Petra is an ancient city, built out of the sandstone rocks in the Jordanian desert over 2,000 years ago. Very little is known about the Naboteans and their culture, but it is evident from the craftsmanship and technology they used to design their desert homes that they were sophisticated people. Walking through Petra is an otherworldly experience. The funerary monuments and cave dwellings inspire the imagination, while the natural beauty of the landscape takes your breath away.
To get to the city center of Petra, visitors have to walk through the quarter-mile long siq, a walkway made from natural rock formations.
The Naboteans most likely emerged from local nomadic tribes, and they supported their impressive city by trading with other countries. To do this, they formed large caravans and traveled for most of the summer, returning to Petra to winter in their permanent homes. Along the way, they absorbed new cultural, architectural and technological ideas from the civilizations they visited, including their Arabic neighbors (Egypt and Yemen) as well as their Mediterranean trading partners in the North (Greeks and Romans). There is evidence of these influences throughout Petra.
The most commonly visited areas of Petra are the Treasury, made famous from a scene in an Indiana Jones film, and the Monastery, which overlooks much of Petra and the surrounding landscapes. The names for the facades are based on legends about the buildings and not actually related to their function in the city of Petra. Almost all of the facades were funerary monuments to honor royalty buried in the tombs below.
Clusters of facades (see photo below) make you feel as though you have walked onto an alien planet.
One of the most stunning features of Petra is the amazing color palette that is naturally present in the rock formations throughout the city.
Our guide warned us that it was quite a hike up to the Monastery, so I decided to take a donkey. Kevin walked the 800 stairs to the top.
Seeing the Monastery was well worth the journey to the top of the mountain. There is a little Bedouin cafe at the top, and we sipped mint lemonade and enjoyed the view.
Just beyond the Monastery is the peak of the mountain, or “the end of the world” according to the handwritten signs that mark the trail. The views are incredible.
We were tired after a day of exploring, but we couldn’t turn down the chance to see Petra at Night. We walked through a candlelit Siq in silence, only to arrive at a beautifully lit Treasury, where we were seated in a semi-circle formation and served Jordanian sweet tea. Then local musicians performed traditional Bedouin music. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and one we will never forget.
We woke bright and early the next morning to meet our guide, Rami, for a hike up to the high place of sacrifice. Rami had warned us that the hike would be difficult, but we underestimated his warnings. The “trails” were often completely unmarked, and if they were marked at all it was by a tiny cairn, noticeable only to the seasoned guide. Ultimately it was well worth a bit of anxiety and tough terrain to avoid the tourists and see some spectacular views.
We stopped by Little Petra for a look around before we headed back to Amman. Little Petra is older than Petra, and was abandoned after only a few years as the Naboteans felt the area nearby offered a better landscape for their needs. Little Petra was a fun side trip that many tourists don’t make the effort to see. As a result, we had almost the whole place to ourselves, and we spent a lot of time climbing up ancient staircases into the ancient homes to see what we could find.
Two days definitely wasn’t enough time to explore Petra to the extent that we would’ve liked, but I guess that means we will just have to find a way to go back…