Petra, Jordan – the city carved in the rock

City carved in the rock: 12 mysteries of the amazing Petra

Petra is an ancient rock-cut city. It is located in Jordan, a country which is occupied by a large part of deserts. It is only possible to get to this unique site through a narrow canyon, and it is not easy to do. Still, this does not stop tourists.

Who and when built this city?

Petra has been abandoned for many hundreds of years, but thousands of years ago it flourished. It was a major trading hub, located right at the crossroads of silk, spices and incense being transported from India to Arabia, Africa, Egypt and back. This allowed the locals to bathe in gold. It is not entirely clear when the city was built, but it is known to have been before our era. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. According to some estimates, there were about 20,000 people living there in its best years.

How is it even possible to carve a city in rock?

The facades of the buildings were carved right into the canyon walls, and they are striking. The exquisite carvings attest to the high level of development of this civilization and the skill of the builders. The main entrance to the city is called El Khazneh, or the Treasury. So it was nicknamed by the local Bedouins, who really believed that countless riches were kept there. The gate is carved out of beautiful pink sandstone, which is why Petra is also called the Pink City.

The builders definitely had a hard time. To erect such structures, they had to have considerable knowledge and skills. The ancient craftsmen managed to create buildings that were not inferior to the Greek and Roman sites neither in decoration, nor in architecture.

How they managed to carve such a high building in the rock is not clear. There are absolutely no trees in the area that could be used for scaffolding. As scientists suggest, the construction began from above: it was possible to stand on the untreated rock, gradually descending, floor by floor. And, using only chisels and hammers, the local engineers achieved a stunning result.

Did the rocks save them from their enemies?

Other nations were jealous of the Nabateans’ wealth, and the city had to fight off the Greeks. Petra won. But when the Roman conquerors came, she had to surrender. For many more years Petra flourished, but already under the rule of the Roman Empire. In the IV century AD an earthquake destroyed most of the city and caused irreparable damage to many areas. The Romans decided to leave the damaged city. It was later seized by the Byzantine Empire.

Why was Petra lost and where did people disappear to?

With the development of technology came the sea trade routes, and Petra lost its strategic importance and remained abandoned to its fate and hidden in the sands. Thus it became a lost city. But it should be noted that Petra was lost only to Western civilizations, because the locals knew about the hidden pearl of the desert. A tribe of Bedouin Bedouls lived in the caves of the city. They called themselves descendants of the Nabateans and did not want anyone else to know about Petra, for they feared that people would come there in search of treasure and destroy the remains of the structures. So they kept the location of the city in the strictest secrecy for many years.

How did the Europeans learn about Peter?

It was discovered on August 12, 1812. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a young Swiss, heard talk of the mysterious city during his trip to Cairo. And then he even had to disguise himself as an Arab to convince his guide to take him to this mysterious place. Johann could not stay long in Petra, for he was not a local. He could not even declare with certainty that it was the city he was looking for, for there was no clear evidence of this around him. Nevertheless people in Europe knew about Peter, and after Johannes there followed other explorers who made accurate drawings. Yet the first excavations here began only in 1929, and it has been more than 100 years since the discovery of the lost city.

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Why the Treasure Trove?

Archaeologists do not fully understand what the Treasury was built for. Some believe it was the tomb of a Nabatean king. Others say it was a place of storage for documents or even a kind of temple. What is known about the Treasury is that it was one of the last to be built when the city was already rich and prosperous.

How did people survive in the desert and cliffs without water?

The people of Petra were experts in water-related technology. They built cisterns, dams, tunnels and reservoirs, and the city was a kind of oasis for weary travelers. Greatly developed technology allowed the locals to stay in the city even in a drought. At certain times there were floods in the area, but the Nabataeans coped with that as well. They built dams and aqueducts that redirected the flow of rainwater into the city so that the people could exist.

How did people even live in the rocks? And did they live inside?

