Petra in Jordan, or why it is worth going to the Middle East

Jordan #1: Petra, or why it is worth going to the Middle East

Petra by night, Jordan

The rock city of Petra in Jordan impressed me so much that even if I hadn't traveled a large part of the Middle East and had to come back only after seeing these majestic carved buildings and rock tunnels, I would have been pleased. I introduce you an amazing place that you can't pass by and for which it is worth spending a few hours in a 40-degree heat in full sun.

A few words about Petra's story

Until the so-called "Arab conquest", the Petra Valley in Jordan was regularly inhabited by various groups of nomads, hunters and gatherers. Before the fifth century BC, these areas were inhabited by Edomites, who, however, were supplanted by the Arab people of Nabataeans. Two centuries later, the city founded here, which thanks to its location at the intersection of trade routes (from India to Egypt and from southern Arabia to Syria), has gained enormously importance.

The Nabataeans in Petra benefited not only from trading silver, myrrh, iron, incense, copper, gold or ivory, but also from imposing various taxes on traders from other lands, as well as from supplying caravans. The inhabitants of the rock city led a peaceful life, effectively repelling the neighbors' attempts at their independence. It is also known that it was from the 3rd century BC Petra gradually transformed into a city, expanding its rulership at the expense of the collapsing Selleuid empire.

Petra, Jordan

Petra even opposed the Roman commander Pompey the Great, who came to the Middle East with the army, bringing there new orders of the Roman Empire. Later, the rock city in Jordan was attacked by the Herod the Great with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and the emperor Octavian August, but without any success. In spite of this, however, Petra respected Rome by cooperating and lending their army to the big empire. Ok, but let's return to the rock city itself, because it is at this time that Petra came into its Golden Era and was constantly expanding, giving shelter to nearly 40 thousand people.

Pompey the Great / Source: Wikipedia.

Possessing wealth, Petra increased its area. For hundreds of days, dozens of Nabatean artists forged human figures, faces, animal images and small leaves in sandstone. At very high temperatures, under the scorching sun that dyed the desert sands and colored it to red and yellow.

Thanks to developed trade and diplomacy, people of Petra could avoid wars and resolve conflicts peacefully for a very long time. They constantly watched the art and culture of their neighbors, thanks to which they transferred to the rocky cliffs not only Egyptian art with its amazing tombs, but also Assyrian sacrificial sites, Hellenistic temple facades and Roman Corinthian capitals. All this contributed to their greatest work - the rock city of Petra in Jordan.

Unfortunately, the independence of the Nabataeans and the fragile alliance with the Roman Empire ended in 106 CE, when Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan invaded the country, also occupying Petra (a year after the death of the last ruler of Petra - Rabel II). After that, a new Roman province called Arabia was created, with the capital in a rock city. The annexation of the Nabataean state through the empire went without much resistance, putting an end to the independence of its people.

Interestingly, the city was given the status of the Roman City, which further contributed to the faster development of Petra. During the Roman Peace (Pax Romana) the rock city was experiencing a renaissance, being additionally visited for tourist purposes by the emperors. After the Council of Nicaea (325 CE), Christianity began to dominate the city, up to the seventh century and the time of the Crusades. The Crusaders built two of their citadels in Petra, but they were subsequently conquered by Saladin, who destroyed Petra so much that the city falled into ruin. In the meantime, part of the rock city was also damaged by earthquakes. It was the end of the city that existed for over 700 years.

What's left? The main attractions of Petra in Jordan

However, despite all the damage to the rock city of Petra in Jordan, there is still a lot to explore today. Intensive archaeological excavations have been conducted here since 1965, and Petra itself has been recognized as one of the seven new wonders of the world. So what's left?

Al-Khazneh (The Treasury), Petra, Jordan

Al-Khazneh, The Treasury

The most popular part of Petra for sure. A huge, rock-carved building (dated to the first century CE) with a height of over 40 meters and a width of 25 meters. On the front you will find numerous columns carved in sandstone, several human figures (it is assumed that they are Isis, Victoria and Amazons) and a stone urn, 4 meters high. It is amazing that the pink sandstone from which Al-Khazneh is forged has different shades depending on how the sun shines on it, creating fantastic effects.

Al-Khazneh was called Pharaoh's Treasury by the Bedouins because they believed that great riches were hidden in the great urn. To this day, numerous traces of bullets fired by treasure hunters who tried to "pour" wealth from it remained on the urn.

Ad-Dajr, Petra on a drawing by David Roberts, around 1842.

The function of the building remains unknown. It is believed that it served as the temple or tomb of one of the Nabataean rulers. There are no decorations inside, so you don't have to regret too much that you can't enter it (the 4-meter high entrance is protected by a fence).

