Petra is the archaeological site of an ancient Nabatean city cut into the red sandstone rock. The remains of the city consist of Royal Tombs, obelisks, houses, streets, temples, sacrifical places, a Theatre, a Monastery and the Treasury. It also held an extensive water engineering system. The Nabateans blended ancient Eastern traditions with Hellenistic architecture.
The city developed as an important caravan centre between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. The main developments took place between the first centuries BC and AD. The site moved into obscurity to all but locals from the 7th century on. It was rediscovered in 1812.
On its inscription as a World Heritage Site it was described as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's heritage".
Visit October 2012
Much has been written already about this highly rated WHS. It’s among the most iconic and well-known tourist destinations in the world. So I don’t think a general introduction is necessary, and I’ll limit this review to a few observations from my 1.5 day visit in October 2012:
• One of the best experiences I found the hike up to the Monastery, and settling myself in a cave right in front of it (across the square and above the café which sells a very refreshing lime & mint juice). Despite the number of visitors, Petra has plenty of spaces were you can roam around on your own or sit quietly and take it all in.
• Like all very popular WHS, it attracts a mixed crowd of nationalities and types of visitors. Although one has to do a lot of walking in Petra, more than one woman arrived on impressively high heels. Busloads are shipped directly from the beach resorts at the Red Sea, lots of loud Russians too. I also encountered groups of South Asians, whom I thought to be migrant workers in Jordan or the Gulf (my visit coincided with the Eid holiday).
• The number of visitors is actually dwindling since it almost reached the 1 million mark in 2009. It has fallen back to the level of 2007 (about 600,000). It certainly did not feel overly crowded, maybe only the plaza in front of the Treasury is. Both times that I entered via the Siq, one day at 12.30 pm and the next day at 8 a.m., I was able to take photos without any unwanted people in it.
• I wasn’t too bothered about the souvenir sellers or the donkey/camel/horse touts . They are not very persistent (Jordanians are pretty sedate in general), and do add a lively atmosphere to the otherwise huge archeological site.
In general, I was a tiny little bit disappointed by it. For me the site lacked the real Wow-factor, the excitement that for example Machu Picchu or Angkor have given me. The design of the sculptures and architecture often is Roman or Hellenistic, so pretty familiar. People say that you can spend days in Petra, but I think after 1.5 days (total of 10 hours visiting) I have seen most of it. Only when you would like to explore the hiking trails you can spend more time.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
This WHS is one of my favourite and deserves at least 3 full days to get a glimpse of such an immense site. There are several trekking trails to follow and others for you to discover and complete and peaceful solitude. The Treasury from the Siq is jaw-dropping but so is The Monastery (Deir). The colourful rocks close to the public toilets are incredible and the whole archaeological site is huge. Be on the lookout to spot the striking Light Blue Lizard that lives in the valley - really unique.
| Date posted: September 2012|
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
Petra holds a special place in my “travel memory” as, back in 1964, I visited it on my first major “expedition” whilst hitch-hiking from UK to Jerusalem (then in Jordan) and back. Since then I have revisited it 1999 and in 2012. Enormous changes have taken place to the “visit experience” over those years. Many of them are irreversible but that doesn’t mean that they are welcome – the concern now is what the coming years will bring and whether Petra itself can survive and provide a worthwhile visit?
In 1964 there was no entrance fee, I just signed in at the police check-point and slept overnight in one of the caves. There were almost no other visitors (though it was low season August) and, on my departure evening, I slept on the floor outside Wadi Musa police station as there wasn’t suitable lodging in what was then a tiny village – happy days! Of course there were no “Lonely Planet” guide books or similar and, although an on-site Archaeologist was helpful, I really saw the site “blind” and, inevitably, missed much of its significance. Visitor information boards had not yet reached the site!
