Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Ancient City of Petra in Jordan.

Al Khazneh or The Treasury at Petra in Jordan.
Petra, is a historical and archaeological city in the southern Jordanian governorate of Ma'an that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.
Due to its breathtaking grandeur and fabulous ruins, Petra was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
Another name for Petra is the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved.  Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Arab Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan's most-visited tourist attraction. Petra was named amongst the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007 and was also chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the "28 Places to See Before You Die".

Some historical informations:
Petra was the impressive capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC. The kingdom was absorbed into the Roman Empire in AD 106 and the Romans continued to expand the city. An important center for trade and commerce, Petra continued to flourish until a catastrophic earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water management systems around AD 663. After Saladin's conquest of the Middle East in 1189, Petra was abandoned and the memory of it was lost to the West. The ruins remained hidden to most of the world until the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab scholar, infiltrated the Bedouin-occupied city in 1812. Burckhardt accounts of his travels inspired other Western explorers and historians to discover the ancient city further. The most famous of these was David Roberts, a Scottish artist who created accurate and detailed illustrations of the city in 1839. The first major excavations of the site were in 1929 after the forming of Trans-Jordan. Since that time, Petra has become by far Jordan's largest tourist attraction. The site was included in the Steven Spielberg movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989.

Horse-drawn carriage in Siq, Petra, Jordan.
Camels in Petra, Jordan.
The Treasury (Al Khazneh), Petra in Jordan.
The Monastery in the Ancient City of Petra in Jordan.
Al Khazneh, Petra, Jordan.
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Go there:
Entry ticket to Petra costs 90 JD (=127 USD) for those who are Day-Visitors to Jordan, i.e. those tourists staying in Israel or Egypt who will spend the day in Petra and return without spending the night in Jordan. Tourists who overnight and cruise visitors in Jordan pay 50 JD (=70 USD) for 1 day's access to Petra, 55 JD for 2 days or 60 JD for 3 days.
Students have to pay the full price, unless they have a valid Jordanian University ID then the entry fee is 1 JD.
If you don't feel like paying the whopping 50 JD, then another option is petra at night which is 17 JD. It runs Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and starts 20:30. They will light candles all along the way to the treasury, and a lot of candles in front of it. The bad part is that you only get to see the treasury.
On foot:
Petra archeological site is reachable by an easy 20 minute walk from the town centre or most hotels in the town of Petra. 
By bus:
JETT buses, both ordinary and all-inclusive guided tour, connect to Amman and Aqaba via the fast Desert Highway. Other tourists come with organized groups.
By minibus:
Public minibus from Wadi Musa (Petra) to Ma'an is 0.55 JD and from there to Aqaba 1.50 JD (April 2012).
The minibus from Wadi Rum costs 7 JD. It takes 2 hours to get to Petra. There are also minibuses from Amman departing from the Wihdat bus station these leave when full, and tourists are charged 5 JD to get on. The ride is about three hours.
By rental car:
Jordanian traffic is chaotic and do not expect other drivers to follow normal traffic rules. GPS navigation can often be inaccurate and unreliable as some secondary roads are not mapped even in the latest maps. Petrol stations are not frequent and outside large towns 95RON premium is not available.
By taxi:
Taxi is also a viable option. For 75 JD or less (depending on how much you haggle) you may be able to get a private taxi from Amman to Petra and back, including the driver waiting around for 6 hours. Official rate said to be 70JD. A taxi from Aqaba to Petra should cost about JD 20-30 one-way.

Get around:
The only modes of transport allowed within Petra are on two feet or four (camel, donkey or horse).
When entering Petra, there is a brief hike down towards the Siq. "Free" horses will be available for travel to the entrance of the Siq, or you can choose to take a horse-drawn buggy through the Siq and down to the Treasury.
WARNING: Be very careful in dealing with the horse men, they will tell you that the horse ride is free, but once you are riding, will reveal that the "tipping" cost is actually 18 JOD per person. The ride takes about 5 minutes and is no quicker than walking.
There are 4 segments within Petra with 3 potential animal transport. From the entrance to the Siq (by horse), From the Entrance to the Treasury (by cart), From the Treasury to the stairs of the Monastery (by donkey or camel), the 800 stairs of the monastery (by donkey).
Riding a camel is a unique experience on more level ground, but a donkey is recommended for more ambitious climbs, such as the ones to the High Place or the Monastery.
Camels are the only animals respected by their owners in Petra as they're very expensive and less docile than donkeys or horses.
However if you are reasonably fit and the weather is good, the walk is quite nice. Prefer climbing the Monastery's path from 3pm on, it will be mostly in the shadow. Riding a donkey is nothing for the animal friends as they treat the animals not always as they should and the climb at noon in the summer months is really hard for them. So if you can walk, it's better to spare the animals.