Petra was a major religious center and presumably was home to clergy, merchants, sculptors, and service people. There are over 1,000 tombs in Petra, and many of them are designed for families or even entire tribes. It is likely that many of the townspeople were involved in the funeral business in one way or another. Interestingly, it is difficult to answer the question of whether all 20,000 people (and according to some reports, 30,000) lived inside Petra. Based on rough calculations, even if each household had an average of 10 people, there should have been 2,000 spacious dwellings in the city. But there are far fewer. Probably some of the inhabitants were housed in tents behind stone walls.

Who is buried in the tombs of Petra?

No researchers have not made any assumptions about this. We can say with certainty that the niches were carved in different historical periods, because they differ very much in appearance. The inhabitants of Petra, unlike the rest of the Nabataeans, did not make inscriptions on the tombs to understand who was buried in them. However, they believed that the deceased could eat and have a good time in the other world, since they left food and all sorts of household items with their bodies. It is interesting that at first, because of the incredible number of tombs, Petra was thought to be one huge necropolis. And only later scientists have found out that it was still a well-developed city.

What is there in Petra besides the beautiful gates, against which everyone takes pictures?

One of the most impressive buildings in Petra is the amphitheater. It is located almost in the center of the city and can hold up to 8,500 people. Other striking sites in this city include the Street of Facades with its many tombs and the Ad Deir Monastery. It is a beautiful monumental structure, the purpose of which modern researchers can only guess.

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In 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2007 – one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. An agreement was made with the Bdul tribe to move it some distance from the city, and now the Bedouins live in a specially built settlement for them. One of their main occupations is the tourist business.

There are monumental “cubes” scattered outside the gates of Petra. What are they for?

Many things in Petra are still a mystery. For example, it has huge stones – square monuments scattered behind the walls of the city. No one knows why they were put up and what they represent. According to the legend, there were genies inside them to guard the ancient capital.

Will we ever be able to solve all the mysteries of Petra?

Discoveries are still being made in Petra. In 2016, archaeologists discovered a ceremonial site of incredible size. And now researchers are still trying to figure out what it is. In 1993, scrolls dating back to the Byzantine period were found. Their contents are still a mystery. Archaeologists estimate that only 15% of the city is now discovered and the remaining 85 are underground and remain untouched for the time being. So we still have much to learn about this lost treasure.

The Middle East is not particularly popular with tourists. Despite this, however, more than 1,000,000 people visited Petra in 2019. It is one of the most visited excavation sites in the world. The movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was filmed here, iconic photo shoots were held, and people from all over the world want to get here.

Sometimes tourists are allowed into Petra at night, and then the road to it and the main entrance to the lost city is decorated with candles and lanterns.

Well, if you can not go to this ancient city, you can use the offer from Google – guided tours with an audio guide.

Ancient Petra

Ancient Petra

Ancient Petra is a unique rock town, about which up to the beginning of the XIX century was known only to the local Bedouin. They have kept the secret for centuries, not letting outsiders in, as they believed that somewhere here were hidden royal treasures. Today, the unusual sight is open to millions of tourists.

The city has more than once turned into a movie set. Petra can be seen in the frames of famous movies, including the adventures of Sinbad and Indiana Jones. The ruins and temples are featured in computer games, novels, and numerous documentaries.

The Tombs

Petra is called the “pink” city because of the characteristic hue of the cliffs, which intensifies in the hours of sunrise and sunset. The layered structure of the sandstone creates an incredible palette of colors, varying with the light, and marvels at the unimaginable patterns and divisions created by nature itself.

Where is it

Petra hides from civilization in southeastern Jordan, close to the border with Israel. To get to the archaeological park, you need to overcome the distance:

  • from Eilat – 136 km;
  • from Aqaba, 123 kilometers;
  • from Amman 235 km;
  • From Tel Aviv: 420 km;
  • From Sharm el-Sheikh – 355 km.

The city rises to 900m above sea level, and over 650m above the surrounding plateau. The entrance portal, which opens a fairy-tale way into the era of antiquity, is carried out from the side of the town of Wadi Musa.

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The square

Excursions to Petra

You can book a tour at local travel agencies, hotels, at the entrance to the archaeological park at the Visitor Centre or in advance, using the offers on our website. The latter option guarantees a tour with a Russian-speaking guide at a specified time.

One day organized tourists come from Eilat and Tel Aviv (Israel), Aqaba and Amman (Jordan), and Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt).


