Jordan’s most popular attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra, located in the southwest corner of the Hashemite Kingdom. Petra was once the thriving trading hub and capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106 located at the crossroads between Egypt’s Nile Delta, Palmyra and Persia to the east and north towards the Greek and Roman Empires. The Lonely Planet says it well:
“The spectacular rose-stone city of Petra was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabataens, who carved palaces, temples, tombs, storerooms and stables from the sandstone cliffs. From here they commanded the trade routes from Damascus to Arabia and great spice, silk and slave caravans passed through, paying taxes and protection money.”
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see one of the greatest historical sites, one I wouldn’t have to explore on my own as I had met a nice Japanese girl in Amman named Yurika who is on a seven month trip of her own to various countries around the world. Yurika hails from Nigata on Japan’s west coast, an area known for quality sake I’m told.
Petra is a relatively expensive to visit for Non-Jordanians, but Petra is one of the top historical attractions in the world so well worth the money. I’ve heard the gateman can be bribed, but you risk the penalty if caught without a ticket while exploring the site. It’s best to give yourself two days to explore the area as some of the distance between sites can mean for a long and arduous day otherwise. If visiting in midsummer like I did, it is also recommended to start at sunrise to avoid the heat of the day, plus the monuments are magical in the early morning light before the crowds arrive.
Literally hand carved directly out of the brilliantly red, pink and white sandstone cliffs, the best preserved of these ‘rock hewn temples’ is the Treasury. Caved during a period of Hellenistic and Roman Empires resulted in the Greek influenced design. Almost as impressive as the outer faced is the inner rooms with the dramatic and beautiful sandstone colours which has no doubt faded over the years, it must have looked even more stunning shortly after its creation.
A hike up into the hills above the main valley and you’re rewarded with the sight of the 40 meter high carving of Al-Deir (Monastery). Some of the other major attractions are The Great Temple of Petra, The Hadrian Gate and Cardo Maximus, the Obelisk Tomb and the Triclinium, the Silk Tomb, Uneishu Tomb, the Roman style theater and seemed to be about 100 tombs and temples in the various valleys and hill tops in varying states of disrepair. There is also no shortage of local people selling tourist tat, including a very clever piece of art where images are made of sand in a bottle. See if you can find them when you visit!
As I looked back over the days exploring I couldn’t help but feel that the time spent exploring during the day meant the sites were somewhat underwhelming due to the intense sun, which exacerbated the already sun bleached monuments. As a result the cliff walls and facades aren’t as colourful as I was expecting, so Petra is definitely best explored during the early evening or late afternoon when the sun is low. There were, however, places where the sandstone beds of the ancient beaches made some stunning patterns with incredible colour which I found added an interesting dimension to the human aspects of the valley.
Once my time in the Rose City had come to an end I would continue my intrepid overland journey by taking a local bus to Aqaba; on the southern tip of Jordan on the Gulf of Aqaba. We would pass through some stunning desert landscapes, such as Wadi Rum, areas that feature in the movie Lawrence of Arabia and the location of Mars in The Martian. From Aqaba we would take the ferry to Nuweiba in Egypt.