Probably Jordan’s most famous sight, Petra attracts around a million visitors a year to see the iconic Treasury carved out of the colourful sandstone, best known from the ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There is much more to Petra though, it is a vast place which takes days to properly explore, though in May the heat and lack of shade made this an exhausting experience.
Petra was built by the Nabataens two thousand years ago, and was occupied for seven hundred years before falling into disuse. The Nabataens made their wealth from the spice trade between East and West as they were able to cross the desert with camels.
The site is well organised, with a flash visitor entrance leading off the aptly named Tourism Street lined with hotels, restaurants and overpriced ‘supermarkets’ ($1.50 for a banana!).
From here the track heads downhill, which makes for a tough return later in the day. There is a separate track thankfully for horses which are ‘included in the ticket price’, plus a hefty tip! There are a few things to see along the way including the impressive Obelisk Tomb carved into the rock, the first of hundreds at Petra!
The walk gets more interesting heading through one of the highlights of Petra, the Siq, a 1.2km long narrow gorge with dramatic rock formations and colours that change throughout the day.
With over 3,000 people visiting a day it is hard to get clear photos including the concrete footpath but I managed it in a few places.
There are a number of dams along the Siq, protecting it from flash floods.
You have to watch out for the high speed buggies that for $25 take people from the visitor centre to the Treasury. Rather than using horns, the drivers bang on the dashboard to encourage people to move out of the way.
The first glimpse of the Treasury is a memorable experience through the narrow view of the Siq.
The Treasury (Al Khazna) is actually a tomb, and at 40m high, a very impressive one. In order to preserve the Treasury people are not allowed inside (though there isn’t much to see), which has the bonus of making it relatively easy to get clear photos without the hoards of selfie takers.
The Siq and outside the Treasury are the busiest parts of Petra, with masses of people, including many groups, and even cruise ship parties who moored at Aqaba a few hours drive away. It was quite overwhelming outside the Treasury with too many camels, and locals trying to encourage you up to a better view, for a price…
There are many animals at Petra, stray cats and dogs who tend to approach you as soon as you stop on a boulder to eat, donkeys, horses and camels carrying tourists, and herds of goat.
There are also a seemingly endless number of stalls selling everything a souvenir seeking tourist could desire.
The Street of Facades is home to more tombs, illustrating some of the beautiful different rock colours at Petra.
The Theatre was carved out of the mountainside and can accommodate between 4,000 and 8,500 people depending on which source you trust.
Understandably some of the finest tombs belonged to royals, carved next to each other.
One of the relatively newer structures (5th century) is the Church, home to some beautiful mosaics.
The Great Temple covers an area of 7,000sqm though relatively little remains of its former glory.
More remains of Qasr Al-Bint, a sizeable temple dating back two thousand years, which even todays stands 23m tall.