Ad-Dajr Monastery

Ad-Dajr in Petra became a monastery only during the Byzantine Empire (by the way, Christian), but this name was attached to it so effectively that everybody calls it this way. It is the largest and most impressive building in the whole of Petra (47 meters high and 48 meters wide). The building was probably created during the reign of the last Nabatean king called Rabel II (end of the first century CE).

The function of Ad-Dajr is also unknown and just as in the case of Al-Chanz it is assumed that it was either a temple or a tomb. Inside you will find two benches carved in the rock and a niche to which stairs lead. It is, among others, the crosses carved in this niche that testify to the fact that there was a Christian monastery here in Byzantine times.

Ad-Dajr, Petra

Kasr Bint Firaun

Kasr Bint Firaun, literally Palace of the Pharaoh's Daughter, or the temple of Dushara (the local deity of the Nabataeans), are the ruins of the temple that we can see along the main trail through Petra. The Egyptian name of the building (palace of the daughter of Pharaoh) comes from the legend according to which the daughter of one of the Egyptian pharaohs was kept here.

Kasr Bint Firaun Temple, Petra

The building was built at the very beginning of the 1st century AD, probably during the reign of King Petra Obodas III. The Kasr Bint Firaun Temple has a square shape with walls 32 meters wide and 23 meters high. The outer part was covered with numerous carvings and patterns, but most of them have not survived to this day.

The Royal Tombs

This is a big group of royal tombs, built on the so-called "Royal Wall". It includes such tombs as the "Palace Tomb" (the most impressive), "Silk Tomb", "Corinthian Tomb" and "Urn's Tomb".

Although it is believed with almost certainty that the buildings were tombs, no buried bodies could be found inside.

The Theater in Petra

The theater in Petra is one of the largest facilities in the entire rock city. It is estimated that it could seat up to 10,000 spectators. The place was built around the first century AD, during the reign of King Aretas IV. Excavations and archaeological research also showed that it was probably heavily expanded after the Roman emperor Trajan occupied the city around the year 106 AD.

The Theater, Petra

Sekstus Florentinus Tomb

Sextus Florentinus was the governor of the Roman Empire in the province of Arabia Petraea, who died in Petra around the year 130 AD. It was then that one of the more famous monuments related directly to the Romans was built - his impressive tomb, where we can find inscriptions about his professional career.

Sekstus Florentinus Tomb, Petra

In the rock city of Petra in Jordan you can also find numerous smaller graves of Roman soldiers who have been stationed here for many years.

Petra is so much more

Of course, these are not all tourist attractions or interesting places in Petra, but there are so many that it would be too long to list them all.

It is undoubtedly worth mentioning about Sukhur-el-Jinn, called also the"Genie Rocks" (visualization of the god Dushara) or the Obelisk Tomb (probably the place where funeral ceremonies were held).

However, there is more to Petra. For me, the atmosphere of the place was important, especially the narrow passages and gorges between the beautiful sand rocks. The ubiquitous Bedouins (painted a bit like Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean) also added a bit of good atmosphere, although I am aware that they are here just for show.

It is also important that this is not a place where there are so many tourists that it is impossible to move freely. I was able to shoot pictures without anybody or with almost no one.

All of the above makes Petra grow in my eyes and is a great reason in itself to go to the Middle East and to Jordan. Although this is obviously not the only reason.

Map of Petra

When I talk to people about Petra, they usually know only Al-Khazneh, the flagship object of the entire complex. However, Petra was once a big city, which makes it easy to forget that its buildings are scattered over quite a large space.

For example, the basic route, i.e. one that you must see, is almost a 2-hour walk in full sun (one way). However, if you want to go a little more crazy and go, for example, to the Ad-Deir temple, you will have to go a 7-hour return trip. Adding to this huge temperatures and little shade, such a journey will tire almost everyone (I was very tired). It is worth keeping this in mind.

Below is a map of Petra, where you will find all the major tourist attractions and interesting places of the rock city in Jordan. Link to the large version of the map for download: Petra map.

Map of Petra, Jordan

Practical information

Below you will find some practical information that you should read before traveling to the rock city of Petra in Jordan.

Ticket prices

Petra is not the cheapest when it comes to the cost of admission tickets. Costs also vary depending on several factors. If we come to Jordan only for one day, without accommodation in the country (usually 1-day trips, e.g. from Egypt), we will pay 90 JOD (130 USD) for entry to Petra. If you spend the night in Jordan, the cost of admission will decrease to 50 JOD (approx. 70 USD). Petra's visit at night costs 15 JOD (20 USD) more than a normal ticket, but we have beautifully lit objects (mainly candles) at this price. "Petra by night" is organized only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 8:30 to 10:30 PM. A two-day ticket costs 55 JOD, and a 3-day ticket costs 60 JOD.

