Petra Jordan wasn't voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the world for nothing!
The ancient city is one of those places that really lives up to the hype.
We saw it for the first time in the dark when we visited Petra Jordan by Night and then went back again the next morning to explore it by day.
Petra is an ancient Nabatean City that was the secret of Jordan.
Bedouins had used this place for centuries, but it lay hidden to outsiders until 200 years ago.
It wasn't discovered by the West until 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burchard.
The ancient city was lost for centuries hidden in the Mountains of Wadi Mousa from the outside world. It remained so thanks to its entranceway known as The Siq.
The long passage leading from the Dam to the Treasury, did its job well, hiding this mysterious wonder. Nobody knew where the entrance to Petra was.
It was hidden inside a 1.2 km long path slicing through rocks reaching 80 meters into the air.
Today Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Petra at Night
We walked the Siq when entering to view Petra by Night. We followed a candlelit path along the original stones of Petra dating back to 1000 BC.
The path ended at the Treasury. It is the main attraction of Petra, and it is the spot where Petra at Night takes place.
While the actual performance of traditional music played by a Bedouin in front of the Treasury was less than stellar, the walk through the candlelit Siq to view the legendary ruin was awe-inspiring.
We followed candles lit in paper bags set out by hand, lining our way through the 1.2 km path.
It was a phenomenal walk as we marveled at the high cliffs turning to dark shadows before our eyes.
Seeing the ruins at night gave them a certain mystique that you do not get during the day.
All we needed was a camel to fulfill our images of what it must have been like to walk this ancient alleyway thousands of years ago.
- Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday so time your trip to Petra around those days.
- The performance lasts 2-hours.
Once we reached the Treasury, we were treated to an extraordinary view of hundreds of candles lighting the square while Bedouins played traditional music.
We all sat on mats looking at the scene as men serve tea to warm the chill in the air.
The performance didn't last for long. The experience is more about having the chance to witness Petra at night and to walk through the atmospheric setting.
We lingered behind the crowd and were in step with the people picking up the candles behind us.
It was worth it to feel the complete silence and darkness of Petra as the crowd walked out far ahead.
- Hot tip: Don't spend too long walking through the Siq, try to get to the front of the crowd for the best views.
- And be sure to stay after the crowds leave to photograph the Treasury free from shadows and heads.
- Dress warm. Petra is set in a desert environment, so once the sun goes down it gets cold quickly.
Petra by Day
After our evening at Petra, we were excited to see it again in sunlight.
We awoke bright and early to beat the crowds.
Our tour of Petra was led by an officer from the Petra Jordan Development Authority.
He was hired to stay with us while we took photos of Petra. Lucky us! We retraced our route from the night before to Petra's most famous monument.
While walking up the path, we saw horses run past us.
Later that day, we were told that a horse ride was included in our entrance fee.
It would have taken us from the visitors centre to the entrance of the Siq.
I wish we had known, that would have been cool. But something tells me we wouldn't be riding as fast as that guy above!
Don't Arrive Too Early
As it turned out, we needed the extra time to walk anyway because we arrived at the Treasury too early.
We had to wait for the sun to make its way over the high cliffs.
When we first arrived everything was cast in shadow, but soon, the sun reached over the 80 metre cliffs and lit the treasury with its golden rays.
The crowd was sparse at this time of the day so we managed to really get the chance to explore it free from too many bodies.
Petra Jordan's History
We spent quite a while at the Treasury.
While Dave explored taking photographs, I sat with Ali (our personal guide who rocked by the way) as he told me the history of Petra.
Little is known about Petra and its history.
It was built by the Nabataeans over 2000 years ago when it was an important stop on the Silk Route to China and India.
Petra was a flurry of activity with camel caravans stopping frequently en route to the Far East.
It remained under Nabataean rule until 100 AD when the Romans invaded.
It was some time during the 12 century that it was finally abandoned and left to the local people.
Surprisingly, Petra was forgotten by the Western world for centuries.
It wasn't until 1812 that it was “rediscovered” by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
Most History of Petra is Speculation
Ali told me that much of what we know about Petra is speculation.
The Treasury was named so because it was believed to have treasures hidden inside.
They say, the Bedouins used to shoot at the facade because they thought that Pharaoh put his gold and treasures there.
