“The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,

Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,

Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,

A rose-red city half as old as time.”

~John William Burgon, Petra

Five-thirty came early as we boarded our tour bus for the two-hour drive to the ancient lost city of Petra. The Regent Voyager was docked in Aqaba, a Jordanian port on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba, and we were headed out on a long day of extraordinary sightseeing. The morning would find us in Petra, and the afternoon and early evening would be spent in Wadi Rum.

After traveling in Luxor with our fabulous guide Merv, I was hoping we would have a similar experience in Jordan. Our guide this time, however, wasn’t interested in sharing tales about Jordanian life. “I know you want to sleep,” he told us, “so I won’t be talking until we get to Petra.” I fought the urge to tell him that I hadn’t come all that way to sleep, but instead I settled for taking in the views from my window.

The scenery along the highway was an endless stretch of rocky barren desert. It wasn’t until we started winding our way into the hills that the beauty I had imagined about the area came into view. We climbed to a higher elevation before reaching a planned rest stop and then headed back downward toward the valley and Wadi Musa, the town that has sprung up around the archaeological site of Petra.

View from my window on the road from Aqaba to Petra.
Overlooking the Jordanian hills.

Beginning Our Walk

The streets of Petra were already crowded when we arrived at the Visitor Center, and I was glad we were getting an early start. The first leg of the walk is on a wide dirt pathway that slowly slopes downward into the ruins. A path for horses and horse-drawn carriages lies to the left, and beautiful rock formations line both sides of the route.

Petra was built between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. by a nomadic group of Arabs called the Nabataeans. The city flourished as a trading route and at one time had a population of more than 20,000. An earthquake is believed to have destroyed the area in 363 A.D., and it wasn’t until 1812 that Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt rediscovered the lost city. Bedouins lived in Petra for centuries until 1985, when the government moved them into the nearby village, providing them with housing and preserving the site.

Beginning our walk.
Approaching the Obelisk Tomb.
The Obelisk Tomb was built by the Nabataeans in the first century B.C. and is named for the obelisk funerary symbols on the top.
These intricately carved Djinn Blocks may have been used as tombs.
Ruins of an ancient home.

The Siq

The pathway sharply narrows as the area called the Siq makes its appearance. Known as “the shaft,” this mile-long gorge cuts through the sandstone rocks and spills out into the inner city of Petra. The Siq once housed a sophisticated water system created by the Nabataeans and is a fascinating walk past towering rock formations and remnants of an ancient civilization.

The open pathway dramatically changes as we enter the Siq.
An image of a man and his camel…
…and an ancient niche.
A stairway leads to what may have been the entrance to a home.
We had to make sure to stand close to the rocks whenever carriages drove by!
Light and shadows dance through the Siq.
An opening near the end of the Siq before it narrows again.

The Petra Treasury

Like the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Treasury is the prize that rewards visitors after trekking through the Siq. It’s a stunning sight, this rose-colored Greek templed façade tucked so majestically into a mountain of sandstone. Built as a tomb for an important Nabataean king, the Treasury was later used as a temple.

The Treasury’s only flaw is its name. As the story is told, the Bedouins believed that the urn carved above the entrance contained treasures, naming it the Treasury. But when tribesmen tried to loot the urn, riddling it with bullet holes, it turned out to be nothing more than solid rock.

First view of the Treasury peeking through the Siq.
The Treasury and its surrounding mountain.
A closer view of the façade.
Detail showing the infamous urn.
Two happy travelers!

Petra Beyond the Treasury

The crowds at the Treasury began to disperse, and many visitors appeared to head back through the Siq. The Treasury is the main attraction at Petra, to be sure, but it’s only the beginning of the ancient city. With the official portion of our tour finished, Herb and I headed down the Street of Facades and decided to keep going as long as time would allow. We were instructed to meet our group at a designated lunch spot near the Visitor Center, and realizing that the return walk through the Siq would be uphill, we knew it would take longer getting back than arriving.

The Street of Facades is lined with tombs of prominent Nabataeans.
Looking up.
Just beyond is the Necropolis, the tombs for ordinary Nabataeans.
A closer view of the Necropolis.
Continuing on to the Amphitheatre, which once held more than 8,000 people.
View from the Amphitheatre stage.
Homes in the mountains.
Ruins of the Royal Tombs.

