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Amazing things to see when you visit Petra
A visit to Petra in Jordan, as such an iconic site, will be top of so many bucket lists! The images of the Treasury are world renowned and anyone who has seen the infamous Indiana Jones movie, will undoubtedly be dying to see it. But did you know there is so so much more to the site than just this entrance?
If you are thinking if visiting Petra, read on to make sure you don’t miss these amazing things as well.
1. Discover the history!
You can’t really start any visit to Petra without knowing a bit about how it came to be here and how it was discovered!
So what is Petra?
This great ancient city lies half hidden in a wind blown landscape in Southern Jordan. It was built by the Nabateans who were a nomadic tribe from Western Arabia and most of the monuments that can be seen today were built by them. They arrived in the 6th century BC and used their wealth to build Petra over the next 500 years. As keen traders, Petra became a very important trade city. In it’s prime it had over 30,000 people living there – with incredibly impressive techniques to keep the city safe, such as dams, cisterns and water channels.
In around 100 AD the trade routes shifted and bypassed Petra altogether. The Romans assumed control of the weakened Nabatean empire, although they did not abandon the city. Instead they introduced Roman features including streets and baths. The city was finally abandoned after an earthquake in 363 which, finally, brought it’s ruin.
It was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer, Jean Louis Burckhart, who visited disguised a Muslim holy man. From then on Petra became a fascination to the Western World and is no one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
2. The Siq
You will enter Petra through the Siq, so it would be pretty hard to miss this sight. However, don’t just charge down this crevice with the aim of reaching the Treasury as fast as possible. You would miss so much on the way!
The Siq is a 1.2 mile long canyon that will lead you from the visitors centre to the Treasury. The walk along it is one of the highlights of the day, as it weaves and winds it’s way through the land. Full of anticipation, and you cannot help but imagine how it must have felt when the city was alive and buzzing.
There is also plenty to stop and spot along the way:
The entrance was once marked by a Nabatean arch, which survived until the end of the 19th century. Some remains can still be seen at the twin niches at the entrance.
There are niches cut into the wall which you can spot along the walkway. Historians believe that some of important spiritual rituals of Petra began in the Siq, and these niches are the sites of figures of the main Nabatean god.
The original channels cut into the walls to carry water into the city are still visible and in some places you can even still see the 2000 year old terracotta pipes. A section of Roman paving has also been revealed after excavation in 1997.
Also look out for the carvings of people can camels along the way – carved by travellers to the city.
3. The Genie Stones
Otherwise known as God blocks or Dijinn Blocks but our guide called them Genie blocks (as this is what the locals called them). Located half way between the visitor centre and the entrance to the Siq, look out for three huge blocks. They are so named because the noise of the wind made when it blows through them, so it was thought Genie’s lived there. In actual fact, these blocks were tombs where they left corpses on top for the birds to eat.
4. The first view of the Treasury on your visit to Petra
I visited Petra as part of a G Adventures tour (if you’re interested take a look here: Highlights of Jordan) ands I had the advantage of a fantastic tour guide with me.
This meant I was treated to the most amazing first view of the Treasury! Our guide stopped us a certain point, and made us face him as he pointed out a part of the Siq where Indiana Jones was filmed. Then asked us to quickly swing around (thinking we were going to see more of the Siq) but what we got was a surprise first view of the Treasury. The shock literally took my breath away.
Of course, it takes someone with great knowledge to be able to achieve this, but even without the surprise factor – it will still be such a memorable moment. As this is the point when you enter the site of the ancient city, it is going to be an important moment on your visit to Petra.
5. The Treasury
Of course this has to be included in things to see when you visit Petra. People, and myself included, will say how much more there is to see at the site. But the Treasury, or Al-Khazneh, is as absolutely amazing as you think it is going to be.
It is one of the most stunning sights in Petra. Carved out of the sandstone rock as a tomb for King Aretas III. It gets it name however from the story than an Egyptian Pharaoh hid his treasure inside. Some locals clearly believed this, as you can seen one of the urns adoring the facade marked with bullet holes.
With the famous camels standing in front of the intricately carved exterior it really is a feast for the eyes. Some bucket list dreams don’t live up to the fantasy – this is not one of those places.
6. Petra by night
Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night. You meet at the visitor centre entrance and then walk down the candlelit Siq towards the Treasury. The Treasury itself is surrounded by over 1500 candles. There are musical performances from local Bedouins, set against the backdrop of the changing colour Treasury.
The tickets cost 17JD, but you do have to have already purchased a day ticket as well. While it is amazing to see, this is more of a novelty for when you visit Petra, than a must see!
7. Meet the Bedouins
The Bedouin tribe lived in Petra for many years before it became quite the tourist attraction it is today. They inhabited the caves in the surrounding hillsides and lived off the land. If you are interested in finding out more, I highly recommend reading the book – Married to a Bedouin, which tells the story of Marguerite who was a visiting from New Zealand and ended up marrying a Bedouin and lived in Petra.
She now runs a stall inside the area, with her son Raami – who was there when I visited.
8. Stop for a refreshment
All over the site, there are lots of little cafes and stalls selling refreshments. Fresh orange juice, snacks, ice creams and chilled water. They are some in the base of the valley, but if you hike you can also find ones dotted with the most incredible views, often located in the most bizarre of places. Wherever you may be, a cool drink while chilling under the shade of these stalls is a welcome and relaxing treat.
