The Ancient Wonders of Jordan's Petra

The Al-Khazneh (treasury) is the most iconic building of the ancient city of Petra.
Photo of Cassam Looch
Film Editor27 January 2020

The facade of Petra’s Treasury, made famous by Indiana Jones, is one of the most iconic historical sites in the world. Here’s our guide to the iconic city carved into sandstone in the Jordanian desert.

The history of Petra

Once the hub of trade for merchants across the Middle East, Petra faded into virtual obscurity for centuries until its rediscovery in 1812.

The Nabataean tribe of nomads ruled the region and settled into the surrounding mountains around 35o BC. The tribe began to charge merchants for safe passage through this trade route, which had become a popular way of transporting rare items such as pepper, sugar, ginger, cotton, frankincense and myrrh. At its peak in the first century AD, Petra was home to almost 35,000 residents.

The ancient city of Petra is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the Middle East

The valleys of Petra once housed a number of freestanding buildings too, but an earthquake in 363 AD destroyed most of them and the city quickly disappeared off the map (both figuratively and literally) after another tremor in the 7th century. Petra was virtually deserted once more, and so it remained for over a thousand years.

Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burckhardt had heard grandiose stories of ancient buildings carved into the cliffs of Petra, and managed to persuade a local Bedouin to guide him through the narrow pathways that lead to the legendary city in the early 19th century.

Burckhardt’s experience is similar to that of adventurers who visit Petra today, with the tight caverns and tunnels opening up to reveal the breathtaking structures of the southern Jordan.

Visiting Petra today

The famous gorge that leads to Petra is known as the Siq. It is a narrow shaft through which you can approach the city and catch a glimpse of Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) building facade, which is the one most people will think of when thinking of Petra.

Once thought to be a myth, Petra was “rediscovered” in the 19th century and is now a popular tourist attraction in Jordan

The Bab Al Siq guards the entrance of the Siq and is made up of three large Djinn blocks. These stone structures highlight why Petra is also known as the Red Rose City.

Other highlights of Petra include The Dam, The Street of Facades and The Theatre. There are also a number of tombs within some of the buildings themselves.

Tickets should be purchased upon arrival, but there are various options available depending on when you arrive and if you chose to explore other locations close-by such as the High place of sacrifice monument or the Monastery. Another option is the Tour by Night, which runs three times a week.

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