A fee is charged at the entrance to the archaeological park. The cost depends on the time of stay in the country and the number of days of travel through the ancient city. If a tourist visits Petra on the day of arrival in Jordan, his ticket will be considered a “border” ticket. In this case he will have to pay 90 JD. If he returns to the ancient city the next day, he will receive a reimbursement of 40 JD. To determine the fare, a passport marked with the date of crossing the border is required at the ticket office.

Nabatean buildings

Ticket prices for those who entered the country earlier:

  • 50 JD – for one day;
  • 55 JD – for two days;
  • 60 JD – for three days.

Free for children under the age of 12.

Residents and those with a permit to stay in Jordan for at least a year visit Petra for only 1 JD. Payment in cash is accepted in local currency. Credit cards can also be used.

Carriage ride from the Visitor Center (and back):

  • To El Khazneh – 20 JD;
  • To the museum, JD 40.

The price to attend the night show is JD 17. Children under 10 years old are free to enter.

Mode of operation

The ancient city is open daily:

  • 06:00 to 18:00 – in summer;
  • 06:00 to 16:00 – winter.

Night shows with the lighting of 1,500 candles take place on the square in front of Al Khazneh from 8:30 to 10:30 pm on Mon, Wed and Thu.

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Ancient Petra

The city was founded by the Idumeans, descendants of Esau, one of the sons of the biblical patriarch Isaac. Petra was the capital of Idumea for a long time, but after the absorption of much of its territory by the Nabataean kingdom at the turn of the III-II centuries BC the city became the capital of Nabataea. The locals called it Rakma.

Ancient Petra’s prosperity was due to its favorable location at the crossroads of trade routes. Caravans with spices moved between the coast of the Persian Gulf, the Red and Mediterranean seas, as well as between Syria and Egypt. When they reached the gorge, people and animals rested, stocked up on food and water, and then set out on their further journey.

Ancient Petra had an organized system of water supply consisting of terracotta pipes, troughs and numerous reservoirs. Rainwater was collected within a radius of more than 20 km. At the best of times the city had 20-40 thousand inhabitants.

In the first century, the Nabateans became allies of the Roman Empire and then this ancient state became one of the provinces of the Eternal City. With the arrival of the Romans Petra continued its development, but after the opening of sea routes to the East, the caravan routes gradually fell into oblivion. As a result the city lost its power, became deserted and lost in the sands. It is thought to have been abandoned as a result of several earthquakes that disrupted the city’s vital water supply. The last medieval mentions of Petra date back to the 12th century.

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Gorge Sik

The mysterious rocky city was discovered to the world by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. He collected information bit by bit, but his attempts to find Petra ended with nothing. Once the Swiss orientalist traveler managed to get into the gorge, posing as an Arabian merchant to local Bedouins. It happened in 1812. The serious excavations began a hundred years later.

The sights of Petra

The rock city was carved in stone and built for many centuries, passing from hand to hand. That’s why the local architecture is a mixture of elements of Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern traditions. The Idumeans, the Nabataeans, the Romans, the Arabs, the Byzantines and even the Crusaders left their mark here.

The Main Trail of Petra is 4 km long. From there you can go on to Ad Deir Monastery (800 steps up) or in the middle of the trail (at the Amphitheater) turn left and climb the high ground to look at the ancient city from an unusual angle. It is worth noting that both climbs are extremely difficult. Locals offer the services of a donkey, but not everyone can ride the poor animal up, hearing the constant blows of the whip. These animals are not ceremonious and brutally exploited here.

In total, Petra has several hundred archaeological sites. Excavations have been conducted for almost 100 years, but the ancient city has been studied by no more than 15-20%.

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The entrance to the Main Trail is located at the eastern point of the route, near the Visitor Center. Here are a few key archaeological sites.

Bab Al Siq.

From the tourist office to the Siq Gorge you will have to walk about a kilometer along an “open” road, so you should bring a hat and sunglasses. About halfway down the road, a block with carved vertical stripes will appear, which is one of the stones of the Bab Al Sik (Gate of Petra). The landmark is indicated by an explanatory stand.