Petra, narrow rocky passages

Most organized trips already have a ticket price included in their costs, so you should check it out before asking the operator "why so expensive".

"Free" horse ride

During the visit to Petra, the price of the ticket includes a short horse ride, but in practice it is not free, because our carrier will want money from us anyway. If we are aware of this and want to take a ride, it is worth doing it on the way back, when we are tired of walking in the sun.

Water

Although once in a while we will find shops during the route, it is worth to stock up on a large amount of water, or at least top it up when we have too little water.

Passport

We definitely need to bring a passport to Petra, which will be checked when buying a ticket.

Opening hours

Petra is open every day from 06:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer and from 06:00 am to 4:00 pm in the winter, in addition it is possible to enter inside at night (which I described in the "ticket prices").

Visiting time

The basic tourist trail takes about 4 hours to walk to Petra's most important attractions. However, Petra is so extensive that it is difficult to see it all even in two days.

Petra, the main street of the rock city

Climate

Petra's climate is not indulgent for hikers. Usually the sun always shines there, and temperatures in the shade often exceed 40 degrees. For this reason, remember to have a lot of water and a head cover.

Guide

A guide can be hired on site (of course for a fee), but we can do it ourselves without any problems. All signs are not only in Arabic, but also in English.

Shops

In the area of Petra, once in a while we will find stands with all kinds of souvenirs and shops where you can drink something cold or just buy water. Some accept credit cards, but most accept cash only.

Outfit

When it comes to clothing, strong shoes (we walk on uneven terrain), comfortable clothes (long route), head protection (sun), long sleeves or sunscreen (sunburn) are needed. In addition, remember that we are in the Arab country of Jordan, so let's respect their culture and do not expose too much of our bodies.

Petra, a woman in an Islamic burqa

Others

Some other practical information.

  • In Petra we will find toilets, surprisingly for free and even quite clean.
  • There is coverage on mobile phones throughout Petra.
  • Wifi can be found in several places, but the speed of the internet is not so good. Wifi is also not secured, so be careful.
  • In Petra we can rent a donkey or camel (extra fee), although if we are not very tired, it is worth visiting place on foot.
  • Carriages are also available in Petra, but they are intended only for the elderly (also for a fee).

How to get to Petra

Below you will find approximate (I got to Petra myself by car) travel prices to Petra from various places in Jordan.

Taxi

A taxi to Wadi Musa from the border in Aqaba costs about 49 JOD (270 PLN), and from Aqaba city about 35 JOD (70 USD). For a taxi from Ma'an to Petra we will pay about 9 JOD (13 USD), and from Wadi Rum about 20 JOD (28 USD).

Bus

From Amman we can get to Petra by bus with JETT company, which leaves at 06:30 in the morning. The return bus from Petra leaves at 5:00 pm from a nearby bus parking lot. The cost of a one-way trip is 11 JOD (16 USD), and the journey takes about 3 hours.

Car

Coming from Aqaba, follow road number 47, then turn onto road 35 to Wadi Musa. Parking and entrance to Petra is located near "Petra Visitors Center".

Donkeys in Petra, Jordan

Hotels and accommodation

The vast majority of hotels and all the cheaper ones can be found in the city of Wadi Musa, located about 1.5 kilometers from the entrance to Petra. If we want to spend the night cheaply and at the same time we do not care about comfort (e.g. constant water problems), it is worth choosing e.g. Orient Gate Hostel (nice view from the balcony) - cost around 6 JOD per person. Alternatively, Valentine Inn is rumored to be popular.

There are a lot of restaurants and shops in Wadi Musa, but it is worth remembering that the closer to Petra, the prices go up, even several times. So when deciding to stay in Wadi Musa, before going to Petra, stock up on a few liters of water and food for the whole day.

Rock City of Petra, Jordan

Summary

The rock city of Petra in Jordan is an amazing tourist attraction and a very interesting place that has been signed as one of the seven new wonders of the world. Personally, I had incredible fun wandering the narrow passages among the rocks and the remains of buildings, temples and tombs.

If you like history and ancient buildings, and are not afraid of the burning sun, this is a place perfect for you. As I wrote earlier, Petra is a great argument itself why it is worth going to the Middle East and Jordan.

Wojciech Kuźma

Hey there! My name is Wojtek and I am very happy that you came to my travel blog. I've been traveling the world for a few good years now and I still want more.

On my website I describe the adventures that have happened to me, you will also find here a collection of valuable tips for tourists and travelers. If you liked this article, be sure to leave a comment and read some more!


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