By 1999 the place was transformed, with a busy (and rather untidy) town having grown up just beyond the entrance – and a 5* hotel. Entry fees had reached JD20. Our latest visit in 2012 identified even more people and more changes. Entry fees had risen beyond inflation – Jordan now gets JD50 per person and 90 for day-trippers from Israel and Egypt. It could probably get even more – tourists might grumble but, having traveled so far, few are going to miss the site for a few extra dinars
The daily maximum number of tourists in the UNESCO-approved management plan of 1994 was 1500. However, in 2009 the average daily number in April (the peak month) was 3195 and the max 4583. In 2010 these figures were 4015 and 5145. Annually, 93k visited in 1985 and this had reached 975k in 2010 (twice as many as when we had visited in 1999!) and plans are to increase this to 1.5 million as Jordan continues to market Petra as a tourism destination via activities such as “New Seven Wonders”
So what changes has this massive, and apparently inexorable, increase in visitors brought about?
a. Some locations, such as the Treasury and the theatre, have been permanently cordoned off because of erosion problems. Apparently most of the historic “makers marks” on the latter’s masonry disappeared within 10 years.
b. The site has lost its feeling of isolation with the village of Um Sayoun now clearly visible on the hillside as one enters from the Treasury. In 1964 Bedouin still lived in and ran their flocks in Petra (I remember a fine camel train but now the only camels are for tourist rides) – they were however removed in the 1980s and they have concentrated in villages close to the site.
c. The dreaded “Health and Safety” has made an appearance too! In 1999 we were still able to climb the cliffs behind the Treasury to obtain the fine views they provided. In 2012 there were notices prohibiting this. The entrance to the Monastery climb now has a notice warning that a guide should be taken. One can imagine that it could become obligatory in some locations or that some of the side routes will be closed altogether. But one can perhaps understand the reasons – the terrain is rough and wild. Apparently the search and rescue facilities are not adequate for the number of tourists (many of whom are even older and less mobile than we are!) and the accidents which occur.
d. Several striking new “toilet blocks” have appeared - the use of informal latrines by all those tourists can’t have been very pleasant! There was even a “toilet in a cave” (photo!!) where one could sit (or stand!) and look at the carving and the colours of the rocks! I wondered if it might have been this very cave where I had slept all those years ago. The design has been criticized as being “monumental” and apparently the WHC has written twice to Dept of Antiquities asking for their removal.
e. Formal restaurants have reached the site. Our day trip from Aqaba included a lunch at one of them. Stylish tented awnings softened the lines of solid buildings and I had high hopes when I noted that it was run by Crowne Plaza, but, in our opinion, the food was less good than one would have hoped for from that brand and we didn’t eat anything! Better to take a picnic and eat wherever you want!
f. In 1999 we had entered at 7 am and did find some relative peace and quiet – I would aim to go in at 6am now! Later, everywhere was crowded and “pinch points” like the Treasury were a bun fight. The track up to the Monastery was also a constant stream of people. The “hassle factor” was quite high, albeit in a reasonably friendly manner, but every ruin and every corner on the trail revealed yet another souvenir seller or drinks stall. I know they are only trying to make a living but the site would be more pleasant if the numbers were limited and the locations centralized.
Some aspects of the site have improved. The Siq path has been restored (by WMF) to what is thought to have been its original level after centuries of rubble accumulation. It was fully paved in Roman times and this has been left where it was found and, where not, a modern consolidated material has been laid to reduce dust etc. The Byzantine Church, which was only discovered in 1990, has been excavated to uncover its fine mosaics and these have been protected by a shelter.
And what further changes can be expected? A problem is that most visitors arrive in the same few hours – apparently a staggered/time stamped ticketing system is under development. Other plans include the introduction of “zones” and a trail system within the site and also the introduction of another exit (the current “need” for everyone to enter and exit through the Siq inevitably reduces the maximum capacity) – and this would need a shuttle service as well. On can imagine a very different visitor experience if these types of changes were introduced.
So, improved management might reduce some of today’s negatives – but I wouldn’t bank on it and it would seem likely that a visit in another 5 years would find it even more crowded, touristy and expensive. Still worth it but such a shame!
| Date posted: May 2012|
|Don Hall ():|
I was in Petra at the end of December and agree it is a place worthy of the designation of a World Heritage Site.
