What to see in Petra: A Journey Through Time

Petra in Jordan is one of the world’s most fascinating and least-explored archaeological sites. Hidden in the rocks and surrounded by diverse nature, this ancient civilization used to be an essential trading centre during the ancient period. Today, Petra in Jordan is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. In this article, I will look at some of the key sights in Petra.

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History of Petra

Petra, a mysterious city hidden in a rock, is located in a valley surrounded by cliffs and is one of the world’s most beautiful and famous archaeological sites. As one of the prime examples of Arab architecture, Petra reflects the historical and cultural heritage of the Nabateans, an Arab tribe that inhabited the area during the 4th century BC.

The Nabataeans were known for their trading skills and were an important part of the cultural and commercial life of the Middle East. Petra became the centre of the Nabatean Kingdom and an important trading city on the caravan routes between the Mediterranean and Asia. In the 1st century AD, Petra peaked when many magnificent buildings and temples began to be built, such as Khazneh (Narrow Gate) and Ad-Deir (Monastery).

The Roman Empire took control of Petra in the 2nd century, becoming part of the province of Arabia Petraea. In the 4th century, Petra lost its importance, and there were gradually fewer inhabitants. During the period of Islamic expansion in the 7th century, Petra was completely abandoned by the inhabitants and remained uninhabited for more than 1000 years.

Petra was rediscovered in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt and became a popular tourist destination. Many countries have shown an interest in saving this place and its protection and included Petra in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

Petra Museum

The Petra Museum is located on the right side of the entrance to the archaeological park and offers visitors a glimpse of Petra’s past. It contains many exhibits and artefacts documenting Petra’s history and the culture of the Nabateans who founded the city. Visitors can view weapons, pottery, coins, necklaces and other items. The Petra Museum is ideal for visitors who want to learn more about the history and culture of Petra and the Nabataeans.

Sign in front of Petra Museaum

I was most interested in the importance of water for the inhabitants of Petra and how they invented water supply and sewage. Residents of the city collected rainwater on the roofs of houses and then stored it in cisterns near the town. These cisterns were connected to supply canals cut into the rocks that led to the main areas in the city to ensure an adequate water supply for the inhabitants and animals. The Petra Museum is an ideal place to cool down after a walk through the ancient city. I sat in an air-conditioned room and watched a documentary about water and its influence on Petra’s development.

Upon entry, every visitor receives a map with marked paths, either to the Treasury or the Monastery.

What to see in Petra

Bedouins were waiting with horses and camels at the entrance, offering a ride. I refused their offer because I wanted to photograph the surrounding tombs and buildings. Transportation is included in the ticket price, but they expect some tips like anywhere else in the country.


Djin Blocks

The blocks are located a few meters behind the entrance to the complex. From the outside, these buildings look majestic. The whole area looks clean. I almost passed out from the smell when I entered some of the alcoves. Some people seem to have mistaken these places for a toilet. It didn’t smell nice in there, so I quickly turned around and ran for fresh air.

Petra Djin Blocks
Djin Blocks

Siq Valley

The Siq Valley is a narrow rocky gorge approximately 1.2 kilometres long. Its slim shape and high rock walls, which rise to 80 meters in some places, offer visitors an extraordinary entrance to this mysterious city.

Although it is only 1.2 km long, it took me about two hours to reach the end of the valley. It is not a challenging route. I was strolling and enjoying the view of the huge rock walls that glowed with rich colours when the sunlight hit them. At the same time, I took a huge number of photos, where I documented the route from every possible angle.

Treasury (Al-Khazneh)

At the end of the Siq Valley, I discovered one of Petra’s most beautiful and famous monuments – the Treasury or Al-Khazneh. This magnificent mausoleum, carved into the rock, was built in the 1st century and served as a tomb for the royal family of the Nabateans. The monument is known for its magnificence and detail, demonstrating the Nabataeans’ incredible skill and engineering skills.

The name of the Treasury comes from the legend that the place hides a considerable treasure. The legend arose from discovering strange carvings on the wall that looked like a safe.

Tired tourists could rest and hide from the scorching sun on the benches on the square in front of the Treasury. I took advantage of it and had a coffee. Sipping coffee, I watched the tourists taking pictures next to the camels. Since I only slept for 2 hours, I was starting to feel tired.

Sometimes Bedouins approached me, claiming to know the best place to take pictures. It was somewhere in the rocks above me. Due to my fear of heights, I politely declined this offer. They smiled and with the words “Sure, see you later” they went to look for other tourists.