The official from Petra Jordan tourism told Dave that even his father used to shoot at it.
You can still see the bullet holes on its facade today.
Petra Jordan in the Movies
In 1989, Hollywood chose Petra as a film location for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Most recently we have seen Petra featured in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.
Other movies that used Petra for a location are: The Mummy Returns, Queen of the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Samsara, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.
Ricky Gervais' Idiot Abroad stopped in at Petra Jordan too!
People of Petra
One of the most popular people in the entire complex is a dashing man who sits in front of the Treasury.
He's a local Bedouin who lives in the nearby caves.
He is pestered all day long by tourists wanting a photo with him or his camels.
Looking at him, I can understand why.
He is the epitome of what a person thinks of when traveling to an exotic place like Jordan.
His striking eyes peer playfully from behind his keffiyeh (traditional headscarf) as he sits in his long robes beside his decorated camel.
We walk along and meet another friendly man selling souvenirs. He lets us take his photograph and doesn't ask for a single coin.
We learn that many people still live in the surrounding ruins and that the families who work in Petra are granted permission to stay there.
People no longer live in Petra Caves
But people don't live in the caves anymore.
After some investigation, we found out that people are no longer allowed to live in the caves and have been moved to a nearby village by the Jordanian government.
Royal Tombs to the Monastery
The walk to the Royal Tombs involves scrambling up rocks, ducking through caves and getting lost in passageways.
This route takes us to the top of a stone mountain overlooking the complex.
It is here that we see the paths to both the high sacrifice and the Monastery. We can also look down at the Petra Theatre.
This 3000 seat amphitheater looks to be Roman architecture but was actually build by the Nabateans in the 1st century.
There are countless monuments and it is hard to believe that much of Petra was destroyed during a massive earthquake hundreds of years ago.
Imagine what this great city looked like in its prime?
To us, The Monastery is the most impressive building of the entire complex.
Reaching 50 metres into the air, The Petra Monastery also the largest in all of Petra.
Dating back to the 1st century B.C. it is worth the 45-minute hike to the top.
Not only will you be treated to this majestic structure, but you will also view magnificent panoramic views of the valleys and rocky landscape of the area of Wadi Araba.
Tips to seeing the Monastery
Don't waste time upon your arrival to Petra.
You will be tempted to slowly wander around the ruins after witnessing the first and most famous building The Treasury.
Instead, head directly to the Monastery right after the Treasury.
You will want to get there early before the tour groups arrive.
People will tell you to wait until later in the afternoon, but by then it will be too late.
The crowds will have already amassed and you won't have a chance to see anything in peace and quiet.
Instead, go to the Monastery before noon and you will be able to capture this treasure free and clear.
- Contrary to popular belief, we found the conditions to be perfect for photography.
Once you have checked out the remarkable vistas and viewpoints near the Monastery, you will then be free and clear to enjoy the rest of Petra at your leisure for the rest of the day.
- Tip: You can also hire a donkey to take you up to the Monastery if the climb is too much for you.
Following the trail we came upon a sign stating The View of the End of the World.
I've always wondered what the end of the world looked like, so we marched on.
This is what the ancient people must have thought was a view of the end of the world. It doesn't look like an inviting landscape I would want to explore.
But it is certainly beautiful.
It may not have been the end of the world, but I can see how the Nabataeans believed it to be.
There seemed to be nothing beyond the borders of Petra.
One would think that people would see no reason to leave the safety of this secluded city that was once the crown jewel of the Middle East.
Gazing towards the horizon I could almost imagine a camel caravan descending upon the city.
Petra would be a welcoming sight after a long journey through the arid landscape and as I stood atop the mountain, I had visions of the generations who came before me.
What did they think as they stood in this exact location gazing over the desert while admiring the beauty of the monastery below.
Book Your Petra Tours
Get Your Guide is a great company offering tours and discounts check out these tours to Petra.
From Amman, Full Day tour – This tour leaves from Amman for full day tour of Petra. It includes the 800 metre horse ride that we missed and entrance fees to Petra.
Petra 2 Day Overnight Tour – This overnight tour from Amman gives you a four hour guide at Petra, transportation from Amman and overnight accommodation. This is a great choice for those wanting more time at Petra to possibly explore Petra by night.
For more information on Travel to Jordan visit our Jordan Travel Guide