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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

My Day Trip to Petra: What I Found in the Lost City of Jordan

Petra archaeological site in Jordan

Petra archaeological site in Jordan
Petra archaeological site in Jordan

My exploration of Petra in Jordan, one of the world's most enchanting archaeological sites, began from Eilat, Israel. The concierge at the Herod Vitalis Hotel & Spa recommended a specific tour which comprised about ten people.


Our day kicked off with the tour bus promptly picking us up from the hotel. The short drive to the Yitzhak Rabin Terminal/Wadi Araba Border Crossing was smooth. At the border, our Israeli guide efficiently assisted us through the crossing procedures. This seamless transition was appreciated, as border crossings can often be stressful and time-consuming.

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“Visiting Petra was an immersive experience into a past civilization. I found it’s architectural grandeur and historical significance to be quite amazing.”

Once in Jordan, we were greeted by our Jordanian tour guide, who ushered us into his van. The drive to Petra from the border was both scenic and revealing, offering glimpses of Jordan's landscapes. We passed both historical buildings and giant, modern wind turbines. It took us approximately two hours to reach Petra, during which our guide shared insights about Jordan's culture and history.

On the way to Petra archaeological site in Jordan
On the way to Petra archaeological site in Jordan

We made a short stop in the Wadi Rum area, also known as the Valley of the Moon. Wadi Rum is a spectacular desert wilderness in southern Jordan. It's renowned for its dramatic landscape, featuring towering cliffs, natural arches, canyons, and red-pink sands.


We admired the beautiful scenery and took photos with the canyons in the background. Wadi Rum's unique terrain is characterized by granite and sandstone mountains, vast sandy plains, and narrow canyons. The natural rock formations and the color variations in the sand and rock create a surreal and Martian-like landscape, which changes color as the sun moves across the sky.


We headed back into the van and continued on our way. Finally, we arrived at our destination, Petra - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan. Known for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system, Petra was once the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. This ancient city, carved into vibrant red, pink, and white sandstone cliffs, is more than just the Treasury – its most iconic structure.

Petra archaeological site in Jordan
Petra archaeological site in Jordan

Petra is often referred to as the "Lost City" due to its unique history of being lost to the Western world for several centuries. This ancient city was established as the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom in the 4th century BCE. Despite its significance in trade routes and its architectural marvels, after the decline of the Nabatean Empire and subsequent shifts in trade routes, Petra gradually fell into disuse and was eventually abandoned.


Over time, the knowledge of Petra's existence remained alive mainly within local Bedouin communities. It was effectively lost to the outside world, particularly to Western scholars and explorers. Its location remained unknown to the Western world until 1812 when it was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab scholar, infiltrated the region, and revealed Petra's existence to the wider world.


The term "Lost City" not only refers to its physical disappearance from common knowledge but also symbolizes its rediscovery, which felt akin to unearthing a forgotten treasure. The rediscovery of Petra was a significant event, as it unveiled a historical and architectural gem that provided immense insight into the Nabatean civilization and the broader history of the region. This blend of mystery, history, and rediscovery is what lends Petra the captivating title of the "Lost City."

Petra archaeological site in Jordan
Petra archaeological site in Jordan

Petra is vast, and exploring it involves a good deal of walking. However, for those who find the walk challenging, especially in the heat, there are horses, camels, and golf carts available. The path to the Treasury, known as the Siq, is a narrow gorge flanked by towering cliffs. The dramatic reveal of the Treasury at the end of the Siq is nothing short of breathtaking.


Apart from the Treasury, Petra is home to numerous other structures, including the Monastery, the Royal Tombs, and the Roman-style theatre. The Street of Facades and the Colonnaded Street showcase the blend of Nabatean and Roman architecture.


Petra Facts and Features


1. Historical Significance: Petra's history dates back to around the 4th century BCE as the capital city of the Nabateans. This nomadic Arab people became wealthy through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was an important junction for the silk and spice trade routes that linked China, India, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.


2. Architectural Masterpieces: Besides the Treasury and the Monastery, Petra is home to over 800 individual monuments including buildings, tombs, baths, funerary halls, temples, arched gateways, and streets with columns. These structures, carved from the kaleidoscopic sandstone, reflect a range of architectural styles, influenced by Nabatean, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine civilizations.

Petra archaeological site in Jordan
Petra archaeological site in Jordan

3. The Siq: The main entrance to Petra, the Siq, is a narrow gorge over 1 kilometer long and up to 80 meters high. The Siq was formed from a natural splitting of the mountain and was later paved by the Nabateans. Walking through this dramatic natural corridor, with its twists and turns, builds anticipation before revealing Petra’s most famous monument, the Treasury.


