Mention Jordan and the image of Petra comes to mind. Not just Petra, but specifically its iconic rose-red building, the Treasury or al Khazneh. As a symbol of Jordan, the Treasury is strikingly stunning; but it is also just one of the thousands of impressive rock-cut buildings in the ancient city. In Petra, there is no shortage of archaeological findings, caves and rock art. And if you’re not a history buff, then take your time to explore the sandstone canyons and network of hiking trails in the surrounding Wadi Musa.
A Lesson in Nabataean History
Once in Petra, it’s easy to see why it was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Its sheer size and grandeur is impressive even for the most seasoned traveler and history expert. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, Petra was the stronghold of this powerful civilization that spread across Northern Saudi Arabia, Southern Syria and parts of Israel.
Located on the slope of Mount Hor and the edge of Wadi Araba, Petra was the main caravan stopover and the main headquarters for trading. The Nabataeans traded extensively with the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians – thus they were influenced by them in many ways (you can spot the Egyptian obelisks and Egyptian Sun God in Petra).
The walk towards the Treasury is quite a visual feast: you start from the main entrance of the historical site lined with tombs and caves before entering the naturally-formed narrow canyon called the Siq. It meanders for 1.3km along sandstone gravels before opening up to a grand view of the Treasury.
The Treasury was named by the Bedouins as they believed that it was the place where the Nabataeans hid their treasure. It was later found that the Treasury is actually a tomb for one of the Nabataean kings. Bedouins lived in the caves of Petra (there are over 5,000) up until 1983, when the last family was moved out to the nearby village.
The People and Camels
Jordanians are famed for their hospitality and wide smiles. “Welcome!” resonates throughout my trip through Jordan. Petra is a playground for the Bedouins who grew up here. Along the way, you’ll meet plenty who are more than happy to chat.
Perched on the edge of the Petra Mountains overlooking Wadi Araba, the Monastery is the biggest building in the ancient city. Spotting a facade resembling that of the Treasury, the Monastery is much bigger in size and thus more regal in appearance. Carved out of the surrounding rock cliffs, it is a sheer work of art.
From the restaurant/museum within the historical site, there is a trail that leads all the way up to the Monastery. The trail is easy but steep (over 800 steps) and takes just about 45minutes each way.
From the Monastery, there are various viewpoints that you can scramble up to for a panorama of the area. The picture below was shot from the Sacrifice Viewpoint where you can get a 360degrees view of both the Monastery and the sprawling desert of Wadi Araba.
Petra By Night
If you’re looking for a refreshing way to see Petra, I’d highly recommend visiting Petra by night (12JD, tickets available at entrance). Walking through the candle-lit canyons under the starry skies is an experience on its own, culminating at the base of the Treasury where hundreds of candles illuminate it in a dreamy shade of red.
Petra by night is not just a simple nocturnal visit of the historical site – It’s an experiential walk into the Nabataean history and culture. As I arrive at the Treasury, carpets are laid on the ground for visitors to sip tea and soak in the surrounding in silence. Soon enough, beautiful traditional music echo in the distance and a Bedouin man appears, strumming the rebab (a string instrument) before playing the flute. Hundreds of visitors sit and listen in awe as the Bedouins bring us on a journey into their world.