What a shame that it is being degraded by the camels, donkeys, touts, bazaars at all levels of the site (with nails even driven into the walls of the ruins), and kids allowed to climb all over the top of the monastery.
Come on UNESCO - get on top of the situation and get the Jordanians to take some pride in their site.
| Date posted: January 2010|
|Stephen Brooker (UK):|
Any atempt to hype up this site would be futile, so huge, stupendous and icconoic is it. So I won't try I'll just say this one is an absolute must see.
When you are lucky enough to go two tips:
Firstly the large tented buffet serves the best felafel I've ever had!
And second if you get the chance do the night time Petra by candle light walk - what is breathtaking by day becomes a romantic dream when illuminated by hundreds of flickering flames........
| Date posted: April 2008|
|Christer Sundberg (Sweden):|
Petra, is in my opinion one of the most high-ranking of all World Heritage Sites and if you are planning a visit, make sure you take your time. The ancient Nabataean, and later Roman, town is spread out over a large area and the alternative to walking is to use horse, camel or donkey so you’d better be a true friend of animals…
Traditionally, you enter Petra through the 1,2 km winding old canyon called The Siq, where the water once carved its way through the red sand stone over thousands of years. The many colors of the Siq has named Petra “Rose city” and the swirls and shades in the stone are just as fantastic as the ancient monuments.
After having slowly made your way through the Siq, you catch your first glimpse of The Treasury, a classical view of the most classical of all Petra temples. The amphitheatre and the many other enormous grave monuments are all carved out of the stone and after some further walking you reach the lower town and what was once the Roman area. Here you can relax at the restaurant before you decide whether you head back (4 km) or continue even further…!
My recommendation is to allow at least two days to visit Petra. And don’t go there in the summer when the temperature could rise above +40. But once you are there, don’t forget to also include an excursion to the most beautiful desert sceneries you’ve probably ever going to see in your life – Wadi Rum, 2 hours south towards Aqaba – where David Lean once filmed his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia.
| Date posted: June 2006|
|Chris Smith (USA):|
I lived in Wadi Musa, the town at the entrance to Petra, in the late 1970s. I worked on a conservation project in the surrounding hills for 2 years. The Bedouins still lived in the caves in Petra, and there were very few tourists. There was only one hotel (I lived in a small flat under the town's minaret...I woke early each day!). I had the good fortune of befriending a Bedouin family in one of the caves (Mohamed had married a New Zelander), and hiking around the exotic sights. I enjoyed the historical, cultural, and local culinary delights very much (mensaf was my favorite, the camel burger was unique but not so appetizing). I look forward to returning after 25 years to see if I can find my old friends, and see how Petra has been preserved.
|Jonny Salen (Sweden):|
The most famous site in Jordan, this spectacular ancient trading city can be reached through a 90 metre deep canyon in the mountain. The first thing you see after marching through the canyon is the infamous treasury; "el Khazneh" with its mighty colonnades carved right out of the colourful limestone rockface. All around are astonishing temples, burial chambers, stairs, bathhouses, canals and market areas and even a roman amphitheatre with a capacity of thousands of spectators, many of these also carved out of the rockface. In the distance, one can also see Um al-Biyara where spectacular views of the surrounding area can be enjoyed. This being a summer visit, however, the heat got the best of me and I ended my tour at the amphitheatre and sought shelter in the shade of the canyon.
|Laura Lee Intscher (Canada):|
Petra was the most unexpected delight and one of my all time favorite places. It was more spectacular than I was expected. A local guide took me thru the gate - before offical opening time (he knew some gaurds - and perhaps some money changed hands). We hiked in the dark to the place of high sacrafice - to see the sunrise over the whole site. After going back down into the city in the valley below I explored the entire site - for hours on my own. I loved the color of the rocks, the remoteness and size of the place - and the general lack of hordes of tourists. Well worth a visit.
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