4. Advanced Water Management System: The Nabateans were experts in water management, crucial in this desert region. Petra features a highly sophisticated system of dams, channels, and reservoirs. This system enabled the city to thrive by harvesting rainwater and minimizing reliance on the few natural springs in the area.


5. Cultural Mix: Petra's history is a melting pot of Arab, Greek, and Roman influences, evident in its architecture, tombs, and the remains of its temples and churches. This cultural blend makes Petra a unique example of the ingenuity and artistic achievements of these civilizations.


6. The Bedul Bedouin: The Bedul Bedouin have inhabited Petra for centuries. Their intimate knowledge of the area and its history adds a rich layer to the visitor's experience. Engaging with them offers insights into the living history and culture of Petra.


7. Archaeological Significance: Only about 15% of Petra has been archaeologically explored. The site still holds many secrets, with the vast majority lying unexcavated. This ongoing exploration continues to provide new insights into Nabatean culture and the ancient world.


8. Sunset and Night Tours: Petra is not just a daytime destination. The play of light on the sandstone cliffs at sunset transforms the ambiance. Additionally, Petra by Night tours offer a magical experience with the Treasury lit by hundreds of candles, creating an ethereal atmosphere.


9. Film Fame: Petra gained international fame when it featured in the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." The iconic scene with the Treasury as the entrance to the final resting place of the Holy Grail has attracted movie fans worldwide.


Visiting Petra is a journey back in time, offering a blend of natural beauty, historical depth, and architectural wonder.


Visitor Guide Tips


- Wear Comfortable Shoes: The terrain in Petra is uneven and requires a lot of walking.

- Stay Hydrated: Carry water with you, as the Jordanian sun can be relentless.

- Hire a Local Guide: To fully appreciate Petra's history, consider hiring a local guide.

- Plan Your Time: Allocate enough time to explore, as Petra is expansive and rich in history.


Other Activities Near Petra


Jordan offers a variety of tourist activities near Petra, each providing a unique glimpse into the country's rich cultural heritage and stunning natural landscapes. Here are some attractions and activities in the vicinity of Petra:


1. Wadi Rum: Often referred to as the “Valley of the Moon,” Wadi Rum is a breathtaking desert wilderness known for its dramatic sandstone mountains, canyons, and ancient rock carvings. Visitors can enjoy jeep tours, camel rides, hiking, rock climbing, and even hot air balloon rides. The desert's stunning scenery makes it a popular location for camping under the stars.


2. Aqaba: Situated on the Red Sea, Aqaba is Jordan's only coastal city and offers beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and excellent opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. The Red Sea's marine life is diverse, making Aqaba a haven for underwater enthusiasts.


3. Dead Sea: While a bit further away, the Dead Sea is a must-visit. I've enjoyed visiting the Dead Sea on the Israel side, but there are also many hotels you can stay at on the Jordan side. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth and famous for its hyper-saline water, where visitors can effortlessly float. The mineral-rich mud of the Dead Sea is also known for its therapeutic properties.


4. Little Petra (Siq al-Barid): Often overshadowed by its larger counterpart, Little Petra is an archaeological site with buildings carved into the walls of a sandstone canyon. It is believed to have served as a suburb of Petra and is notable for its small-scale architecture and frescoes.


5. Dana Biosphere Reserve: This is Jordan's largest nature reserve, covering mountains and valleys from the Jordan Rift Valley to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba. Dana Biosphere Reserve is a haven for hikers and nature lovers, offering a diverse range of flora and fauna, as well as stunning landscapes.


6. Shobak Castle: Perched on a hill in the desert, Shobak Castle is a 12th-century Crusader castle with intriguing history and panoramic views. The castle's ruins provide a glimpse into the medieval past and are a must-visit for history enthusiasts.


7. Al-Beidha (Also known as Little Petra): This is another archaeological site near Petra, often included in tours. It includes a small Siq (canyon) that leads to carved Nabatean buildings, similar to Petra but on a smaller scale.


8. Cooking Classes and Local Cuisine: For those interested in culinary experiences, Jordan offers cooking classes where you can learn to prepare traditional Jordanian dishes. Experiencing the local cuisine is a vital part of understanding the culture.


9. Turkish Baths: Experience traditional Middle Eastern relaxation and rejuvenation in one of the Turkish baths available in the region.


10. Bedouin Experiences: Engaging with the local Bedouin culture through overnight stays in Bedouin camps, enjoying traditional meals, and learning about their way of life adds an enriching layer to your visit.

Visiting Petra was an immersive experience into a past civilization. I found it’s architectural grandeur and historical significance to be quite amazing. The journey from Eilat, the knowledgeable tour guide, and the ease and comfort of the ride, all made the experience even more enjoyable. Petra is a must-visit for any traveler who loves history, nature, and architecture.

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