If Petra is anything to judge by, the ancient Nabataean Empire must have been the stuff dreams are made of, especially if you’re an archaeologist or history buff. The rose-red city, half as old as time, actually dates back to the 6th century BC, but considering its age, Petra is a wonder of architecture and engineering. It’s no wonder that the city still stands even today, and its rock cut buildings have stood the test of time. Petra is the symbol of Jordan and its most popular tourist attraction, as well as one of the few remaining Nabataean sites in the Middle East (the others being in Israel, Syria, and the inaccessible Saudi Arabia). Here’s a traveler’s guide to Petra, Jordan, one of the most magnificent ancient cities today.
Fees and getting around
Seeing as the archaeological park is the foremost attraction in Jordan, entry fees are quite steep compared to other tourist sights. You might also want to hire a local guide who can tell you interesting bits of info about the place, or rent a electronic audio guide from a hotel. Petra is not too large to be explored on foot, but if you are not a fan of walking, you can get around the ruins on camelback, donkey or horse. You can arrange for rides when entering Petra, or around major sights, and there will be plenty of offers to choose from. Bargaining for a camel or a donkey and then negotiating with the animal to go your way is part of the Petra experience, and quite fun! If you don’t want a donkey ride solely for the experience, you should still consider it if you don’t want to hike up the more difficult slopes leading to several sights.
Things to see and things to do
The first thing you see when entering the archaeological park is the Siq, a narrow and winding canyon with the occasional sculpture, which is more notable for its impressive natural features. Petra is famous not only for its carvings, but also for its water conduit system, and while traversing the Siq you might notice and exposed pipe or two. The Treasury, or Al Khazneh, is probably the most well known and most photographed sight in Petra. The building has a very elaborate facade carved into the rock face, and contrary to its name it wasn’t used as a treasury, and its real purpose is still a mystery. The Street of Facades, the continuation of the Siq, is littered with various beautiful facades leading to tombs, and leads to the Roman Theater. The nearby Royal Tombs are very impressive as well, hence their name – whether or not they sheltered the remains of royalty is not known. Another very popular sight in Petra is the Monastery, Ad Deir, the largest building in the archaeological park.