One of the places you have to see before you die according to the BBC and Smithsonian Magazine is Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World located in the south of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan about three-hour drive from its capital, Amman.
Petra, which means “rock” in Arabic, also described as a “rose-red city half as old as time” due to the colour of the stone out of which it is carved, remained hidden to the Western world until 1812 when it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who disguised himself as an Arabic scholar to infiltrate the mysterious lost city of stone. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom from around 6th century BC and became an important centre for trade and commerce when it was absorbed into the Roman Empire until a catasthropic earthquake destroyed the city around 663 AD. (Nabataeans are ancient nomadic Arab people from north Arabia who were noted for their skill in water management.)
We approached the ancient city by foot (motorised transport cannot enter Petra although horse-drawn carriages, donkeys and camels can take you around the archaeological sites) through the main entrance called the “Siq” (literally the “shaft”), the dim narrow gorge about 3 meters wide winding its way approximately 1.2 kms long with high walls of rock on either side that rise hundreds of feet to the sky. As we came to the end of the “siq” the first and the most impressive of all Petra’s monuments, the “Al Khazneh” known as the Treasury comes into view. Carved out of solid sandstone rock face, the structure has classical Greek architectural details with figures of 4 eagles on the top. The Treasury has been featured as a secret temple in the last scenes of the popular 1989 Steven Spielberg film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.
After viewing the Treasury we came next to the “Street of Facade”, a large canyon lined with facades of various tall and impressive royal tombs identifed as the Urn tomb built high on the mountain side and requires climbing up a number of flights of stairs, the Silk tomb with rich colour of the sandstone and the Corinthian tomb which is worn out but ornate. The palace tomb is very wide and has three distinct stories in its facade. In front of the tomb is a large stage and courtyard.
At the end of the Street of Facade is the 7,000-seat Roman Theatre cut out of solid rock created by the Nabataeans but later refurbished by the Romans.
High above Petra overlooking the valley is the “Ad-Deir” Monastery carved from a chunk of mountain rock. Climbing the 800 rock cut steps to get to the monastery is another experience in itself.
You can also journey up to the “High Place of Sacrifice” on a mountain summit that contains sacred open-air rock altars once used for ritual killings of animals.
Note: An entrance fee is required. To explore the site you’ll need comfortable walking shoes, bottled water and a hat to keep the sun off your head. Enjoy your trip!