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The troglodyte city of Petra is the ancient capital of the Nabataean Kingdom having prospered in the region for 1,000 years. These nomadic and caravanner people found this remote site at the gates of the Wadi Rum desert between the 4th and 2nd centuries before our era, halfway between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Jewel of the Old World, the city of Petra knows its peak in the 1st century BC. It amazes its visitors both by the inventiveness of its constructions sculpted on the rock almost 2,500 years ago and for the natural beauty of its sandstone cliffs with reddish colours.

Over the centuries, Petra (“rock” in ancient Greek) takes advantage of its geographic position to become an economic capital in the region with the Nabataean city of Hegra, in Saudi Arabia (Mada’in Salih). The city thrives in the centre of a crossroads of luxury goods trade routes (myrrh, incense, aromatics, spices, perfumes, silk and precious stones) between Egypt, the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East, Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Petra was annexed by the Romans in the year 106 (as a Roman province of Arabia) then declined before being curiously deserted in the 8th century. Fallen into oblivion in the Western world, it was not until 1812 that the Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt discovered this marvel of architecture hidden in a mountainous and desert region. Its location on an active geological area (the Dead Sea Transform) of the eastern Mediterranean exposes the city of Petra to many earthquakes in its history. Quakes, inundations linked to flash floods or the modification of trade routes could be at the origin of the abandonment of the site by its inhabitants.

Hidden by the Arabah mountains, the pink city of Petra is accessible via a narrow canyon (the Siq). This spectacular access route stretches over 1.2 km in length to reach the sumptuous Al-Khazneh monument. Meaning “treasure” in Arabic, this building shines by its richly decorated facade. Its columns, capitals and bas-reliefs, cut in the rock, would house the tomb of King Aretas IV Philopatris and Queen Shaqilath (1st century BC) or would be dedicated to the three female deities of the Nabataeans (Uzza, Al-Lat and Manāt). The Petra archaeological park covers more than 260 km² of area. It contains a total of 2,700 monuments such as funeral temples, royal tombs, places of residence and sacred buildings in the image of the Ad Deir (“The Monastery”). Dug, cut and carved in the sandstone cliffs, these vestiges form a historical and heritage whole without equivalent in the world. Due to its gigantism and the density of its riches, a tiny part of the Petra site has been the subject of in-depth studies by archaeologists. There is clearly a large area of research, exploration and investigation in future years.