Camels are a common form of transportation in Petra.
Charging camels in Petra.
Stairs carved from rocks in Petra, Jordan.
The Monastery is one of Petra's most impressive structures.
Royal Tombs in Petra, Jordan.

To see:
Petra is an archaeological park, so the entrance fees are considered fairly steep compared to other Jordanian attractions. Guides can be hired from about 50 JD and up, depending on what you want to see. Alternatively, major hotels can rent you a portable Easyguide audio guide (JD 10/day) for commentary in English, Arabic, French and Spanish.
  • The entrance to Petra is a long, winding sandstone canyon known as the Siq (about 2km). There are minor carvings spotted here and there throughout the Siq, but the most impressive sights are the colorful and unusual sandstone patterns in the rock walls. There are also remains of terracotta pipes built into the sides of the canyon that were used in Roman times to carry water.
  • Upon exiting the Siq, visitors can view the grandeur of the Treasury (al-Khazneh in Arabic). Be sure to note the urn atop the Treasury structure. It has been rumored that the urn contained a Pharaoh's hidden treasure, and the urn bears the bullet pock marks where Bedouin travellers throughout the years have tested the theory.
  • On the next bend is the outer Siq or Street of Facades, a large canyon lined with the facades of various tombs.
  • At the end of the Street of Facades is the 7000 seats Roman Theater. The theater was created by the Nabateans but later enlarged by the Romans. It is still used for occasional performances.
  • On the side of the valley opposite the Roman Theater and a short walk up the hill, are the Royal Tombs. The name was given because they are quite grand in scale compared to the others in the area, but it is unclear for whom the tombs were originally constructed.
  • The Monastery (ad-Deir), the largest carved monument in Petra, dates back to the 1st century AD. The interior, like that of the Treasury, is puny in comparison to the facade. The more than 800 steps up to the Monastery can take over an hour. Few visitors choose to ride donkeys up to the top. The donkeys are treated very badly, and it's quite depressing seeing this along the way.
  • Petra by Night happens on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 20:30. Entrance fee is 17 JD and you do not need a day pass. It is only made of candles, you'll hear a short play of Bedouin music and be served some tea in plastic cups while you sit on mats at the Treasury.
  • Princess Alia Clinic, Brooke Hospital for Animals located just inside the entrance to the park. As you can witness inside Petra, not all donkeys, horses and camels are treated right. The Brooke charity educates owners about the treatment of equestrian working animals and treats the animals for free. The clinic is happy to tell you about conditions for working animals in Jordan. You can give a donation to the clinic.
Petra by Night
Street of Facades, Petra, Jordan.
The Treasury (Al Khazneh) in Petra, Jordan.
A cart riding trough the Siq at Petra, Jordan.
Roman Theater Petra, Jordan.
To Do:
There are a number of popular hikes around Petra. 
  • In order to understand what in reality Petra is, it is better to spend two days there. The first day: Siq - Treasury - City - Monastery. The second day: another way to Petra through Wadi Muthlim - see the Treasury from above on Jebel Al -Khubtha - High Place of Sacrifice. It may not be possible to go through this route due to excess water in it. It's not recommended doing this route without a guide.
  • The High Place of Sacrifice: The site at the top of the mountain contains elaborate rock altars used for sacrifices. From the High Place, one can view much of Petra from above. Beautiful scenery. The trek down the back side of the mountain reveals many interesting tombs and carvings that might be missed by the average tourist. The round trip generally takes 1.5-2.5 hours.
  • The Mountain of Aaron is the highest peak in the area. At the top you will find a small church and the tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses. The route to the top and back will take you past the Monastery and will take 4-8 hours depending on your chosen path.
Most hikes last about 2-3 hours both way. Once you have seen Petra consider exploring Little Petra and the bordering deserts Wadi Rum and Wadi Araba. You can hire a local Bedouin guide for single or multiple day treks by foot, 4WD, horse or camel. Sleeping under the stars in a Bedouin camp and cooking a meal Bedouin style is a special experience.

Panoramic picture of the Monastery building at Petra.
Roman Theater Petra, