If you are a wanderluster who’s developed an actual bucket list of places to visit before you die, the chance is that you have the City of Petra on your list. Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and it is truly a humbling place to experience. The history and the sights are overwhelming. If you are already planning on visiting soon, here are some of the highlights of Petra that you just don’t want to miss. If you want some tips for exploring Petra, you’ll find those here.
Petra is known as a Pink City, due to the colors of the carvings on its rock formations and their delicate and detailed architectural features.
Petra, Jordan facts and timeline
The development of the site started in the first century BC. The Nabateans, a nomadic Arabic tribe, carved their empire city into a rock mountain and called it Raqmu. It was quickly developed as a convergence point for traders coming from China in the East to the Europe in the West. Traders also came from the Arabian Peninsula in the South to the Levant (Phoenician Syria) in the North.
The Holy Roman Empire annexed the Nabatean Capital into its Arabia Petraea province and Raqmu was later became known as Petra. For several centuries, Petra developed into a major Roman province city, added its own style, including the Byzantine architecture. That was until an earthquake in the 4th Century AD destroyed some of the city’s infrastructure. Petra slowly declined and it was abandoned in the 7th century. After that, the Bedouin moved in and the first modern Europeans came in the early 1800s to bring tourism into Petra.
The Bedouin lived within Petra’s caves and walls until the 1970s. Finally, when Petra received its UNESCO Heritage Status in 1985, the Jordanian government moved the remaining Bedouin still living in Petra into nearby Wadi Musa.
As a result, modern Petra is now a huge protected archeological site that tells a story of human settlement and land use more than 10,000 years ago.
The Highlights of Petra
- The Visitor’s Center and the Petra Museum. This is where, naturally, you can purchase the admission tickets, as well as learn more about Petra.
- The Siq. This is the beginning of your exciting Petra tour. It is a narrow, mostly nature-made meandering gorge between two huge cliffs. It winds through the landscape for about 1.2 km (0.8 miles). This is a great way to build the suspense – you know that soon you will see the very familiar sight of the end of the crack. The ultimate reveal Being the famous Petra Treasury! Be sure to listen for the impressive echo of the carriages and horses passing by that is created by the massive cliff on either side of the Siq.
- The Treasury. Of all the highlights of Petra, this is the most famous. Standing over 40 meters high, the Treasury is definitely what people think of when they think of Petra. Moviegoers will remember it as the place in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that was chosen as the place to hold the Holy Grail.
Unfortunately nobody was allowed to go inside when we visited – but that doesn’t undermine the impressiveness of the structure. Be sure you visit The Treasury around mid morning, when the sun casts its light over the facade.
- The Royal Tombs of Petra. Who doesn’t love ancient royalty? At Petra, you can see several ancient tombs. Don’t expect to see any remains or remnants of what was stored here. That’s long gone. That said, you can still marvel at the amazing structures and intricate details on the facade of each tomb. The highlight here is the Urn Tomb, named for the urn carving that can see high above your head.
- High Place of Sacrifices. Many visitors skip the path to the top level of Petra, but they shouldn’t because it is so worth the effort! You will be able to see many of the highlights of Petra from above – the view is stunning!
- The Amphitheater and the Byzantine Church. The Amphitheater was built in the first century AD, before the arrival of the Roman Empire. It can accommodate about 6000 people. It is oriented North-South, which was ingenious as it meant that the sun could never distract from any of the performances once held here. The Byzantine church was built during the Roman Empire occupation, and today its remnants show the detailed mosaic design on the floor.
- The Monastery. When you take a tour with an official guide, this is often the last place you will see before you leave. The Monastery is located about 8 km (nearly 4 miles) from the main entrance. The 700+ steps at the end of the hike is a discouragement for many visitors, but take enough water with you and go for it! It’s completely worth it. At the top, there are plenty of resting areas where you can enjoy a cup of cardamom coffee. It’s a great place to relax after your hike and take in the impressive view.
There are many other sights and experiences that are not included here, but these are the biggest highlights of Petra that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Have you been here? Do you have other highlights of Petra not listed here?
Note about animals: There are other options, such as renting a donkey, camel, or a horse to carry you there. However, we noticed many of the animals being whipped, so we don’t recommend that. Still, if you decide to do it, make sure you have a good sense of the animals’ well being before hiring. All animals on site are supposedly protected by royal decree, so please report any abuse you see to the authorities.
By the way, when we traveled to Jordan, we rented a car and saw so much more than we otherwise would have. You can read about that here.
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