I must admit Jordan had never been on top of my must-visit list, but somehow The Pom able to convince me to go with him and I am so glad that I did. Have to say Jordan isn’t really the main reason why we were there, because The Pom was actually more interested to put on his fedora, saddle up on a horse and go look for the holy grail hidden deep inside a temple carved into the pink sandstone cliffs in the lost city of Petra.
Okay, okay, that wasn’t The Pom, it was just my imagination of him as Indiana Jones. That’s right, Petra gained its fame from the Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which was filmed there. In 1985, the Petra Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world. These days over half a million visitors visit this significant historical and archaeological site each year, it is now Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction.
Petra is located approximately 250km south of Amman, the capital city of Jordan. To get there, you can either join a package tour, or hire your own driver; we chose the latter option. We booked a driver through the hotel we stayed at in Amman, it cost us around USD140. It was definitely value for money, the driver took us down via scenic route with multiple stops at various tourist attractions, we even managed to have a quick swim at the Dead Sea. We spent two nights at Petra and our driver was there ready to take us back to Amman. I am sure you can arrange to spend a night at the Dead Sea too but the fee will just cost a little bit more.
By the time we arrived at Petra, it was already dusk. Since Petra is the most touristy destination in Jordan, there are hotels aplenty to choose from. You’ll find most of the hotels are actually located on top of the hill at the nearest town called Wadi Musa (the valley of moses) which is 5 mins drive from the archaeological site of Petra. And also can be a bit of a hike back to town from the site. There are a few 5-star luxury hotels right by the historical site and the best one has to be Movenpick Resort which is literally across the road from the Petra visitor centre.
We spent two nights at the hotel and enjoyed the hospitality thoroughly. We visited Petra during December, so it was rather Christmassy inside the hotel. There are so much opulence inside the hotel and in our room, loved the hotel is built using sandstones then decorated with marbles and colourful tiles, the craftsmanship was impeccable.
It had been a long day so we decided to have dinner at the Al Saraya restaurant in the hotel. The menu was quite international and diverse, from local cuisine to lamb provencale, baked french onion soup, and grilled US-tenderloin. It’s best to stick to what they are good at and you simply can’t go wrong with local cuisine.
I particularly enjoyed the Mediterranean mezza as starter, on the platter there were a well of smooth hummus was filled with vibrant green herbaceous extra virgin olive oil, fried zucchini, perfectly cooked Gulf shrimps with chilli sauce, tabouleh, a crunchy Kubbeh (my fav). Then I had the baked hamour fish for my main, the hamour fish is actually brown spotted reed cod, the flesh was meaty and tender served with a healthy dose of steamed veggies and saffron sauce. When you see saffron on the menu, usually is very likely to be turmeric rather than the real deal.
Day at Petra Archaeologic Park
We woke up super early the next morning filled with excitement, it was the day we finally got to see Petra! The site opens at 6am in the morning, so I would suggest to go early as it can get very hot by midday in the desert, especially during summer months. We went in early December and it was freezing in the morning, but it got quite warm in the afternoon especially after lots of walking and hiking, so best to dress in layers.
The whole Petra Archaeologic Park is 2640 acres, there is a lot to see and explore that will take at least one full day. We did the full site in one full day and the 1-Day entry fee is 50JoD (AUD$93.70). But if you prefer to take it slow and explore the site at a leisure pace, then I’d suggest to go for the two-day entry fee which is only 5JoD more than the 1-day entry fee. There is also a night tour that you can join at extra cost, but trust me, it is well worth it.
A little bit of history about Petra. Originally known as Raqmu, it is the capital city of the Arab Nabateans, dated back to as early as 312 B.C. The city began to prosper through trades in frankincense, myrrh and spices. Petra was later annexed by the Roman Empire and until to thrive until a large earthquake shattered the city. Due to earthquake and changes in trade routes, Petra was eventually abandoned and deserted in the middle of the 7th century except local Bedouin from the area. The site remained unknown to the western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. The discovery had increased fascination from the West and began to attract visitors and continues to do so today.
The main trail is about 4km long, from the main entrance to the Street of Facades. So make sure to bring lots of water and maybe a packed lunch. For those with less mobility, you can either hire a horse ride or take a horse-drawn carriage at a fee. The first part of the trail is ‘Bab Al Siq’ means gateway to the ‘siq’ in Arabic. It’s relatively easy to walk, here we had our first glimpse of dwellings and tombs carved out of the rocks. The highlight was the Obelisk Tomb, carved by Nabateans in the 1st century AD. Above the tomb are four pyramids (‘nafesh’) as well as a niche with a statue in bas-relief that is a symbolic representation of the five people buried there.
The trail was about 1km before we arrived at The Siq – the dramatic ancient main entrance leading to the city of Petra. The Siq, the main road that leads to the city, starts from the Dam and ends at the Treasury. It is a rock canal that measures 160 meters in length, 3 to 12 meters in width and reaches up to 80 meters in height.
The main part of the Siq is created by natural rock formation and the rest is actually carved by the Nabataeans. They are also known for their great ability in constructing efficient water collecting methods in the barren deserts. On both sides of the Siq, there are channels to draw water from Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses) to the city inside.
