Petra is a very popular historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Another name for Petra is the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved.
Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage
Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550–1292 BC) Petra is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times. Although Petra is usually identified with Sela which means a rock, the Biblical reference refer to it as “the cleft in the rock”, referring to its entrance.
More satisfactory evidence of the date of the earliest Nabataean settlement may be obtained from an examination of the tombs. Two types of tombs have been distinguished: the Nabataean and the Greco-Roman. The Nabataean type starts from the simple pylon-tomb with a door set in a tower crowned by a parapet ornament, in imitation of the front of a dwelling-house. Then, after passing through various stages, the full Nabataean type is reached, retaining all the native features and at the same time exhibiting characteristics which are partly Egyptian and partly Greek.
Finally come the elaborate facades copied from the front of a Roman temple; however, all traces of native style have vanished.
The exact dates of the stages in this development cannot be fixed. Few inscriptions of any length have been found at Petra, perhaps because they have perished with the stucco or cement which was used upon many of the buildings. The simple pylon-tombs which belong to the pre-Hellenic age serve as evidence for the earliest period. It is not known how far back in this stage the Nabataean settlement goes, but it does not go back farther than the 6th century BC.
A period follows in which the dominant civilization combines Greek, Egyptian and Syrian elements, clearly pointing to the age of the Ptolemies. Towards the close of the 2nd century BC, when the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms were equally depressed, the Nabataean kingdom came to the front. Under Aretas III Philhellene, (c.85–60 BC), the royal coins begin. The theater was probably excavated at that time, and Petra must have assumed the aspect of a Hellenistic city.
Highlights -Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, which is flanked on either side by soaring, cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colors and formations of the rocks are dazzling. As you reach the end of the Siq you will catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh (Treasury).
This is an awe-inspiring experience. A massive facade, carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and dwarfing everything around it. It was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean king and represents the engineering genius of these ancient people.
The Treasury is merely the first of the many wonders that make up Petra. You will need at least four or five days to really explore everything here. As you enter the Petra valley you will be overwhelmed by the natural beauty of this place and its outstanding architectural achievements. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings – unlike the houses, which were destroyed mostly by earthquakes, the tombs were carved to last throughout the afterlife and 500 have survived, Here also is a massive Nabataean-built, Roman-style theatre, which could seat 3,000 people. There are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets, and high above, overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery – a flight of 800 rock cut steps takes you there.
Within the site there are also two excellent museums; the Petra Archaeological Museum, and the Petra Nabataean Museum both of which represent finds from excavations in the Petra region and an insight into Petra’s colorful past.
A 13th century shrine, built by the Mameluk Sultan, Al Nasir Mohammad, to commemorate the death of Aaron, the brother of Moses, can be seen on top of Mount Aaron in the Sharah range.
The Petra Archaeological Park (PAP) 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. The area encompasses a breathtaking landscape of pink-hued rock mountains, the focus of which is the amazing ancient Nabataean city of Petra, which was carved into the rock more than 2,000 years ago.
Travel Tips – Take plenty of water or re-hydration drinks if traveling during the very hot summer months. A cap and sunglasses are also recommended. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
For taking photographs, the best time of day is early to mid-morning or late afternoon as the sunlight brings to life the amazing colors of the rocks.
You can’t drive to the site but if you are not in the mood to walk you can hire a horse-drawn carriage to get you to the entrance. Handicapped or elderly may get a special permint at the visitors center to permit the carriage to take them inside.
Once inside anyone can hire a donkey or camel to tour various routes.
Best Time To Visit – The months of December, January and February are cold and rainy and visitors will find warm days and very cold evenings and nights. Coats, hats and gloves and a thermos of hot tea or coffee are recommended. During summer you will find very hot and dry days.