9. Buy some souvenirs
The people selling items in the Petra site are all descendants of the Bedouin’s who used to live there. There is so much on offer to buy – books, clothes, jewellery, spices, carvings, tea pots. You name it, you can probably buy it. The stall holders are likely to be pushy, as is always the way in this tourist hotspots. However, it is nice to know that the owners are local tribes – descended from families who used to live in that very area.
10. View the Theatre
Heading away from the Treasury, towards the rest of the city, you will come across the Theatre on your left Although this looks like it was built by the Roman’s, this amphitheatre style theatre was actually built by the Nabateans more than 2000 years ago. As with a lot of things Petra, it is also chiselled out of the rock, cutting through many caves and tombs in the process. During the Nabatean period this area was more used for public announcements, rather than entertainment. It was then enlarged during the period of Roman occupation.
11. Streets of Facades
After leaving the Treasury the path through Petra opens out into what is know as the Outer Siq. Along the sides of this you can see rows of facades of buildings. These are more than 40 tombs and houses built by the Nabateans. They are easily accessible to explore.
12. Explore the Royal Tombs
Petra is littered with tombs but some of the must impressive are the Royal Tombs, which are located just down from the Theatre. They are reached from a set up steps from the valley floor. The most distinctive of these tombs is the Urn tomb, which can be spotted because of the enormous urn perched on its top.
Next to the Urn tomb is the Silk tomb, which has a distinctive interior of swirling pink, white and yellow rock formations. The other two tombs here are the Corinthian tomb, which is a badly damaged, and the Palace tomb which is the largest.
13. The Monastery
Petra doesn’t give up it’s secrets too easily and the Monastery is definitely one of these secrets. 800 steps later, cutting through the hillside you arrive at the stunning Monastery. Built in 3rd Century AD, it is similar in design to the Treasury but actually bigger. While it was actually built as a tomb, it’s name comes from the crosses carved into the facade. This suggests it was used as a church in Byzantine times.
Hiking up to the monastery, is no easy feat. The 800 steps are carved through the mountain and with each turn you think you might be getting there, only to see more steps in front of you. The path actually follows the old processional route through the city. It is also lined with stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs. When you get to the top there is a cafe, which sells snacks and drinks and is also an excellent place to relax and view the Monastery.
14. Viewpoints of the Treasury
There are two viewpoints you can climb to – to see the most amazing views down over the Treasury. One is not always open and when it is, you are only allowed to climb with a guide. But the other you can scale on your own. I did this after the hike to the Monastery and it was exhausting but, oh so, worth it. It starts just behind the Royal tombs, and you start by climbing some ancient processional steps. After quite a climb, it does eventually flatten out across the top. There is a tea shop along the way if you need a break.
Just when you think you can’t possibly be going the right way, you come across another tea shop perched right on the edge of the cliff. Through this, you will have the most amazing view down over the Treasury. Head in through the cafe, and down a ladder the other side to be able to peer over the edge. It is generally accepted that you buy something from the tea shop.
15. The Colonnaded Street
If you carry on walking away from the Treasury, past the theatre on your left and the Royal Tombs on your right, you will come across the Colonnaded Street. This point marks the centre of the ancient city. It is built around 100 years AD, and in a standard Roman style, where the columns originally lined each side – with covered porticos which housed shops. At one end you can see a public fountain which was fed by water channelled from the Siq.
16. The Great Temple
At the end of the Colonnaded Street you will come across the Great Temple. This was a major Nabatean temple of the 1st Century BC, but was badly damaged by an earthquake not long after it was built. It was still used however right up until the late Byzantine period. A theatre also stands at it’s centre. There are debates over the use of this temple. It is believed the Nabateans used it as a royal audience hall and then later, the Romans appear to have used it as a civic centre. It is very impressive to see.
17. Hikes in and around Petra
A few of these hikes I have already mentioned. For example, the hike to the Monastery which begins just after the Great Temple. The two to the Treasury viewpoints – one beginning opposite the Treasury and the other just beyond the Royal Tombs. But if you have a few days to spend in Petra, there are definitely some more hikes which are worth checking out.
The High Place of Sacrifice to Petra City Centre takes about an hour and passes through some of the less visited areas of the city. You can also do this in reverse, as a way to exit the site. From the top of the High Place path, head down towards Wadi Farasa. The start of the trail isn’t obvious but you can ask for directions at the drinks stand. The hike passes the Lion Monument, Garden Tomb, Roman Soldier’s Tomb and some ruined Nabatean Houses among others. As well as some amazing views!
There are also longer hikes you can partake in, such as the 6 hour hike from Qasr Al Bit to Umm Al Biyara or the six hour Jebel Haroun.
18. Little Petra
The lesser known, smaller site to Petra! This was once a commercial centre for the city of Petra and a post for camel caravans. The first open area, as you walk into the site, houses a temple. From there walk down the short Siq where you can see place of guards and then, cut out of the rock, is where the dining rooms for passing traders used to be. Around 50m down the Siq, is the Painted House. Climbing up some steps leads into this cave in the rock face, where you can see patches of paintings left on the ceiling. These are rare examples of Nabatean art.
I would definitely recommended visiting this the day before you visit Petra, as a little pre lim to wet your appetite!
Heading to Jordan? Make sure to check out these posts as well:
I hope the above has been helpful and inspires a little bit of wanderlust, as well as advice on what not to miss for if you visit Petra.
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