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Inside Petra: exploring the Rose City, Jordan

by | Asia, Destinations | 26 comments

Visiting Petra in Jordan had been on my wish list for quite some time. It did not disappoint! Our visit to Petra was one of the most memorable trips ever. Exploring inside Petra, seeing its beauty for ourselves, was a magic experience. Forget Indiana Jones! Petra has to be experienced up close and personal.

 The Treasury inside Petra

A few facts about Petra

Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Petra was built in the third century BC by the Nabateans, an ancient Arab tribe. The Nabateans were great traders and trade was the raison d’etre for Petra. It was on the main trading routes. The site was chosen because it was impregnable to invaders. It was impossible for hostile forces to gain entry through the narrow Siq.

The Romans eventually forced the Nabateans to surrender and they annexed Petra. The Romans contributed to the shape of Petra and how it evolved.  There is also a clear Byzantine influence. It was abandoned completely in the 7th Century AD following an earthquake and a change in trading routes.

Petra was re-discovered by the western world in 1812 by Swiss explorer, Ludwig Burckhardt. Petra is now the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan.

Our visit to Petra

Our trip to Petra was part of a longer trip to Jordan, which included visits to Jerash, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and other places within Jordan. It was an “adventure trip” with hiking, biking, scrambling and canyoning activities all included within the itinerary. Visiting Petra, however, was to be the absolute highlight of the trip. Details of the trip we booked can be found at the end of this post and, in due course, there will be posts about other aspects of our Jordan itinerary. The first of these posts about our trip to Jordan focuses on Wadi Rum: What is so special about Wadi Rum?

The weather in Petra

We visited Petra in mid-April. Our research suggested that this was a good time to visit. The weather should have been reasonable and not too hot, which it can be during the summer months. In fact, it did not work out quite like that……. We had rain, thunder, lightning and hail all within the course of our day in Petra! There was also, briefly, some sunshine. We could not believe it and our guide who had visited Petra over 400 times said he had only seen rain very rarely and it was the first time he had ever experienced a thunderstorm, let alone hail.

The rain really came on whilst we were walking from the visitor centre down towards Petra through the Siq. The Siq is a narrow canyon over a kilometer long leading into the city of Petra. The rain was so heavy there were waterfalls spurting down the sides of the slot canyon. It quickly started to flood and we were walking through several inches of water. Thank goodness for Gortex boots and full waterproofs! Then the lightning came and the thunder.

The hail did not start until much later in the day when we were about to leave.

Jane kneeling down to touch pile of hailstones inside Petra

Hailstones had gathered in places inside Petra

The rain came on again too at this point and was even heavier. The path where we had walked on the way in was now a torrent of flood water and the Siq was flooded.  Very few people headed up through the Siq at this time and we were by ourselves for most of the way. Some of those who ventured up took off their shoes and paddled through the water. Literally!

Standing in water inside Petra

Did this spoil our visit to Petra?

No, absolutely not. In fact, seeing Petra in the rain and having a dramatic thunderstorm made it rather special. An added bonus was that shortly after we entered Petra around 7.00 am, the rain was so heavy that the site was closed as there was a risk of flash flooding.  It was, therefore, unusually quiet. Thousands of people visit Petra every day so to experience it without the massive crowds was wonderful. Our guide did mention that if the rain did not abate fairly quickly, we would be evacuated for safety reasons. Fortunately, it did not come to this.

All of this simply added to the Petra experience.

The Treasury with no people

We could take pictures of the Treasury with absolutely no people

Huge crowds at the Treasury

This is a picture of what it can be like in Petra (sent to us by our guide later in the week)

The Highlights of Petra

What to see inside Petra?

It is possible to visit Petra without a guide and there are plenty of guide books available. However, to fully appreciate the history and to ensure that one does not miss any of the real highlights of Petra, I would definitely advise hiring a guide. Our guide was with us for the whole of our trip in Jordan and he was a wealth of information. Below I have listed the highlights of Petra as he showed them to us.

The way into Petra: the Siq

In line with our itinerary, we were supposed to enter Petra via its “back trail”. This would involve hiking along the Jordan Mountain Trail, taking in the scenic balcony route, from Little Petra. Little Petra is a smaller town, which served as a support town for Petra, but this is for another post. This back route, however, had been closed because heavy rain had made it impassable. We entered via the main entrance, therefore. No hardship: in fact, having experienced this, I would not have it any other way.

The first part of the trail into Petra, Bab as-Siq (Gateway to the Siq) is almost 1km long and follows a gentle downhill slope. There are a number tombs along the route, carved into the stone.

Rough track leading to Petra entrance

The obelisk tomb on the way into Petra

Eventually, the trail leads into the Siq, a slot canyon or gorge. The Siq roughly translates as “the shaft” and it is easy to understand why. The walls of the Siq stretch high above the floor and it is really quite narrow in places as it winds its way down into Petra.  Along one side of the Siq, one can see the carved channel for the water supply and the places where it was filtered before reaching inside Petra itself.

Channel running alongside the Siq

The Siq meanders around and eventually, anticipation is rewarded as it opens out on to the magnificent Treasury. Wow!

 

The Treasury

When people think of Petra, they almost always think of the Treasury. Petra is huge, however, and is so much more than just the Treasury. Nevertheless, it is the Treasury, which we see first upon entering Petra and it is absolutely magnificent. The Treasury is definitely one of the highlights of Petra.

View of the Treasury inside Petra

The Treasury inside Petra

Almost all of the structures inside Petra have been carved out of the sandstone rather than constructed in the traditional sense. The Treasury is absolutely stunning when it first comes into sight. The red of the sandstone, which gives Petra its other name, “the rose city”, changes colour as the light changes during the day. The carvings are beautiful and intricate. It is truly a work of art.

Visitors are not allowed to go inside The Treasury in Petra, but by all accounts, there is nothing to see inside, just empty chambers. Even so, one cannot help but wonder….

The Royal tombs

We took the high trail through Petra, looking down on to the main thoroughfare below. This took us past the wonderful facades of the Royal tombs inside Petra. There are hundreds of tombs inside Petra, some very grand, and others, little more than caves carved into the rock.

Tombs carved into the hillside inside Petra

Intricately carved Royal Tomb inside Petra

Royal Tomb carved into rock inside Petra

Royal tomb carved into red rock

One tomb, which we found really quite beautiful because of the natural colours and patterns in the rock, was this children’s crypt.

Patterned and coloured rocks from which children's crypts have been hewn

In many of the tombs and even some storage caves, the natural rock ceilings were absolutely beautiful.Coloured and patterned rock inside Petra

The Theatre

We also looked down on to the theatre, created by the Nabateans over 2000 years ago. It has seating for around 3000 people.

Stone amphitheatre inside Petra

The Byzantine Church

Built in the 5th Century AD, the Byzantine church is another example of the varied architecture in Petra. The church is noted for the mosaic decorations on the floor.

Mosaic floor with pictures of figures and animals

The Monastery

The Monastery in Petra is my personal favourite, even more so than the Treasury. It is not quite so accessible as the Treasury as it involves climbing up 1000 steps to reach it. Our guide said it was a 1000 steps, but other sources suggest it is fewer. I did not count! Either way, it is a lot of steps to climb.

Natural steps leading up to the monastery in Petra

Jane on steps leading up to the Monastery in Petra

Some steps are man-made, rough-hewn out of the rock; others are naturally formed. There are stalls and vendors all the way along the steps, as indeed there are virtually everywhere inside Petra. It takes most people around 45 minutes to climb to the Monastery and it is definitely worth it. Upon reaching the top, the view opens out on to a plateau, dominated at one side by the wonderful carved façade of the monastery.

The Monastery carved into the rock inside Petra

Peter on rock looking down on to Monastery inside Petra

The Great Temple

This huge area was originally completed by the Nabateans in the 1st Century AD. The shape of the structure with the columns and steps can clearly be seen.

The Great Temple in Petra showing columns and steps.

The Colonnaded Street

The Colonnaded Street, originally built by the Nabateans and later enhanced by the Romans, is another highlight of Petra. It runs adjacent to the Great Temple. It was whilst walking along the Colonnaded Street that the heavens opened and we were battered by hailstones. They really stung!

Girls being battered by hailstones on the Colonnaded Street in Petra

By the time we reached the theatre area heading back towards the Treasury and the way out, we were drenched again and the area had cleared as people more sensible than us (or perhaps without full waterproofs!) had taken shelter.

People sheltering in overhang

Much of the main route in through Petra was now a raging river. There was talk of evacuation among some people who were heading away from the Treasury, but we ploughed on and paddled back through the Siq. The site had closed again because of the heavy rain.

Flood water in the Siq inside Petra

 

Is it worth visiting Petra?

Petra is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (as pronounced in 2007) and it is easy to see why. It has survived through the centuries, weathered by the elements, but is still in remarkably good shape. The beauty of the facades with the intricate carvings is astounding. One cannot help but marvel at the skill and perseverance, which went into creating these structures. Petra tells the tale of a different way of life and bears witness to the history of humanity. Gaze at the Treasury built by the original inhabitants of Petra, walk the Colonnaded street along which people walked 2000 years ago and climb to the monastery up the steps which they climbed – and feel this history.  Is it worth visiting Petra? Yes, without a doubt.

 

Need to know for a visit to Petra

Getting around Petra

Petra is a large site so to fully appreciate it, one has to be prepared to walk (and climb lots of steps to see the Monastery!). Strong comfortable shoes, therefore, are a necessity. If there is a chance of rain in the forecast, and I speak from experience, waterproof shoes will make the visit much more comfortable.

The path through the Siq into Petra is smooth and easy and downhill. It is possible, however, to hire a golf-buggy style contraption if walking is not an option. Inside Petra, camels and donkeys can be hired, although our guide suggested that they were not always well treated and therefore he did not recommend hiring one. Some of the paths inside Petra are not quite as easy as the trail through the Siq.

