Petra, Jordan’s most famous attraction, is an incredible 2000-year-old city carved out of red sandstone cliffs. Once a wealthy trading centre, in its prime Petra was ruled by the Nabataeans – an ancient Arabian tribe. It was then conquered by the Romans in AD 106 and gradually fell into disrepair as trade was directed elsewhere and earthquakes devastated the area. Eventually the city was abandoned, all but vanishing from historical records. Lost from the Western world, it lay hidden for centuries, until Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt stumbled upon it in 1812.
Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and much of its impressive rock-cut architecture survives to this very day. Here we take a closer look at some of the city’s most memorable highlights.
Entry to Petra is via the Siq, a narrow 1.2 kilometre gorge that winds its way through high cliffs before dramatically opening onto the breathtaking sight of Petra’s Treasury. In eager anticipation of reaching Petra, you might be tempted to hurry through the Siq, but it really is worth taking your time. Soak up the atmosphere, marvel at the channels which once brought water to the city and imagine what it would have been like to make this journey way back in the Nabataean era.
Testament to the wealth of the Nabataean civilisation, the spectacular pillared façade of the Treasury is at its most beautiful in full sunlight. Intricate, well-preserved carvings decorate the exterior of this impressive building, which is thought to have been built as a royal tomb.
Despite its classic Hellenistic design, archaeologists have dated Petra’s huge Theatre to around the time of the first century AD, meaning it was originally built by the Nabataeans, not the Romans. Carved into the mountainside, it is thought that the Romans later enlarged it to hold up to about 8,500 people.
The High Place of Sacrifice
Reached via an old and fairly steep staircase, if you make the dramatic climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice you’ll be rewarded with sensational views of Petra and the surrounding valley. This levelled platform perched on top of a ridge is where religious ceremonies are thought to have taken place. No one knows for sure what happened here, but it theories include animal sacrifices and the smoking of frankincense in honour of Nabataean deities.
Far bigger than the Treasury but less ornate, the awe-inspiring Monastery stands an incredible 45 or so metres high and about is 50 metres wide. Probably built as a temple, the panoramic views from here are nothing short of sublime.
The Royal Tombs
The Royal Tombs is the name given to a collection of some of the most spectacular burial sites in Petra. Decorated with fine carvings, these impressive façades look stunning in the late afternoon as the golden rays of the sun set over the horizon.
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