  • An archaeological, anthropological and geological jewel; a site unique in the world that has withstood the horrors of time; a remarkable architectural density with multiple influences (Egyptian, Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern) ; the monumental facades of buildings cut on the mountainside and on the rock with rudimentary tools; hydraulic engineering and Nabataean construction techniques; the finesse of the architectural details participating in the poetic dimension of the places
  • The Al-Al-Khazneh and the Ad Deir monastery masterfully carved in the rock wall over 40 meters high (similar constructions of the hypogeal type cut from top to bottom); the small tortuous throat of the site confined in the mountains and marking the entrance to the stone capital
  • The ancient monuments of the Qasr al-Bint temple and the Great Temple of Petra, coming from the Nabataean era (the largest places of worship in the city) ; the theatre, vestige of an ancient Roman occupation (with a capacity of nearly 5,000 places) ; Byzantine churches with well-preserved decorative mosaics (most recently constructed buildings) ; the site of the blue chapel (of which columns of blue granite remain) ; the Temenos Gate (main entrance to the site in classical antiquity)
  • The hundreds of royal Nabataean tombs admirably dug in rock formations; obelisks and long colonnade streets; the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Palace Tomb
  • The learned collection system, storage and transport of water in a place surrounded by the desert (lead pipes were used to put the water under pressure) ; the water filtration system through settling tanks to optimize the recovery of rainwater and make it potable; water tanks used to water the camels of commercial caravans; artificial oasis, urban and flourishing in the Nabataean era; the old gardens and the ancient market on the South Terrace; the remains of fountains (including that of Nymphaeum), thermal baths, suspended water baths and impressive pools; the 14 stones tones quarries distributed around the city
  • The 800 steps leading to the Ad Deir and the breathtaking view of the surrounding valleys; hiking to the top of Umm el-Biyara mountain (have at least half a day) ; long hikes to Mount Aaron (Jabal Haroun), Dana Biosphere Reserve or to Wadi Sabra (canyon and Nabataean ruins) in the company of an official guide
  • The varied colour hues of monuments and sandstone cliffs (yellow, pink, orange, vermeil, red, purple) sublimated by the rays of the sun; contemplation of the site at sunrise; the Umm el-Biyara mountain overlooking the ancient centre of Petra (dull remains are on its flat top)
  • The Nabataean remains of Siq al-Barid located 4 km north of Petra (nicknamed the “Little Petra”, this archaeological site was used as a relay stop by merchant caravans when Petra was too crowded)
  • The possibility of renting the services of donkeys or camels to wander on the site; the Wadi Rum desert made famous by the stories of Lawrence of Arabia; the sale of local handicrafts; the local community of the Bedouins (including the Bdouls tribe, from the region)
  • It was almost by chance that the Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt discovered the Nabataean city of Petra in 1812 by hearing rumours about the supposed existence of majestic ancient ruins north of Aqaba when he wanted to go to Egypt from Syria and then go in search of the source of the Niger River (located on the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea). To conceal his European origin, he disguised himself as Arabic (Bedouin), studied the language a few years earlier and took the name of Ibrahim ibn Abdullah while pretending to be in search of the Tomb of Aaron (the brother of Moses) to accomplish the sacrifice of a goat.
  • The foundations of the city of Petra rest on the remains of an ancient sanctuary dated the 8th century BC. This is attributed to the Edomites, a tribal people from the ancient Middle East.
  • At its peak, the city of Petra had 25,000 to 30,000 souls and the Nabataeans were one of the richest civilizations of antiquity (they collected taxes on the passage of caravans while offering them various market services). Its inhabitants are the precursors of primitive Arabic writing from the 2nd century BC and at the origin of the Arab alphabet in the 4th century AD.
  • According to some registrations found there, Nabataean women enjoyed a power, a status and rights equivalent to men in an ancient time essentially patriarchal.
  • To free themselves from the difficult living conditions linked to their desert environment, the Nabataean have set up a very elaborate hydraulic network to capture and store the little water available. Composed of tanks, dams, retention basins, purification basins, aqueducts, canals and pipes in terracotta, this ingenious system made it possible to supply Petra and its inhabitants all year round. The city’s 200 water tanks were also used to irrigate lush gardens, aquatic complexes, spa establishments and agricultural crops. Bypass tunnels were even dug to protect the site from possible floods, inundations and mudslides (the city centre rests on a place of convergence of several rivers).
  • The Al-Khazneh is known for hosting scenes from the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” by Steven Spielberg (1989). It also illustrates the adventures of Tintin on the album “The Red Sea Sharks” by Hergé (1958). Its cut facade is more than twice as high as the sculptures of Mount Rushmore (United States). A major monument to Petra, the Al-Khazneh contains underground tombs and a large 2,000-year-old tomb. It is dated from the time of the reign of King Aretas IV Philopatris. The Bedouins initially believed that the urn erected at its summit could contain a treasure hence its full name Khazne al-Firaun, (“The Treasury of the Pharaoh”) and the stigma of fire impacts to dislodge the loot.
  • Ad Deir could have been used as a temple for religious purposes. Traces of a large staircase were recently discovered on the two side walls flanking the facade of the building. It was fitted out by the stonemasons to enable them to accurately sculpt the monastery from top to bottom. This important place of worship would hide other unknown structures underground.
  • The tight canyon of the Siq, framed by rocky cliffs 200 meters high, would be guarded by local spirits called jinn (two large blocks of stone guard the entrance to the canyon).
  • The constructions of the stone city naturally degrade by the erosion of the wind and the powerful rays of the sun which alter its rock. Archaeologists fear in the future that Petra will again be damaged by major earthquakes and flooding phenomena or floods with irreversible consequences for the safeguarding of this essential heritage property of Jordan. In recent years, pieces of rock of several tonnes have come off the cliff and crash heavily on the ground. Fortunately, this was of no consequence for the many visitors who survey the Petra site. From now on, sensors and protective nets have been installed on the walls most weakened by erosion to overcome any new fall in stone.
  • Fresh nights and hot days characterize the Petra site, located in an arid environment at an altitude of nearly 1,000 meters.
  • The best time to get there is probably in spring or autumn to preserve the great periods of heat. If possible, avoid torrential rains and heavy mudslides can occur suddenly.
  • Entrance tickets to access the pink city of the desert can be purchased at the Petra Visitor Center in Wadi Musa (the “Valley of Moses”), the nearest town. The site opens to the public at 6:30 am
  • Include in your circuit the discovery of the less known historical remains of Siq al-Barid, located a few cables north of Petra.

Address

Our Address:

Wadi Musa, Petra, Ma'an 71882, Jordan

GPS:

30.328454825218156, 35.444362586427864

Telephone:
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Where to eat?

Our gourmet selection

  • Sanabel Bakeries and Sweets
    (artisanal pastries)
  • Reem Beladi Restaurant
    (relaxing coffee)
  • The Petra Kitchen
    (Jordanian cuisine)

Where to go out?

Our good plans outings

  • Beidha
    (Neolithic village)
  • Dana Biosphere Reserve
    (mountain valley chain)
  • Montreal Castle
    (12th century castle)

Where to sleep?

Our choice of accommodation

  • Al Rashid Hotel
    (simple and cozy)
  • Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp
    (replica of a Bedouins camp)
  • Petra Moon Hotel
    (very well-placed)

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