Shops

There are hundreds of stalls and vendors inside Petra. They line the main thoroughfares and every nook and cranny. The prices are outrageous, however, and the quality doubtful. The same mementos can be bought much cheaper Wadi Musa. For this reason, taking water and snacks with you on a Petra visit is a good idea. We did stop in one of the tents for a cup of tea though. This was very welcome as we were all a little chilled by this time.

Toilets

There are toilets at the main entrance and others throughout the site. Our host, when we stopped for the cup of tea, however, suggested we just “use the cave out back – and remember to close the door!”

Tickets and opening times

Petra opens at 6.00 am each morning. Tickets are expensive and current rates can be found on the official Petra site. Petra is also included on the Jordan Pass.

Where to stay on a visit to Petra

Wadi Musa is the town which surrounds the archeological site and there are lots of options for accommodation here. We stayed in the Petra Palace, quite a large hotel on the main street. It was literally a 5 minute walk to the main entrance to Petra. This made it very easy for an early start.

Details of our trip to Jordan and Petra

We travelled with KE Adventure. They offer a number of trips to Jordan which include visiting Petra. We opted for the Ultimate Jordan Adventure, a multi-activity trip. This was my fourth trip with KE.

 

Other Posts About Jordan:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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26 Comments

  1. What a Grand Adventure Jane! You were so fortunate to be prepared with the waterproof gear. This is the first time that I’ve been shown all that there is to see at Petra and…Wow! Knowing how dangerous flash flooding can be in slot canyons, I was a little concerned for you as you trudged on through the rising water. But it did seem pretty clear that you made it out to tell the story 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Steve. Yes, flash floods and canyons are a dangerous combination and it was shocking how quickly the water came up. The custodians were clearly mindful of this, however, and were limiting entries in case of evacuation. Petra itself is fabulous! So pleased I finally got to see it.

      Reply
  2. This is one of my favorites of your posts.
    I have always thought Petra would be one of the most dramatic sites of that region, and your post supports that.

    Reply
    • Thanks Will. I really appreciate that. As I said on the post, I had wanted to go for ages and it more than fulfilled expectations. I hope you get to visit for yourself one day.

      Reply
  3. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful area to explore. I’d love to visit one day. Love your photos!

    Reply
  4. WOW sounds like a beautiful place to visit. So much history and I’m loving all your pictures. The Monastery really sounds interesting, whew a 1000 steps to climb.

    Reply
  5. Wow, I never knew Petra was so rich in history and culture. Thank you for sharing such an informative and interesting article. It makes me want to plan a trip to Petra as soon as possible!

    Reply
  6. We were certainly glad we got to visit Petra when we visited Jordon. It was much bigger than we expected and had so much more to see. We were sorry we missed the theatre. Luckily we had dry weather and did not have to worry about floods. Glad it did not deter from the magic of this site.

    Reply
  7. This brought back many happy memories of our trip to Petra. We didn’t realise how extensive the site was until we visited. Glad that the rain didn’t dampen the experience too much and that you didn’t get evacuated.

    Reply
  8. I am for sure adding this beautiful spot to my bucket list as those pictures are amazing! I so want to see this in person! Breathtakingly beautiful and I love history!

    Reply
  9. Looks like an amazing experience to see Petra in Jordan, the rose city, the structures and tombs. The rain must’ve made it different too.

    Reply
    • Absolutely! Strangely, the rain made it extra special!

      Reply
  10. I’m all about history and would love to visit Petra. Those sandstone structures are stunning!

    Reply
    • Aren’t they just?!

      Reply
  11. The rain was a blessing in disguise! What a treat to not have wall to wall tourists during your visit.

    Reply
    • Exactly! It made the visit even more special.

      Reply
  12. It must have been breathtaking to see The Treasury in person. I remember seeing it in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and being in awe of its design and construction. It looks like you and your party were ready with the right clothing and gear for your adventure!

    Reply
    • Just forgot our Indy hats!

      Reply
  13. What an adventure, especially with that weather! Glad you got to see Petra before they had to close the site. Definitely one for the bucket list.

    Reply
    • Definitely. It did not disappoint.

      Reply
  14. One can say you were lucky with the weather! It’s all about being prepared for it, although I have heard of flash floods in Petra that can be quite dangerous, but they occur more in winter. Gorgeous photographs

    Reply
    • Thank you!

      Reply
  15. Lovely photos! (Apart from the one with the huge crowd – that’s terrifying!) Looks like you were lucky when you visited!

    Reply
    • We were indeed! Yes, I am so pleased we missed those crowds. Give me the rain any day!

      Reply
  16. Wow! How lucky you were that it rained during your visit to Petra. I’m shocked at those photos by your guide at how crowded it can get! We visited 20 years ago and while there were always tourists coming it was not thta scale. Regardless, Petra is indeed a wonder of the world that we are privileged to see. By the way, love all your photos and videos!

    Reply
    • Thank you! Yes, seems strange to say how lucky we were that it rained, but truly, that is how we feel!

      Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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