The walk continues past the Royal Tombs to Petra’s city center called Colonnaded Street and culminates in an 800-step climb to the Monastery, overlooking the city. I would have loved to have kept going, but I knew that if we stayed any longer, we’d literally miss the bus.

We headed back the way we came, past the vendors and the donkeys and the camels, down the Street of Facades, in front of the glorious Treasury, through the darkness of the Siq and out into the sunlight.

Wadi Rum was beckoning, and it was time to move on.

10 Comments

  • Another “I feel like I’m there!” reading of your ports of call.

    I am wondering… This visit to Petra was to the Treasury and then you were on your own? How did you know what else you were looking at? Have you visited Ephesus and/or Pompeii with an “excursion?” I recall guides enthusiastically sharing and leading at those ancient sites. Not so much at Petra?

    I’m also thinking we should take our dogs out walking the hills around us to train for the slog back up the Siq. Yikes. What did you think of the walk back to the bus?

  • Me again. Found your wonderful snaps and memories of Ephesus! We rarely take photos, relying on our ability to remember. Plus we rarely go back to look at shots on our phones. Yours are exceptional.

    Funny, our ship had to skip Sorrento also and made its way to Naples to access Pompeii. Doubly funny you went for pizza. I heard people around us planning the same thing. What did we know 🤷🏻‍♀️? Have Sorrento coming up soon, and if we end up in Naples again, we will plan on finding pizza!

  • Thank you, Maria! Petra is much more contained than Ephesus and Pompeii, and once you reach the Treasury, it’s easy to explore on you own. I had done research ahead of time, so I knew what I wanted to see. The Siq is extremely narrow – and crowded! – and our guide pointed out a few highlights on our walk. There are horse-drawn carriages if you’re concerned about the walk back. It’s a gradual slope back through the Siq, but not a steep climb.

  • Hi again, Maria! So glad you enjoyed the Ephesus photos. We toured the site with a wonderful private guide who made its history come alive. In Naples, we were able to keep our half-day excursion to Pompeii that had been planned from Sorrento and then came up with the idea to find the infamous pizza café. Such a fun day! You have a terrific itinerary ahead of you 🙂

  • Wow!!!!
    Mary, i wondering if the facade of the Treasury is original, or if it has been restored/ reassembled as was the Library of Celsus in Ephesus? It looks so pristine!
    And, of course, your photographs continue to dazzle!
    Bob

  • Great question, Bob! From what I’ve read, the Treasury is original and has been – and continues to be – restored and protected against damage from erosion and exposure. I thought of the Ephesus Library, too, when I saw it. It seems a contradiction to use “pristine” and “ancient” in the same description, but it is so true! Thanks for your kind words, as always 🙂

  • An amazing place isn’t it? I wish they could find an alternate route for the carriages … it takes away from what could otherwise be a more peaceful experience (even with the crowds). I was surprised at how many people turned back after viewing the Treasury. I’m not sure if they just didn’t know there was so much more to see, or if they were on a tour and short of time.

  • Erin, Amazing is definitely a great word for Petra! I completely agree that the carriages added to the intensity of the narrow Siq, especially when they were coming from both directions! We also noticed quite a few people turning back after viewing the Treasury. I was happy we were able to explore a little further in the time we had, but there is never enough time, is there? 🙂

  • Lovely to see one of my all time favourite places in the sunshine! Last time we were there, it was frosty… But how could Petra disappoint!? There is nothing to beat that heart-stopping moment when you get the first glimpse of the Treasury, is there? Bravo for going on further too! I’m assuming your usual thorough research gave you the confidence to carry on and look for the other treasures – in places like this, one really does have to capitalise on every moment spent there.

    Lovely photographs, as always.

  • Wow, Gill, I don’t think I’ve ever seen photos of a frosty Petra! You’re so right about that first moment when the Treasury peeks through the Siq – simply magical. I didn’t know our tour would be ending at the Treasury and was really glad I had done my homework on what lies beyond. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…so glad you enjoyed the post!

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