The anticipation grew as we got closer to the end of the Siq. Then, we saw it, the vivid “rose-red city” was glowing, teasing us through the slit between the narrow gorge.
It sure was an impressive site. The siq opens up onto Petra’s most magnificent facade – Al Khazneh, or commonly known as “The Treasury“. Believed to be constructed in the 1st century BC, coinciding with the time of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires and so has classical Greek-influenced architecture. The Treasury is a marvellous rock-cut architecture, 40 meters high and intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. Inside the Treasury was where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail. But in reality, it is nothing more than a facade with a relatively small hall believed once used as a royal tomb.
Continued on from The Treasury, the Siq begins to widen gradually as it reaches into an open area, named The Street of Facades. It is a name given to the row of monumental Nabataean tombs carved in the southern cliff face. On the left side, there is also an amphitheatre carved into the side of the mountain at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice.There are seven stairways ascend the auditorium and it can accommodate 4000 spectators.
Here you can spend some time to explore the major tombs including, The Silk Tomb, The Urn Tomb, The Uneishu Tomb, The Corinthian Tomb and The Palace Tomb. It is worth a little hike up The Urn Tomb which offers a panoramic view of the Streets of Facades and beyond. But parts of the hike are dangerous, we even had to walk across a wooden plank, so take extra caution.
At the end of the trail is the Great Temple, the largest Nabatean complexes in Petra. It was discovered in 1992 by Brown University archaeologists, who are still excavating the site today. Archaeologists believe the Great Temple was built in the last quarter of the 1st century BC and further enlarged in the 1st century AD. The Lower Temenos is paved with hexagonal stones and was enclosed on the east and west side by astonishing triple colonnades that contained 96-120 total columns. Further along the complex is the Temple of Dushares which has the largest facade in Petra. As excavations are still carried on at this part of the site, so it was all fenced off and no access for visitors.
But the journey didn’t end here. The next part of the trail was a lot more strenuous, a 2km hike all the way to another significant site in Petra. I saw many visitors gave up and turned back at this point, but please don’t. If you really can’t walk further, then I would suggest you to take the donkey ride. Trust me, is worth it.
I actually found the hike was pretty exhilarating. The landscape changed dramatically, and there are a few sites including The Lion Triclinium, located in a narrow side canyon on the ascent to Petra’s famed Monastery building, takes its name from the two badly eroded reliefs carved on either side of its doorway.
A local lady started chatting us up and offered us sweet tea to quench our thirst, hoping that we will buy some handicraft from her stall. Unfortunately we had to decline to purchase any handicraft at exorbitant price.
Despite the hike was tiring and challenging at times, especially under the scorching heat, it was well worth the effort when we reached the final stop and stood right in front of another monumental building – The Monastery.
Photos do not do its justice, this building is massive! Similar in design to the Treasury but far bigger at 50m wide and 45m high, the doorway itself is 8 metre high! It was built in the 3rd century BC as a Nabataean tomb and used as a church in Byzantine times. The building was actually better preserved than the Treasury with many of the original details on the facade are distinctively visible. Not to mention is a lot quieter and less tourists here so you can get some good photos of it.
There is a teahouse where visitors can buy some drinks, take a rest whilst admiring the Monastery’s Hellenistic facade. Behind the teahouse is a trail that leads to stunning viewpoints over Wadi Araba, Israel and the Palestinian Territories and south to the peak of Jebel Haroun, topped by a small white shrine.
We didn’t linger for long at the site and started heading back around 2.30pm. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to walk back as it took us about 2 hours to walk all the way back to our hotel. We probably could have stayed longer at the site but we had to get back earlier for some rest and food before we heading back out again. Because we had signed up for the night tour, and is a MUST!
‘Petra By Night’ Tour
Whatever you do, do not miss the ‘Petra by Night’ tour.
You don’t really need to prebook the tour, you can book through your hotel or purchase the ticket at the visitor centre, the entrance fee is 17JoD (AUD$31.50) per person. The night tours runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week. It lasts for 2 hours, starts at 8.30pm and usually finishes by 10.30pm.
It was freezing cold at night in December, we all rugged up and gathered around at the visitor centre before the tour start. Then we all stayed close to each other and started walking along the Siq to the Treasury where the magic happens. The walk itself was mysterious, the whole Siq was dimly lit with candlelights and the clear sky was filled with star constellations.
How I wish I brought along my tripod, but I did managed to capture a few shots inside the gorge while trying to keep up with the group.
Despite I had already visited The Treasury during the day, but there was still a surge of excitement within me to see it again and in a different light this time. I think everyone gasped in astonishment by the beauty of The Treasury as soon as they exited the Siq.
It was truly magical. Hundreds of candles were lit in front of the Treasury, casting a vivid orange hue over the facade. Everyone took a seat on the rugs assembled into rows, but I managed to score a chair right at the far back, so I can take some long exposure shots without disturbing the others. All guests were offered a cup of hot sweet tea. Then out of no where, a dark figure with a flute serenaded us with some traditional Bedouin music. The music echoed through the open space down the gorge like an Enya song. We were asked to be silent for a few minutes of introspection and then wishing lanterns were released into the night sky. What a perfect way to finish the tour.
Petra has been an unexpected surprise, a destination that has lost in time, a journey that has not been forgotten, a memory that lasts forever.