Explore a different destination UNESCO World Heritage Site Petra, Jordan

Petra is a famous city carved out of stone, hidden by towering sandstone mountains in Jordan. Although uninhabited today, during ancient times, it was an important city, and was the main city of an ancient people called the Nabataens, who lived in southern Jordan, Canaan and the northern part of Arabia, and created a kingdom with its capital at Petra. Lying in the centre of an ancient caravan trade routes, Petra benefited from the resulting commerce. Caravans pass through Petra for Giza in the south, Bosra and Damascus in the north, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and eastward to the Persian Gulf.

Petra was inscribed a a UNESCO World Heritage Site during the 9th session of the World Heritage Committee which met in the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, on 2-6 December, 1985. It is regarded as one of the world's most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture.

Photos of Petra

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan
The Treasury, Petra, Jordan
Author: David Bjorgen (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

A glimpse of the Treasury, Petra
Author: Daniele Nasi | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

The sandstone terrain of Petra
Author: snorth | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Rock formations at Petra
Author: snorth | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Circles in the sandstone
Author: Philippe Stoop | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

The Monastery
Author: zerega | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

The designs on the sandstone Siq
Author: zerega | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Going through the canyon of Petra
Author: ullikummi | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

The Treasury side room, Petra
Author: archae traveler | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

Beauty in stone
Author: anne66 | Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

About Petra

History of Petra

Until they settled at Petra, the Nabateans were largely nomadic. They founded Petra around the 6th century BC and ruled over it until AD 100, when the Romans conquered Petra. In AD 106 it was absorbed into the Roman Empire and was known as Arabia Petraea. Although having lost its autonomy, Petra continued to flourish for another one hundred years. It then began to decline when trade routes changed. An earthquake in AD363 devastated Petra and destroyed its waterworks. Petra lay in ruins until the 12th century, when the Crusaders occupied it and built a citadel there. After they were gone, Petra was left to its native inhabitants. It was first seen by a Westerner in 1812, when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it. Petra was made popular in recent times by the Indiana Jones movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The name Petra, which means "rock" in Greek and Latin (derived from the word petrae), is actually a modern name for the place. This is because the city was carved from the friable sandstone cliffs of the area. The rocks take on a multitude of hues ranging from cream to orange, to red, and to dark brown. Layers of these rocks form whorls of colours which were incorporated into the Nabatean architecture.

Scholars are unable to confirm the actual ancient name of Petra, though the most likely is Rekem. Rekem is a site mentioned in the Dead Sea scrolls and closely resembled Petra in description. Nevertheless, it has been known as Petra, or Petraea, since Roman times. Petra was recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site since 1985, and was described as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage." On 7 July 2007, it was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Nabataen language was influenced by the Aramaic language from around the 2nd century BC, and the Nabataens adopted an alphabet derived from the Aramaic alphabet. From the 4th century AD onwards, as Arabic influence increased, the Nabataen language absorbed more and more of it in place of Aramaic. The Arabic alphabet, which developed through the 5th century AD, was influenced by the Nabataen script.

Exploring Petra

Petra is located in the mountains on the east side of Arabah, the valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It is about 3-5 hours from Amman, the capital of Jordan. Although it was entered from the south in ancient times, nowadays, tourists visiting Petra enter it from the east. A Visitor Centre was put up since 2006 to facilitate access. To enter Petra, one goes through a dusty trail along Wadi Musa (The Valley of Moses). You will see small Nabatean tombs on the rocky outcrops to your left and right. Farther down, you come upon the sandstone cliffs that rise like a wall on your left. On your right is an opening to the Siq (meaning the "shaft"), the narrow passage that leads to Petra. The Siq was a natural geological feature which was formed when there was a deep split in the sandstone rocks. It narrows to no more than 3-5 metres wide in places, and form a gorge that keeps the sun out.

Going through the Siq, you will see how the Nabateans were able to survive in the harsh environment. They built a dam to divert the flow of a nearby stream, and used the water to create an artificial oasis in Petra. This water management system also prevents floods from occuring. The Siq is about one kilometre in length. Those not wishing to walk can ride a horse or take a horse-drawn carriage. Motorised vehicles are however prohibited from entering.

As you approach the end of the Siq, you catch your first glimpse of the most famous building in Petra - the iconic El Khazneh (also written Al Khazneh), which is Arabic for the Treasury. It was so named because the latter inhabitants believed that the Nabateans stored treasure there. In reality, El Khazneh was probably used as a temple or a tomb, or probably as both. Built between 100 BC and 200 AD and like many other "buildings" in Petra, it was really a facade carved out of the sandstone cliff. El Khazneh soars about 40 metres from the desert floor.

Despite its intricate exterior, upon entering, you will realise that there is nothing much inside. The interior was simply a square chamber carved into the cliff. It doesn't extend deep inside either. Like most of the tombs in Petra, Al Khazneh was carved right out of the sandstone cliff. the exterior is exquisite while the interior plain.

Although it is Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh is by no means the only sight worth visiting. There are more tombs and chambers on the cliffs surrounding Al Khazneh. The smaller tombs look like black holes on the cliff walls. On the left of Al Khazneh to the left, at the foot of a mountain called en-Nejr, is an amphitheatre that can accommodate up to 8000 people. There are more tombs on the rock walls behind it. When the amphitheatre was carved, it was probably cut into some of the existing tombs as well.

World Heritage Site Inscription Details

Location: N 30 19 50.016 E 35 26 35.988
Inscription Year: 1985
Type of Site: Cultural
Inscription Criteria: I, III, IV

Location Map

View Petra in a larger map

Getting there

You can engage tours from Amman or Aqaba. If you are an independent traveler, you can take a JETT bus. There are also minibuses from Wadi Rum costing 3.00 Jordanian dollars for a 1.5 hour trip to Petra. You can also hire a taxi for about 75 Jordanian dollars (or less, if you're good at bargaining) to take you from Amman.

Getting around

It's either you hike, or you rent a camel, donkey or horse. There's also a horse-drawn buggy that takes visitors through the Siq, a distance of about close to one kilometer, to the Treasury.

Visiting Petra

Your base for visiting this World Heritage Site is Amman, the capital of Jordan. From there, you can make the arrangement on your own or find an appropriate tour package to Petra. Get a full list of hotels in Amman here. You can also make an online reservation for any of the hotels in Petra with online booking facility.

Book Hotel Rooms in Jordan and Worldwide

Click here also for a full list of hotels in Jordan or hotels worldwide. If you prefer budget accommodation in hostels, guesthouses or inns, check out hostels worldwide for budget accommodation providers with online booking.

Return to Jordan's World Heritage Sites
Return to UNESCO World Heritage Sites

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Point - Click - Discover!

Thanks for visiting this webpage. To continue exploring, choose another destination!

My World Travel Guides - celebrating a beautiful world beautifully.

Travel Business