Petra is an ancient city that is widely considered one of Jordan’s top tourist attractions. Some even go as far as to call Petra the 8th wonder of the world. While that hefty title certainly has to be earned, Petra is certainly a contender. This unique, beautiful city was built by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago. The Nabataeans were an industrious Arab tribe who chose the location of their new city wisely. They placed Petra near the common trade routes of the silk and spice trades, intending for it to become a junction of sorts.
A less industrious people may have been deterred from their goal of building a city in a region of solid rock. But the Nabataeans were determined, and spent the next several centuries carving a city out of stone – literally. Buildings were carved out of cliff faces, with natural features selected carefully to save time and resources. Almost every building in the city was carved out of solid stone, a feat that would be quite impressive even with modern machinery and engineering practices. How a primitive tribe managed to achieve such a marvel of ancient engineering is up for debate.
One might argue that the Nabataeans spent too long building Petra, when they could have built a more traditional city using wood in a fraction of the time. On the other hand, Petra is still largely intact, unaffected by the elements, even over thousands of years. Any city built of wood more than 2,000 years ago would have been completely destroyed by now. Many houses in Petra have been destroyed by earthquakes over the years, but the large buildings and intricately carved tombs are still in amazing condition, given their age.
Petra is an overwhelmingly large city, especially considering that it’s carved out of cliff faces. You will need a good 3-5 days to truly explore the marvels of this beautiful city. If you’re pressed for time, there are a few must-sees in Petra. The first, and most commonly touted, is The Treasury at Petra, which is one of the most popular attractions in not only Petra, but Jordan as a whole. The Treasury, known as Al-Khazneh in the native tongue, is a massive structure, some 43m high and 30m wide, carved out of the sheer cliff face. Beautiful and intricate carvings cover the face of the Treasury, making it easy to just sit and stare at it for quite some time.
Another must-see in Petra is the Roman-style theatre, which is said to be able to comfortably seat around 3,000 people. There is also the Ad-Deir Monastery, which overlooks Petra from its lofty perch. There are also two full museums within the area; the Petra Archaeological Museum and the Nabataean Museum, both of which do an excellent job of bringing Petra’s rich and fascinating history into light, as well as displaying many archaeological finds discovered in the area. Petra is an amazing place to visit, with lots to explore. If you plan on visiting Jordan, add Petra to your list immediately!