Petra in Depth

Legendary capital of the Nabatean Empire, the rose-red city of Petra is a marvel too marvelous to rush through. You’ll want more than one day to visit this site. The Petra National Park covers around 40 square miles, and the ancient approaches to this Queen of the Caravan Cities extend the area we call “Petra” even further. Check out what’s available—you can click on the hyperlinks on the map of Petra to access photographs of some of the many spots worth visiting.

The traditional entry to Petra is through the mile-long winding chasm called the Siq. This is a must-do walk; the extravagant colors of the sandstone walls, and many remains of the Nabatean shrines, water channels, wall carvings and some of the original paving stones make the Siq an archaeological wonder in itself—and then there is the heart-stopping moment when you suddenly reach the end of the canyon and face the towering Treasury, the memorable carved façade of Indiana Jones fame.

(Photo of the Treasury from the al-Madras route courtesy Ms. Mary Curran)

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Around the corner from the Treasury, you’ll see many carvings along the Street of Facades, and in the ancient city center you will want to explore the Theater, Royal Tombs, Colonnaded Street, Byzantine Church, Winged Lion’s Temple, Qasr al Bint, and the Petra Museum, with a collection of the very fine Nabatean pottery, ancient statuary and other artifacts. (It’s also air-conditioned as is the adjoining Basin Restaurant, so this is a handy mid-day stopping point.)

The religion of the Nabateans led to the creation of temples and cult centers on most of the mountain peaks ringing the Petra city center. Climbs to these high points are rewarding for the archaeology and also for the natural beauty of the colorful sandstone mountains—and rewarding in the magnificent views which many of the peaks command. Places of worship, funerary monuments and other points of interest are particularly popular at ad-Deir (the Monastery), with Petra’s largest carved façade, the High Place of Sacrifice, with its cult center and interesting triclinia along the way, Um al Biyara (Mother of Cisterns), with not only Nabatean remains of temples, water storage cisterns and a spectacular processional way, but also the excavated site of an Edomite settlement, and Jabal Harun (Mount Aaron, associated with the biblical Mount Hor), Petra’s highest peak topped by a medieval tomb and shrine, and believed to be the burial place of Aaron, brother of Moses.

Ready for more? We still haven’t touched upon Siq al Barid (the Cold Canyon, also known as “Little Petra”), the city’s northern customs outpost, and Sabra, the southern customs point. Within the ancient city itself you can also visit two Crusader fortresses, al Mudhlim (the tunnel), Kubtha Mountain, Wadi Turkomanieh, al Madras, Wadi Siyagh, the Zantour villa, Wadi Maesrah…….well, you get the idea. It’s virtually impossible to run out of places to visit here. And the savvy traveler will want to leave time to just perch on a comfortable ledge and watch the mountains and monuments change color as the sun moves across the sky!

We’ll be happy to give you as much of Petra as you think you can handle. Our recommendation is that you plan to spend at least two or three full days inside the site. If you’re reasonably fit, our guides can lead you through a number of alternate entry and exit routes, once you’ve made that first never-to-be-forgotten trip down the Siq. Even in the highest of high seasons, Petra is large enough that you can escape the herds and go one-on-one with history.