In addition to the Treasury, the Bedouins offer various handmade products. I don’t recommend going to either building. I didn’t learn from the first mistake and went to see how these buildings look from the inside again. There is nothing inside, only darkness and stench. Which is a real shame.


The Theatre

The Theatre is located in the heart of Petra. Its capacity was approximately 3000 spectators. This impressive structure was carved into the rock and served as a place for various types of entertainment. The Theatre has an oval shape, with the seats rising all around the perimeter and the base built on an artificial terrace allowing a good performance view.

Petra The Theatre
The Theatre

Royal Tombs

The tombs were burial places for the kings and high officials of the Nabatean kingdom. They were carved into the rock and decorated with various patterns and ornaments. Among Petra’s most important royal tombs are the Urn Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Palace Tomb, Silk Tomb and Corinthian Tomb.

Petra Royal Tombs
Royal Tombs

The Urn Tomb is the largest and most beautiful of the tombs. It is decorated with various animal and plant motifs. Palace Tomb is the second largest tomb. In addition to animal and plant motifs, it also has other symbolic elements. The Silk Tomb got its name from the colour of its stone walls. This tomb has a specific colour palette, which results from the interaction of light and shadows on the rock’s surface. The Corinthian Tomb is also one of the most beautiful tombs in Petra and is decorated with unique Corinthian columnar elements.

Colonnaded Street and Qasr Al-Bint

The Roman street is about 800 meters long and is decorated with columns and architectural elements. It was built in the 1st century AD and served as the main trade route in the city. Next to it are several remains of buildings, be it the Trajan Market, an ancient swimming pool or the Great Temple. The street ends at Qasr Al-Bint, a temple built in the 1st century dedicated to the goddess Dusare. It is one of the most important and best-preserved buildings in Petra.

Petra Colonnaded Street and Qasr Al-Bint
Colonnaded Street and Qasr Al-Bint

Monastery (Ad-Deir)

Ad-Deir is located on top of a hill and leads to it a relatively long and challenging journey. The view of the city from the top of the mountain is said to be breathtaking. I could not find the strength to go to the Monastery as it would be additional two hours of walking. This huge Monastery was built in the 1st century and served as a temple.

High Place of Sacrifice

This place was an important religious centre for animal sacrifices and other religious ceremonies.

Petra High Place of Sacrifice
Petra High Place of Sacrifice

There are several different routes I could have taken. Each one is marked on the map and highlighted in a specific colour. The map lists details about the difficulty of each route and the approximate time to get to the destination. Eight routes of varying difficulty and length are marked on the map. Here are some of the trails you can try:

Trail Guide

Red: Main trail

The red trail leads from the entrance to Petra through the Treasury to Qast al-Bint, which is about a four-kilometre walk or two hoursBlue Route: Al Madras. On this route, we can see various tombs (Snake, Obelisk), the beautiful Siq valley, the Treasury, the Theatre, the Nymphaeum, the Roman street with the Great Temple, the market and the swimming pool. There are several places to stop and rest that have restaurants and toilets. Trying traditional Jordanian dishes in food stalls or restaurants is also possible.

Blue: Al Madras

The blue trail starts just before entering the Siq Valley and is relatively easy to miss. It is a moderately challenging hike. One way is about 0.8 kilometres and can take 45 minutes.

Yellow: High Place of Sacrifice

The yellow route leads to the High Place of Sacrifice, located on an elevated spot with a beautiful view of Petra. It is about a 3-kilometre trail. It takes around 4 hours and requires more physical effort as there are a lot of stairs.

Green: Royal tombs

The green trail leads past many tombs, such as the Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb, Corinthian Tomb and Palace Tomb. The map shows that the one-way road is about 1.7 km. There are many stairs on it, and it is pretty challenging. It would be best to prepare a water supply, as there is nowhere to hide from the sun.

Turquoise: Monastery

I marked it with turquoise, but it is red on the map. It is about 1.5 kilometres one-way route with great difficulty and can take around 1.5 hours.

Each of these routes offers visitors unique experiences and breathtaking scenery. Before heading out on any of these trails, have plenty of water and sunscreen.

End of the walk

I regret not having more days to walk this ancient site thoroughly, as there is so much to see. I definitely recommend visiting Petra early in the morning. It has three advantages – it is not so hot, the morning sun beautifully illuminates the vast rocks, and there are still few tourists.

Petra is a fascinating place. I recommend visiting it to every traveller interested in history, culture or archaeology. With enough time to explore all the sights and with appropriate preparation, a visit to Petra can be an unforgettable experience.

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