Jordan’s rose-colored sandstone city, off maps for centuries, is a bucket list experience not to be missed. On the edge of the Arabian desert, hidden in mountains south of the Dead Sea, Petra had disappeared from maps for more than 1,000 years. Thought to be at least 3,000 years old, Petra is one of the ultimate bucket list destinations. The city’s architectural beauty survives from it being chiseled directly from the sandstone mountains. Temples, tombs, a highly sophisticated hydro system, and a monastery are linked by trails, steps, and ancient caravan routes. Journey back in time with me to Petra and become part of My Jordan Journey.
Much of Petra’s fascination comes from its setting on the edge of Wadi Araba, part of the Great Rift Valley, encompassing scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as Lawrence of Arabia. A symbol of great engineering and ancient commerce, the city is etched in a monumental landscape of sandstone mountains protected in all directions.
The only entry to Petra is along a 3-mile road, the Siq, that meanders through a winding narrow gorge in places only a few feet wide with walls rising 300 feet on either side. Ancient water channels that brought water to the city are carved into the canyon walls. Walking through the Siq is indescribable. It’s extraordinary to see the waterways perfectly intact, to touch the sophisticated channels, and to feel the small bursts of sand blowing against my skin. When, the Siq abruptly ends, you are thrust upon the most impressive of Petra’s buildings.
The Treasury, or Al-Khazneh in Arabic, is the most spectacular monument in Petra. It stands an imposing 39.5m high and is impressively carved out of a single block. The monuments name comes from a local Bedouin legend that pharaoh hid a treasure in the urn at the top. I could actually see the bullet holes from people shooting at the urn to try and retrieve the treasure. I imagined the bustling commerce, traders, and markets all going on right before me. I didn’t have to envision the camels or mayhem of people since that was still there.
If something impressed me more than the Treasury, it would be the donkey that took me up the steep cliffs to the Monastery. Climbing the cliffs on the edge while atop a donkey gave me a new fear that I didn’t realize existed within me. It might have only taken 20 minutes rather than more than an hour but those 20 minutes seemed a lifetime. He, Jack, hovered over the edge of the cliff like a Jedi with precision and fluidity. He had mastered that mountain, yet I wasn’t comforted by his constant need to hang out on the very edge of every step. The journey was worth it when I arrived at the Monastery.
Once a series of tombs, the 137-foot high Hellenistic temple facade looks down on the grandeur of Petra. The beauty that unfolded from my lofty perch was magnificent. Petra is not in ruins; it is a well-preserved city that holds treasures greater than any monetary value. With only one day to explore the ancient city, the donkey was a worthy investment, but nothing could convince me to ride it back down the cliffs from the Monastery.
I made the return trek on foot and took as many photo opportunities as possible. At the bottom, I rode the donkey once again, avoiding the extensive hike on foot. I was able to explore the remainder of the city and still make it back to the bus on time.
If I could make one suggestion while visiting Petra, it would be to pay the small fee to ride the donkey. Petra is impressive both in size and temperature. Save your feet and go donkey riding. The World Heritage Site stretches across 400 square miles; you’ll want to take them all in.
Although I made this journey alone, Jordan with kids would be a great adventure. I imagined Athena like a young Lara Croft, discovering the hidden beauties of Petra with me. I guess it’s just another reason to return to this mysterious, beautiful country.