Petra: a mini guide to visit the archaeological gem of Jordan

September 24, 2019

Petra is the most famous archaeological site in Jordan. The ancient city has a long history, also mentioned in the Qumran manuscripts: it was the Nabatean capital and was then abandoned around the eighth century, when it fell into decline.

Al Khazneh, Petra, Jordan

Petra is Jordan's most famous archaeological site and is the first place you would normally like to see when you arrive in this country. It is located about 250 km south of the capital Amman, in a valley between the Dead Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.

A city with a long history, also mentioned in the Qumran manuscripts, it was the Nabataean capital and then abandoned around the eighth century, after which it went into decline.

It was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt and since then it has become over time a site of great tourist interest, Unesco Heritage since 1985, national archaeological park since 1993 and one of the seven wonders of the modern world since 2007.

Do you want to visit it? Here are some useful tips!

Petra wonder of the world: the monuments and the interior

The tombs of Petra are carved into the rocky walls of the mountains, composed of polychrome sandstone of very ancient formation.

The archaeological site of Petra is home to over 800 monuments, of which 500 are tombs. Here are the most interesting attractions:

  • Djinn Houses: These houses, also called houses of the spirit, are three gigantic monuments located near the entrance. Perhaps they were tombs or temples for the worship of deities, since djin is the Arabic root for "genius".
  • Tomb of the obelisk and Triclinium of Bab As Siq: Funeral monument with anthropomorphic figure in the center, surrounded by four obelisks that symbolize four buried people.
Bab As Siq Tomb in Petra in Jordan
Bab As Siq Tomb in Petra.
  • Siq: The Siq is the narrow corridor between two rock walls, crowned by a Nabataean arch, which serves as access to the city. On its walls, in addition to the pipes for the supply of water, there are also remains of tombs and sculptures.
  • Al Khazneh Temple: Iconic temple of Petra, also called "The Treasure", it is accessed at the end of the Siq. Formerly it was the palace of the Pharaoh's Treasure, with a facade in Hellenic style.
Al Khazneh, Petra, Jordan
Al Khazneh, Petra.
  • Sacred room: Diagonally opposite to the Treasury, it is thought to be a hall for ritual celebrations.
  • Street of the facades: At the end of the Siq you take a road with many graves and houses on the sides. The structures recall the Assyrian architecture.
Street of facades in Petra, Jordan
Street of facades in Petra.
  • Hill of the sacrifice: Also known as "the altar", at the top of the jebel Madbah, stands a plain levelled by the Nabataeans, where sacrifices were made. The drainage channels on the sides were used to drain the blood of the immolated animals.
  • Theater: Dug into the rock where once there were tombs. It was enlarged in Roman times and damaged by an earthquake in 363.
Petra theater ruins in Jordan
Ruins of the ancient theater.
  • Royal tombs: The most beautiful of Petra, excavated in the jebel al-Khubtha. Among these are the Tomb of the Urn, the Tomb of Silk, the Corinthian Tomb, the Tomb of the Palace and the Tomb of Sixtus Florentinus.
  • Colonnaded Street and Trajan's Gate: This is the central street of Petra, built after the Roman conquest, to act as a maximum decumanus. Trajan's gate indicated the passage from the commercial area to the religious area.
  • Great Temple: Dedicated to the great Nabataean deities, it was used until the Byzantine period despite the damage caused by earthquakes.
  • Qasr-al-Bint: Temple built by the Nabateans in honor of their deities, later also used by the Romans and then destroyed. It was the most important place of worship for the Nabataean city.
Qasr al Bint, Petra in Jordan
Qasr al Bint, Petra.
  • Temple of the winged lions: Temple in honor of the goddess of fertility Atargatis, it takes its name from the lions that once surmounted the capitals of the columns.
  • Church of Petra: Nabataean building enlarged by the Byzantines, with Byzantine mosaics inside.
  • Al-Deir Monastery: On the surrounding hills there is a building carved into the rock and similar to the palace of the Treasury, although larger. It was built by the Nabataeans to serve as the tomb of King Odobas I, even though later Byzantine crosses were also found in it. To this why it's called monastery.
El Deir in Petra. Jordan
El Deir in Petra.


The first traces of Petra date back to the period between the tenth and eighth millennium, although the city began to develop thanks to the Nabataeans, nomadic Arab population, around the fourth century BC.

In 106 the Romans conquered the city, which in the meantime became very prosperous, becoming in 114 the main Roman base for the wars against the Parthians. Under the Roman Empire, Petra was also the capital of one of the three parts of the Province of Palestine.

In the fifth century AD Christianity was introduced to Petra under the emperor Constantine, even if the inhabitants remained for a long time faithful to their cult.

Petra destroyed

The trouble for Petra began in 363, when a strong earthquake damaged its monuments. Sources attest that the city could no longer recover from this calamity. The situation worsened in 551, when a second earthquake brought the city to its knees.

A final earthquake in 749 caused Petra to be completely abandoned by its inhabitants, after it had long since fallen into oblivion.

Petra today

Petra was rediscovered in 1812 thanks to the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who had heard of a magnificent city near Wadi Musa. Fascinated by the discovery, he spoke of the city of Petra in his publications making it known to the West.

The first real archaeological excavations began in 1828 and since 1830 Petra had already become a destination for pilgrimages and travels by artists, poets and writers.

Today Petra can be reached on foot or on horseback, passing the Siq (see photo below). Petra was included among the Seven Wonders of the Modern World thanks to a survey conducted via the Internet and telephone in 2007, a fact that has helped to further increase the influx of tourists.

The Siq in Petra, Jordan
The Siq,

Time to pack your bag!

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