basin.
PETRA TRAILS GUIDE
There are 8 official trails in Petra, but the most popular, in addition to the main one called “Main Trail”, are 3: the Al Khubta Trail, the High Place of Sacrifice Trail and the Ad Deir Trail. Along these paths that climb the plateaus of the mountains, you will have a fantastic view of Petra, on some of its monuments such as the Treasury, and you can visit some less known tombs. The three routes mentioned are quite challenging, and a minimum of training would be recommended.
1. Main trail
It starts from the entrance gate ending at Qasr al-Bint temple. It is the path that crosses the whole site. It’s 4 km long and quite flat. If you are tired or with mobility problems, you can ride a horse from the gate to the entrance of the Siq or a carriage from the gate to Treasury. From the Treasury to Qasr al-Bint you can both ride a donkey or a camel.
2. Al Khubtha trail
Leaving the Royal Tombs on your right side, lining the cliff, you’ll reach the steps that lead to the viewpoint to see the Treasury from the top of the cliff. It’s 1.5 km long, and it takes you around 1 hour. The first 40 minutes you have to climb up the rock-cut steps until you get to the Theatre viewpoint. Here, on your left, the descent on a gravel path starts until you reach the 2 Beduin tents located on the edge of the cliff (right side of the Siq).
The view is impressive; seeing the Treasury from above is breathtaking. Taking a rest inside the tent drinking a tasty mint tea while you admire that “masterpiece” is something not to be missed. Go back on the same path. Even though the trail is classified as “hard”, it’s nothing deadly, indeed a bit challenging and steep in some points but not hard. Just keep your pace and rest when you need it.
3. High Place of Sacrifice trail
At the end of the Street of Facades, on your left side, you’ll see rock-cut steps that lead to the High Place of Sacrifice climbing up the high cliff. It’s a place of worship on a mountain plateau used for important religious ceremonies. At the end of the steps, you’ll find a stall and a junction. If you take the left path, you’ll reach in 25 minutes the left side of the Siq where, from the edge of the cliff, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the Treasury (where there is a Beduin tent). It’s possible to find some local guys around the stall offering to be your guide (they ask around 10 JD) until the edge of the cliff. That path is quite flat, but the last part is not marked and a bit unsafe so we suggest being accompanied.
Taking the right path, you’ll reach in 5 minutes another junction beside 2 Obelisks. The left path leads you through the Wadi al Farasa. Take the steps on your right to get in a while to the High Place of Sacrifice. From here go on a bit until you reach a tent located on the edge of the mountain where a Jordan flag is waving blown by the wind. Here the view is spectacular. Going back to the Obelisks, we suggest continuing and taking the path in front of you to Wadi al Farasa.
It’s a beautiful descending path through the gorge along a trail believed to be a processional route to the High Place of Sacrifice, used by pilgrims and worshippers. Along the canyon there are many remarkable tombs like the “Garden temple”, the “Colored Triclinium”, the “Tomb of the Soldier” and the “Renaissance Tomb”.
Leaving the Wadi al Farasa, you’ll get to a junction: take the right path to reach the Main Trail next to the Theatre (in front of the Royal Tombs), go on to reach Qasr al-Bint and the Basin restaurant at the end of the Main Trail.
It takes 50 minutes to reach the High Place of Sacrifice, then other 50 minutes to complete the Wadi al Farasa trail to the Theatre. The path has the same difficulties as “Al Khubtha trail”, a bit tiring the rock-cut steps, easy the descent through the Wadi.
4. Ad Deir (Monastery) trail
It’s the most visited trail in Petra, and, with its rock-steps ascent (around 800 steps) will lead you to the most significant monument of Petra: Ad Deir, known as the Monastery. The MonasteryMonastery measures 47 mt wide by 48 mt high. The interior is occupied by two benches and an altar against the rear wall. Built around the 2nd century AD during the reign of King Rabell II°, got its name by the crosses carved into the back wall when it was re-used as a Christian chapel.
The trail continues through breathtaking landscapes and magnificent valleys. The path is 1.5 km, and it takes a bit more than 1 hour to reach the Monastery. As the other trails is a bit tiring but no worry, you don’t have to be a climber. Just keep your pace and rest when you need it. Along the path, you’ll also find local guys offering you to ride a donkey to get to the top.
