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What is Petra and why go there?

What is Petra? You've heard the name, you know you can travel there, you may even know it's in Jordan, but why do a million people visit this place ev... Read more
What is Petra and why go there?

What is Petra? You've heard the name, you know you can travel there, you may even know it's in Jordan, but why do a million people visit this place every year and what do you actually know about it?

Let us help boost your knowledge about this unique place with our 10 Q&A's below, and of course, give you plenty of reasons as to why you should add it to your travel bucket list. 



What is Petra

Petra is a spectacular, rock cut city, unlike anywhere else on earth. This ancient city tells of a lost civilisation and dates back to the fourth century B.C. It was originally established as a trading post by the Nabateans, an Arab Bedouin tribe indigenous to the region in what is now southwestern Jordan. Famous for its rock-cut architecture, the city is an important archeologic site and Jordan's biggest tourist attraction. Petra is referred to as the “Rose City” because of the colour of the stones used in its buildings and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It's a symbol of Jordan and one of the 'Seven Wonders of the World', and with the breath-taking and intricate facades of The Treasury and The Monastery, Petra is a must see for anyone visiting the wonderful Kingdom of Jordan.



Where is Petra?

Petra is situated in a landlocked country in the Middle East called Jordan, which is famous for its welcoming hospitality and wonderful friendly people. The capital of Jordan is Amman in the north of the country, and the iconic site of Petra is situated approximately 150 miles south, towards Aqaba - about 3 hours drive from Amman. The famous Jordan Trail passes through Petra, which allows trekkers to spend time exploring this iconic site.



How big is Petra?

Petra is massive.  The whole of Petra spreads out for over 100 square miles, roughly 50,000 footballs fields and archaeologists report that only 15% of the ancient site has actually been discovered and the majority of it is still left untouched, buried underground. The walk through the Siq alone, to get inside Petra, takes around 30 minutes. The majority of our tours that visit Petra use the main Petra trail from the visitor centre, which is around 5 miles long. Although you will encounter some steep terrain and a lot of steps, it's generally suitable for most fitness levels. If however, you decide to join our Jordan's Dana to Petra trekking holiday, then you get to see so much more away from the main crowds as you camp at Beidha, a few kilometres north of Petra, explore Little Petra, and then walk a few kilometres to the historical landmark of the Monastery, which is your starting point to explore the city. 



What's inside Petra?

The entire city of ruins is a work of art, painted on a natural stone backdrop that changes colour every hour. The buildings and structures are a combination of grand tombs, temples and public spaces. The main areas within Petra are the Siq canyon and the Treasury, along with the Monastery, the Theatre and endless tombs. 

  • The Siq is an amazing natural landform that cuts through the mountains of Petra. It's a deep and narrow gorge around 1.2km in length and at is narrowest point is only about 3m wide. It's quite a magical place and the colourful rock formations alter with the ever-changing sunlight.
  • The Treasury - Once you have walked through the siq, you are then welcomed by the most magnificent sight; the Treasury, or Al Khazna. This is where most visitors fall in love with Petra. Standing at almost 40 meters high with two floors, it is intricately decorated and crowned by a funerary urn, which is believed to be the burial place of Aretas IV, the most successful Nabatean ruler. The Treasury is thought to have been constructed in the 1st century B.C, but the purpose of the Treasury is still to this day unclear. Some archaeologists believe it was a temple and tomb, while others think it was just a place to store documents. 
  • The Monastery - One of the largest monuments in Petra and probably the most photographed. This spectacular site, is 47m wide and 49m hight. It was believed to be used for meetings and religious associations and dates back to the early 2nd century AD.
  • The Theatre - The Theatre was built in 1 AD, and is Roman in design. The engineering is excellent and if you stand and speak in the centre of the stage, you can hear your voice ring out. The Theatre can accommodate 4000 spectators and is a monument carved into the mountainside at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice. It consists of three rows of seats seperated by passageways.  



Who built Petra?

This spectacular sandstone city was built in the 3rd century B.C by the Nabateans, who carved palaces, temples, tombs, storerooms and stables from the soft stone cliffs. They picked a place difficult to travel to that had little in the way of natural resources, including water. But the Nabatean knew how to obtain water, and engineered a sophisticated irrigation system that brought water into the city through open channels and terracotta pipes. The scale of Petra is immense. Over 20,000 people lived there and they shared the world they lived in with two other great civilisations, the Romans and the Egyptians. Petra took around 3 years to build and was abandoned around the seventh century, before being rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812.



What was Petra built for?

It was originally built as a centre for trade and became a very wealthy and powerful trading post, a main stopping point for Nabataean and foreign traders. These nomadic merchants carried textiles, incense, spices, ivory, and other precious goods grown or manufactured in Arabia, Asia, and Africa. As the trade market grew, so did Petra.



Why is Petra so famous?

Petra became a World Heritage Site in 1985 and UNESCO described Petra as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage". In 2007, it was voted one of the new 'Seven Wonders of the World'. Petra was also a filming location for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which helped make the site famous worldwide.



Why is Petra called the Lost City?

During the first centuries BC to AD, Petra is believed to have been home to 20,000 – 30,000 people and was an important trading city. It then sat uninhabited for over five centuries until rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812, hence the name the 'Lost City'.



How is best to explore Petra?

You really need a local guide to show you the best of Petra. It's so big that you could easily lose yourself, get caught in the crowds and miss the key spots brimming with ancient history. All of our Jordan holidays that visit Petra, provide a local guide to help you make the most of your time exploring this incredible ancient city. 



When is the best time to go to Petra?

Petra is open all year-round, so you can actually visit at any time. We tend to avoid the summer months, just because the temperatures can be unbearably hot. Spring and Autumn offer wonderful temperatures and little rain, with fantastic light. January and February are the coolest months, with the occasional downpour. Remember the high elevation means nights are cold, especially if you are sleeping out in the desert. Sunrise and sunset are when Petra truly glows with changing colour.



Why add it to the travel bucket list?

There's no doubt that it's mind-blowingly awesome, straight out of the set of Tomb Raider, you will 100% stand there with you mouth open in awe. It's difficult to describe how beautiful the millennia-old oversize rock carving actually is. It's not just an incredible sight, a 'Wonder of the World' and a temple-junkies dream, but its teeming with history and unique architecture to satisfy anyones travel wanderlust.

We make it easy for you to explore Petra, as we include a fully-guided visit on all of our Jordan tours. Whether that's while cycling from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, having fun with the family, trekking on the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra, or enjoying some multi-active fun

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