Served by the Jordanian port of Aquaba, the ancient city of Petra dates back to around 300BC, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and also one of the Middle East’s most awe-inspiring sites.
6 hours in… Petra
If you’re visiting Petra for the first time, it’s useful to know which parts of the city to prioritise, though any cruise excursion worth its (sea) salt will no doubt take you to the must-sees, so make sure the following are on your itinerary list.
The way that all visitors and excursions enter Petra is by way of the Siq, a very narrow gorge which makes its way through 300-foot high cliffs and which will certainly give you a sense of why this archaeological treasure laid undiscovered for such a long time. It also serves as the perfect showcase for the most famous structure and the one which will always be most associated with Petra, the Treasury. It’s actually a stunning piece of rock carving craftsmanship and with its distinctive pillars, resembles a Greek temple in design. Its status as a treasury is in fact only based on rumour, in that it is believed to be the resting place of a past Egyptian Pharaoh. Perhaps the most famous thing about the treasury however is firmly locked in popular culture, in that it was the resting place of The Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The Monastery is the largest single monument in Petra and though it’s not as well-known as the Treasury it’s in some ways a more rewarding experience. You’ll have to earn it with a challenging climb but the stunning view of the valley you’ll be presented with is more than worth it. It’s important to allow plenty of time to take in the climb, the view and the Monastery itself, so if your time in Petra is limited, make sure you visit it first.
If you’ve a little more time and you can cope with the climb, the High Place of Sacrifice is another very popular site and thankfully today only lives up to the part of its name which refers to its lofty location. At the top you’ll be able to see for yourself the original sacrificial altar, while arrows will guide you to the spot from where you’ll enjoy the best view.
There are many other sites to see in Petra and if you’re visiting a second time, there are a number of them which are more than worth taking the time out to see. The Street of Facades is somewhere you may already be familiar with, as it’s the only way out of the area which the Siq opens onto. However, when paying a return visit to Petra, you’ll have the luxury of spending more time here, admiring the colossal carvings which line the road.
The Royal Tombs are another treasure which is certainly worth unearthing and there’s a good chance you may have missed them during your first visit, as they lay quite a way into Petra. Above each doorway is a carved depiction of the dignitary that each tomb is said to contain, including the Urn Tomb, which some believe dates back to 70AD.
Can’t keep away?
The first concerted effort to excavate and survey Petra only took place in 1929 and much of the city still lies submerged. Bearing this in mind, it’s entirely possible you’ll have something new to see next time you visit. However if you can’t get your fill of the city, paying a visit to Little Petra is a great idea. This site, the actual name of which is Al-Beidha, lies a few miles from the main site and is believed to have been built as a way station for the Nabataeans who built the city, as they crossed the sands. It’s far less commercial than the main site, offers plenty of treasures of its own and is the perfect choice if you can’t get enough of Petra’s history and ambience but have had enough of its crowds.
Don’t even bother!
It may seem obvious but make sure you take plenty of water with you on your visit. It’s not that there are not places to buy it in Petra, but that you’ll pay way over the odds if you buy it there.
You will doubtless be pressured into taking a donkey ride to scale the heights of Petra but save money and walk instead. It will be kinder on the animals too. It’s also advisable to take cash as though credit card payment is an option, the machines can be somewhat unreliable. Of course if you’ve booked an excursion, there’s every possibility the price will already be included, so make sure you check before booking.