5. Treasury trail (unofficial)
This trail is not marked because climbing up is not allowed. Anyway, this route leads to the left side of the Siq where, from the edge, you can admire the Treasury from above.
Once you are in front of the Treasury facade, turn left lining the stalls until you get to the toilets. Here many local guys will ask you to be your guide until the top of the cliff paying a fee (around 10 JD) though prohibited. It takes only 20 minutes to reach the Beduin tent located on edge and enjoy a spectacular view. You can also reach the tent on the left side of the Siq through the High Place of Sacrifice trail.
In case you decide to climb up at your own risk, let the guy lead you because the path is not marked and in some points not so safe. Pretty much at the halfway, there is the junction that links this route with the High place of Sacrifice trail, so, once completed this trail, you can continue along the other path.
In our opinion, the view from the left side of the Siq is the best, but, if you have time, you should visit both sides.
Need to Know about Petra
1. When to go and how long
All year round but the best seasons are spring and autumn to avoid the summer’s intense heat. We visited Petra in December, and it was a bit cold during the early morning and at night. Petra could be mainly visited in a day, but we suggest staying for 2 days if you like hiking. In a day, without rushing and if you are not that fit, you can do the main trail and the Monastery trail.
We spent in Petra 1 day and a half. The first day (starting at 6.30 am) we did the main trail, the Monastery trail and the Treasury trail; the next half-day we completed the High Place of Sacrifice trail and the Treasury trail on the left side of the Siq.
2. How to get there
The best way to enjoy Jordan is by car. You can rent a sedan and go around the country without problems. From Amman, Petra is 230 km, from Aqaba, it’s 120 km. If you want to take the air-conditioned bus, check at jett.com. The daily rides from Amman (Jett bus station, Abdali) start from 6.30 am (10 JD). Public minibuses from Amman to Wadi Musa (Petra Town) leave from Mujamaa Janobi station (the south bus terminal) from 9.00 until 16.00 and from Wadi Musa to Amman from 6.00 till 13:00 (JD 5). Close to the Visitor Center, you’ll also find a taxi service to the main destinations.
3. Ticket fee and opening time
1 day is 50 JD (70 US$), 2 days is 55 JD, 3 days is 60 JD. The gate opens at 6 am to 6 pm (summertime), 6 am to 4 pm (winter time). You have to leave the site within 5 pm (winter), 7 pm (summer). We suggest spending 1 day an half/2 days to enjoy the whole site and the trails. Remember that you must submit your valid passport or ID to the tickets office.
We spent in Petra 1 day and a half visiting the entire site and completing the trails mentioned. The first day we completed the Main trail, the Monastery trail and Treasury trail (unofficial); the second half-day the High Place of Sacrifice – Wadi al Farasa and al Khubtha trail, then we left the site around 1.30 pm to reach the Wadi Rum Desert.
4. Petra by night
You can complete your experience enjoying the Petra Night Show, a way to see part of Petra by candlelight (the Siq and the Treasury). It costs 17 JD and runs Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8.30 pm to 10.30 pm; Meeting point: the Visitor Centre.
5. Where to sleep in Petra
Wadi Musa offers a wide range of accommodations. We slept at the Edom Hotel, only 5 minutes walk from Petra Visitors Centre and next to Tourism street where the restaurants are located.
Close to the visitor centre, you also find the following accommodations:
Always close to the visitor centre, there is a lovely bar, “The Cave“, where you can spend your night smoking shisha and drinking a cold beer or a cocktail. If you want to know more about restaurants in Wadi Musa, click here.
6. Local guide/tour operator
If you are looking for a local guide to arrange your trip around Jordan, we suggest you Shaher Zayadneh (WhatsApp:+962 777592772 – FB: Shaher Zayadneh).
If you need a local tour operator, 10-minute walk from the Petra Gate, along Tourism street, you’ll find the Jordan Tour and Travel agency’s office.
7. Guide book
Our favourite guide book is always the Jordan Lonely Planet.
8. Travel insurance
We got our comprehensive protection with WorldNomads.
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