A Look At The Real Wonders of Petra

Petra Jordan

Indiana Jones is to blame if you really think about it. That iconic scene near the end of The Last Crusade highlights a building so fantastical that most people immediately thought it to be the creation of Hollywood. But slowly word leaked out that not only is it a real place, but it’s also pretty easy to visit. The Treasury, the most famous structure within the ancient city of Petra in Jordan may be the reason why so many people plan to visit, but almost immediately everyone begins to understand that it is just the beginning of the real wonders of Petra.

Originally built more than 2,000 years ago, Petra was at one time a crucial part of the worldwide commercial trading network; a massive city that prospered until, well, it didn’t. Just like in Indiana Jones, the city was lost to time, but not to the local Bedouins who have lived in the city’s caves for centuries – millennia really. The Western world rediscovered it in the early 19th century when a Swiss explorer found the Rose City, named for the marvelous light red hue of the stone from which the city is carved.

The only way to access Petra is by a rite a passage; a walk through the 1-kilometer long Siq. A massive slot canyon, the features of the Siq were at one time augmented to impress and intimate newcomers to the city, and it’s still impressing them today. It’s a vital way I think to prepare yourself mentally for the journey that is to come. The walkway provides the first inkling about the size of the city and how amazing it is even today, centuries after the last inhabitant left.

The Treasury is the first building all visitors see. Built into the surrounding rocks, it was chiseled out of raw stone, a feat that still boggles my mind. Looking up at it it’s hard not to feel small, not just in size but also in importance. An entire civilization flourished here while Western Europeans were still pagans and looking to the sun and moon for guidance. It’s a testimony to the ingenuity and intelligence of the ancient peoples and is a sight I will never get tired of seeing. But it’s just the start and that is what most visitors don’t understand.

Extending many more kilometers up and over the surrounding mountains and canyons are remnants of the city. From homes carved into the rock to tombs and even a perfectly straight Roman road, installed after the Empire conquered the region. You could quite honestly spend days exploring this crucially important UNESCO World Heritage Site, but many come just for the day. If you start early though and have some stamina, that is enough time to at least understand why Petra is so impressive.

There are a number of routes to take, but the one up to the Monastery is one of the most impressive. While the hike isn’t an easy one, and in the dead of summer is a test of endurance, the reward at the end is well worth the effort. Like the Treasury, the so-called Monastery is also built into the rock face, but it is even more impressive. Larger and more commanding, I don’t know why the Monastery isn’t the one that is world famous, but it absolutely should be.

The Monastery

Lest you think that sunset marks the end to the day at Petra, think again. If you’re there you must participate in the very special Petra at Night experience. Walking through the now candlelit Siq, carefully watching for loose stones and rocks, this time the Treasury erupts not in the glare of the sun but in the soft glow of hundreds of candles, set up in front of the Treasury itself. Bedouin guides share stories and songs they have passed down through the years and the entire experience is much more personal and intimate than a day visit and provides an amazing introduction to the people who have called Petra home seemingly forever.

Petra is one of the most important archeological sites in the world and one of the most beautiful. But it’s so much more impressive than people who have never visited may realize. Yes, the Treasury is the building that gets all of the attention, but it’s just a symbol of something larger, something even more impressive. It is the entirety of Petra the city herself that really is incredible. It’s a place like none other I have visited anywhere in the world and while it may sound cliché, it is just one of those places that everyone owes it to themselves to see before they die.

Have you been to Petra? How did it affect you?

 

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

16 Responses

  1. Derek

    Petra has been on my travel plans since I was 10 years old. I’m hoping some day I will be able to make it there. You’re article really encompasses the positives about the site. I’ve heard mixed reviews from people through the years. Either they love it or hate it. . I’m just wondering, was there anything that you didn’t like about it?

    Great Shots by the way!

    Reply
  2. Steven

    Yes! And it is one of those places that I’d eventually love to return to, and bring along some friends and family who dream of seeing it. It’s just so amazing, and even though we spent nearly 12 hours there two years ago and saw pretty much everything on the two day itinerary in Lonely Planet’s Jordan guide in a single day (we arrived very early and were quite exhausted by the end), there’s just so much! And there were parts of it we didn’t get to explore.

    We did cheat on the Monastery trail and rode donkeys up. However, we had already made the climb (almost as high and steep) up to the High Place of Sacrifice and returned to the center of the city via the Wadi Farasa trail, which has a lot of ups and downs along the way. Hiking both that and the Monastery in a single day would have been a bit much. I was also glad we were there in November when temperatures were pleasant. I can’t imagine doing Petra in the summer!

    Reply
  3. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer

    Simply stunning! I want to visit Petra in the very near future 😀 I particularly love all those candles lit up at night!

    Reply
  4. Nicole

    I’m heading to Petra Next month! I can’t Wait, absolutely amazing!

    Reply
  5. Julius from Traveltipy

    Very nice Monastery! But I enjoyed all the pictures! 🙂

    Reply
  6. julian

    What a magical place! I really liked the post and the pictures…Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  7. Craig

    I was fortunate enough to visit Petra in 1981. There was nothing at the entrance of the siq, no shops, stalls or touts. We walked in, and at the end of the visit we walked out. The whole place was pretty near empty, although a family living in a cave house invited myself and my girlfriend to their house for tea. Later we encountered a Bedouin family living in tented quarters quite a little way away from what might be considered to be the main street.

    Reply
  8. Tony

    I was told that the Treasury was a crypt. It was not occupied but used as a tomb for a well to do family. There are only three rooms inside.
    I also noticed some excavations at the steps to the Treasury and it appears as if there is more carving work below.

    Reply
  9. Kemal Kaya

    Absolutely amazing! I was also glad I was there in February when temperatures were good. The Monastery was unique. Nice photo dear.

    Reply
  10. Katy

    I have always wanted to visit Petra but now I have seen your photos from the night time experience I am really hankering to go.

    Reply
  11. Leesh

    Petra looks absolutely stunning and very spiritual. I’d love to visit one day to experience the beauty for myself! ✨

    Reply
  12. Megan Eileen

    I would love to go to Petra. What a beautiful place. Did it take long to travel to it?

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      All part of a normal tourist loop around the country 🙂

      Reply
  13. Alex S

    I always knew that the one building was from Raiders but didn’t know there was entire town there that was built out of stone. Looks amazing! For a civilization to have lived that long in this city what caused the downfall of that society or specifically that given city? Was it that water disappeared and forced people to move away? Anyways, thank you for sharing such a cool image into Jordan.

    Reply
  14. Robert

    Looks absolutely amazing! What an incredible site it must be at night. Reminds me a bit of our visit to the Lost City of Pompeii and what was uncovered. Your photos are absolutely beautiful Matt! What a great inspiration to travel to Petra. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Ahmed

    Very beautiful pictures and definitely an underrated destination!

    Reply

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