Petra

Overview

Introduction

This ancient rose-colored city, located 150 mi/240 km south of Amman, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the Middle East's greatest historical and architectural treasures and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Carved from solid ruddy-red sandstone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago, it's unlike anything you have ever seen. The Treasury building features in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but even that will not prepare you for the real thing.

You'll start your visit to Petra in Wadi Musa, the adjacent town that has a fair number of hotels and restaurants. It's also served by intercity buses. Once you've arrived there, you'll need to leave your vehicle near the ticket office and walk or ride a horse or horse-drawn buggy through a 2-mi/3-km narrow canyon (or dry riverbed) called the Siq. On the other side awaits a city with more than 800 tombs and other impressive structures.

Petra is most likely much larger (or at least longer) than you expected. The main sights, however, include the Treasury (the first facade you'll see when coming out of the Siq), the theater (carved into a hillside as opposed to constructed on a hillside), the Nymphaeum, a Byzantine church (with nice mosaics, of course), a palace, temples and scores of tombs. About a 45-minute walk and climb farther will take you to the monastery, which, along with the Treasury, is one of Petra's most impressive structures.

There are one-day, two-day and three-day tickets for sale. The multiple-day tickets are not only a much better bargain, they also allow you to take your time visiting the sites (which you'll want to do especially when the weather is hot). They also give you the chance to see the carved-rock structures at different times of the day, under different light conditions. Guided nighttime tours are also offered several times a week. At the very least, plan to spend five hours there. Although there are a couple of refreshment areas, it's not a bad idea to take some water with you, as well as a hat and sunglasses. A flashlight can also come in handy when exploring inside the tombs.

Just north of Petra are a number of other places of archaeological and historical significance. Al Barid, often called a miniature Petra, is another complex of tombs, temples, residences and other carved-rock buildings that were used by the Nabataeans and the region's traveling merchants.

Farther up the road is the hilltop castle of Shobak, a 12th-century fortress built by the Crusaders. Within its crumbling walls are ruins of churches, wells, baths and even an olive press.

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