One of the most famous archeological site in the Middle East, it is impossible to visit Jordan without spending at least a day at Petra. Immortalised as the "rose red city half as old as time", the wonderful history, archeology and scenery of Petra is outstanding.
Although there is evidence of occupation in Petra from the Neolithic period, the city that survives today was built by the Nabateans, an enigmatic Arabic people who emerged seemingly from nowhere in the power vacuum that followed the death of Alexander the Great. Through the control of trade routes and water supplies, the Nabateans built an empire which spanned much of the Arabian Peninsular with Petra as its capital. After the Romans took control of the region in the 2nd century AD, Petra began to dwindle and was finally abandoned after a series of earthquakes in the 6th century.
Originally a nomadic people, once the Nabateans settled down they proved to be excellent engineers. They hid their capital city within a maze of ravines and constructed an elaborate system of channels to supply it with fresh water. While the most striking feature of modernPetra is its monumental tombs, it should be remembered that Petra was never designed to be a city of the dead but was a thriving capital with as many as thirty-thousand inhabitants at its height. Although few of the free standing buildings where Petra’s citizens lived, worked and played have survived to the present, the scale of the remaining buildings give a good indication of the city’s prosperity.
The surviving architecture of Petra is derived from the Hellenistic forms that were dominant at the time in the Eastern Mediterranean. The large theatre follows Greek designs, while the monumental tombs incorporate the same classical columns, pediments and motifs that can be found in Greek temples. Yet what the architecture lacks in originality it more than makes up for in location and scale. Vastly oversized features are hewn into the red sandstone, half-glimpsed through narrow ravines before emerging in their full splendor to tower over visitors. Thanks to their sheltered position and durable construction, these monuments are incredibly well preserved and are one of the most spectacular archeological sites in the world.
The incredible scale, beauty and complexity of the carved buildings easily rank this site amongst the most impressive archaeological wonders in the world. The setting for this city is unmatched, reached via a narrow rock gorge called the “siq”. The first building you come to is the impressive treasury - also famed for being the setting for the final scenes of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
As you walk through the hidden valley you will come across amazing sights both from the Nabatean period and the later Roman occupation of the area, including tombs, temples, an amphitheatre, market-places and a colonnaded street. It is worth making the long climb up the path to one of the mountain tops where a building known as the Monastery (El Deir) is as impressive as the treasury. A much longer and more strenuous climb takes you to Aaron’s tomb on top of Mount Hor.
If you are in Petra on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday, consider going to see 'Petra by Night'.