The Obelisk Tomb

This is where the introduction to the rock city begins. Above the tomb rise four obelisks. The lower part was probably the location of the triclinium, a dining room with a table-top box.

Obelisk Tomb

The dam

This structure protected the city from flooding during the rainy season. It diverted water streams coming down the gorge from the surrounding hillsides into the valley.

Siq Gorge

The rupture in the rock is believed to be the result of a major earthquake that occurred in these areas long before Petra was founded. The winding corridor leading to the city is over 1.2 km long and 3-12 m wide. Intricately curved multi-colored walls of the gorge Sik rise to a height of 80 m.

El Khazneh

At the exit from the Siq, mysteriously, as if from the depths of time, appears the main attraction of Petra – the Treasury of the Pharaohs. The purpose of this structure is not fully clear. It is assumed that there was a temple here. The statue at the top of the facade looks like a huge urn which may have held the treasures of the ancient kings.

El Khazneh

Street of Facades.

Passes along the Nabatean tombs carved into the rocks. The corridor gradually widens and ends in a wide area. It is believed that the tombs were meant for important inhabitants of Petra.


The semi-circular arbors and arena were built in Petra at the beginning of the first century. The spectacles could accommodate up to 4,000 people at a time. Nowadays there are also occasional performances.

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Royal Tombs

Compared with other similar sites in Petra, they are more impressive in size. The most notable are the tombs:

  • Corinthian;
  • Silk;
  • With an urn;
  • The Palace tomb;
  • Sixtus Fiorentinus.

Via Colonna.

Reminiscent of the Roman period in the history of the ancient city. The street was the center of Petra, as evidenced by the presence of the market, the public fountain Nymphaeum, commercial buildings. There are still sections of the cobbled road.

The Great Temple

One of the main attractions of Petra. Supposedly, the temple occupied an area of 7000 m². Nearby is a complex of buildings, pools and gardens.

Just off the Main Trail are:

  • Temple of the Winged Lions – discovered by electronic probing;
  • Main Church – elements of wall and floor mosaics are preserved.

As you ascend from the temple of the Nabatean deity Duchares to the High Place of Sacrifice, you can see 7-meter obelisks carved into the rock, the Valley of Pharas, altars, the carved Lion and several tombs, including the Renaissance and the Roman Soldier. Walking this route requires physical preparation.

To the northwest of the Main Trail is the Ad Deir Monastery. Its facade is reminiscent of Al Khazneh. There is a long, fairly grueling ascent up steps to the complex, at the end of which there are magnificent panoramas. About halfway up the ascent you can look into the Triclinum of the Lion.

Ad Deir

There are monuments near the rock town that relate to biblical chronicles. The most famous are the spring of Moses (Ain Musa) and Mount Aaron (Jabal Harun) with the supposed tomb of the high priest.

Given the area of ancient Petra and the additional routes in the vicinity, it is recommended to devote at least two or three days to the archaeological park. In the nearby town of Wadi Musa there are budget hostels and three- to five-star hotels where you can stay one or more nights.

The Wonder of the World in Jordan

The ancient city is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. The choice was made by popular vote using modern means of communication. More than 100 famous objects of the world took part in the competition. The list of winners was made public in 2007.

Since 1985 Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How to get to the ancient Petra

You can reach the archaeological site by public transport, cab or car.

By bus

JETT buses leave daily from Amman (Abdali Station) to Petra at 06:30. The return journey is at 16:00 in winter and 17:00 in summer. You can check the schedule on the official website. There are shuttles from the South Station: to Petra – from 09:00 to 16:00 and back – from 06:00 to 13:00.

From Aqaba, buses leave from the central market. You can check the schedule at the bus stop or at the hotel. Some hotels offer free shuttles.

Uber and Careem, mobile cab applications are available in Jordan.

By Car

The Kings Highway passes through the town of Wadi Musa, connecting Al-Tafil in the north with the Desert Highway in the south. It lies partly on highway 35.

From Amman you can access it by road 15 or 40-65-60. The travel time is about 3-4 hours.

From Aqaba and Eilat to Kings Highway you should follow highway 47 (15). Travel time is 2-2.5 hours.

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