Visiting the Wonder of the World — Petra

Another wonder of the world off the bucket list! Today we visited the vast and expansive site of Petra in southern Jordan. Petra was added as one of the 7 wonders of the world in 2007 after a worldwide vote. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from the site. I had only see the famous facade that you see in all the pictures, but didn’t know what else there was. After visiting, I feel so silly because the site is absolutely enormous. We walked almost 18km today and didn’t even see the whole site!

So a little history about it first, since I am a history nut. Petra was built by the Nabataeans in the 300’s BC as a secret holy city. They nestled it into the mountains near Wadi Rum to keep it safe and secret. Archeologists believe that up to 35,000 people one lived in this city, and it continued to grow and expand. During the Greek era, the city was attacked repeatedly and finally they agreed to become a provincial city in the Roman empire. Petra is strategically located because it fell along a traditional trading route from the Arabian peninsula to Europe. The Nabataeans were smart and a strategic trading community that came to great wealth by trading incense and silks. The city prospered around 100BC-100AD, which is when the famous treasury facade was built. However, it declined when a new, more efficient trading route was built and people could bypass the city. Many of it’s inhabitants left and it was actually forgotten for about 1000 years. During thattime, flash floods and natural debris buried the site. It was only found again in the 19th century by Johann Burkhardt. Once reports of the site started to circulate, excavators and archeologists determined the site to be very important. In the 1960s-1970s, the Jordanian government comissioned a restoration of the site to bring back some of its former glory and it was opened to the public in the 1980s. Now, it is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan. Since 2007, visitors to the site exploded and it is estimated about 1.5 million people visit annually.

The facade of the Treasury
The facade of the Treasury

Ok, enough of the history lesson. Now to the site! As I mentioned, it is quite large and I recommend dedicating a whole day to visit it, especially if you like history and historical sites. You will start at the visitors entrance, and wander down about 1km to the original entrance of the city. Along the way there are some tombs and large edifaces to see, as well as copious amounts of donkey turds to avoid. A camel or donkey ride is included in the entrance fee to cover the distance, but it is not recommended because the animals are mistreated (just an FYI). Once you arrive at the original entrance, you will wander through the 1km souq. For me, this was one of the most impressive parts of Petra. Sheer faces of rock tower above as they wind around. Formed by an earthquake and eroded by wind, the rock is very uniquely shaped, soft and curving, but also steep and jagged at the top. It is a deep orange color with beautiful stripes of white and brown wiggling in between. There are carvings, small prayer areas and dams along the way that are of interest, but mainly the natural formations are awe-inspiring.

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At the end of the souq, you are created by the familiar photo of Petra: the famous Treasury. The name comes from a myth that the fortune of the Pharohs was hidden in the site, rather than it’s actual use as a treasury. It is indeed a tomb, and no fortune was ever discovered in the site. The facade is impressive in its size and details, but also the fact that it has remained largely intact for 2000 years! They believe it was built no later than 100AD, and the only repair that was required was one of the lower pillars. Otherwise, this is exactly how it was found in the 1800s. Amazing!

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Now at this point, I kinda thought the tour would be over, but boy was I wrong. You can continue to walk along the road to see additional tombs and grave sites. This will lead you to the main area where the actual town was located. Only 10% of Petra is believed to be excavated, and there is continuous work on rebuilding and repairing the site. But there is no evidence of this, like at the Parthenon. No scaffolding to obscturct your views which is great! Once you pass a few more impressive facades, you will reach the Roman are of the city, including an ampitheatre, a collanade and a few temples. The Great Temple is the most impressive. You can still see the hexagonal tiles on the floor as well as picture the grand size of the temple. They believe it had over 300 pillars!

If you aren’t sunburnt and exhausted yet, I recommend hiking your butt up the 900 steps to the monestary. The grade of the slope is not too bad, and it only takes about 45 minutes. There are rest stops and small shops along the way incase you get tired or hungry. But once at the top, you are created by an amazing site. The monastery is the second most famous facade in Petra, and is, you guessed it, another tomb. Larger in size than the Treasury but less ornamented, I actually like the Monastery a little better. You get a lovely view of the surrounding mountains and the open space makes it breezy and comfortable (especially after the lengthy walk up). I walked up with one of the other girls, Scarlett, in my group and we had a great time chatting and snapping pictures at the top. The walk back is long, and all the restrooms close at 5pm, so just beware of the clock. Petra is a closed circuit, so you’ll make your way back the way you came, past now familiar sites.

Overlooking the Monastery
Overlooking the Monastery

If you are feeling really ambitious, you can stay for sunset and Petra by night. I managed to catch a second wind and came back for Petra by night. It costs an additional 12 JOD, which in additional to the 55 JOD you already paid, seems a little steeps. But it is a totally different feel walking through the site at night. There are candles and lanterns laid along the path so you can find your way and the cooler temperatures makes it a little more inviting. There are candles laid out all in front of the treasury, although I was a little disappointed they don’t light up the upper levels of the facade, only the ground. But they serve hot Arabic tea and you can lay on little mattresses while listening to traditional Jordanian music. It’s quite romantic! Maybe not a must-see, but a definite perk if you have the time & energy.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Petra and it is no surprise to me now why it was voted as one of the 7 Wonders of the World. There is a lot of restoration to be done on the other areas of the site, but the Treasury and Monastery are amazing testiments to the holy beliefs of the Nabataeans as well as the power of the human spirit to engineer a city in the most unlikely of habitats. In my opinion, the site could do with less of the donkeys & camels & shops, it detracts from it a little bit. But the natural beauty and sheer size of the site makes it well worth a stop. After over 18km of walking and 1800 steps, I am exhausted but fulfilled.

View from the Monastery out over the mountains
View from the Monastery out over the mountains

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More tombs and facades! So many!
More tombs and facades! So many!

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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