About Jordan » Petra

Jordan abounds in archaeological riches, from Neolithic ruins to the Desert Castles of Umayyad princes. Chief among these national treasures is the soul-stirring, rose-red city of Petra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In order to preserve the site, all tourists' facilities have been located in the town of Wadi Musa, right next to the entrance of Petra.

Petra is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in south Jordan more than 2,000 years ago. From a remote staging post, they dominated the trade routes of ancient Arabia, levying tolls and sheltering caravans laden with Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides.

The Nabataean Kingdom endured for centuries, and Petra became widely admired for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels. Ultimately, however, the Roman Emperor Trajan annexed the Kingdom.

By the 16th century, Petra was completely lost to the West, and so it remained for almost 300 years. Then in 1812, a Swiss traveller named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt persuaded his guide to take him to the site of the rumoured lost city. Secretly making notes and sketches, he wrote, "it seems very probable that the ruins at Wadi Musa are those of the ancient Petra".

Much of Petra's appeal comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. From the main entrance, you walk into the chasm, or siq, that ripped through the rock in a prehistoric quake.

Threading your way between the cliff walls as they soar to 80 metres, you pass inscriptions in ancient languages and rock-cut chambers carved into the whorls of sandstone.

Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the siq. Used in the final sequence of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this towering façade is only the first of Petra's secrets. Various walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of rock cut tombs and temple façades, funerary halls and rock reliefs - enough to keep you here for many days. You find a 3,000-seat theatre from the early 1st century AD, a Palace Tomb in the Roman style, a gigantic 1st century Deir (Monastery). A modest shrine commemorating the death of Aaron, brother of Moses, was built in the 13th century by the Mamluk Sultan, high atop Mount Aaron (Jabal Haroun) in the Sharah range.

These sights are at their best in early morning and late afternoon, when the sun confers warm tones to the multicoloured stone, and you can view the majesty of Petra as Burckhardt saw it in 1812. When he made his journey, the road was long and arduous. Now a few hours' drive from Amman brings you to this unforgettable destination.

WHAT TO SEE

The main attraction of Petra is the city itself, of course. A one-day visit is an absolute minimum, and a week will still leave many parts unexplored. Maps and excellent guidebooks are for sale at the entrance to the Petra site, and guides are available to take you through the city.

You can hire a horse to take you to the entrance of the siq (about 1 km from the main entrance). Horse-drawn carriages can be taken from the main entrance to the end of the siq. For elderly and handicapped tourists, the Visitors' Centre can issue a special permit for an extra fee, so that the carriages can go inside Petra itself to its main attractions. After you have passed the siq, once inside the actual city, hire a donkey or, for the more adventurous, be led on camelback - it is easier than you may think, and surprisingly comfortable! Remember to take it easy, as the Petra site is large and can involve some fairly steep climbs!

More information on Petra and its other attractions are available from the Visitors' Centre at the entrance to the site, tel. (03) 2156021. Opens daily 07:00h 16:00h in winter, 07:00h-17:00h in summer.

Another worthwhile sight is the Petra Archaeological Museum, inside the site, which houses a wide variety of finds from Petra. Hours 08:00-16:00.

SHOPPING

Liwan in the Visitors' Centre, tel. (03) 2156080. The retail operation of the Jordan Design & Trade Centre, offers a sumptuous selection of home furnishings of all kinds: woollen rugs, embroidered and woven pillows, furniture, pottery, glass, wall hangings, metal work and fashion as well as brightly coloured hand-filled bottles of sand.

HOW TO GET THERE

The best time to see Petra is in the early morning or late afternoon, so plan for an early start, or arrive the evening before and stay in one of the comfortable hotels near the site.

By bus: JETT, tel. (06) 5664146, operates a modern fleet of air conditioned coaches from Amman to Wadi Musa (Petra), 3 days a week, Sunday, Tuesday and Friday departing 06:30h and back at 16:00h, arriving in Amman at 19:30h. JETT departs from Abdali Station in Amman.

By car: Petra is a 3-hour drive from Amman on the modern Desert Highway, or 5 hours on the more scenic King's Highway. Leave Amman from the 7th Circle and follow the brown signs, which are designed for tourists.

By taxi: You can hire a taxi in Amman. The fare should be approximately 50 JD.

OTHER DESTINATIONS

Combine your visit to Petra with a trip to Dana, a bird's nest-like mountain village in a fascinating nature reserve (on the way to Petra, best seen the day before), or take in the unspoiled desert vastness of Wadi Rum - only an hour's drive south. (For details see the Dana and Wadi Rum sections in this brochure).

 

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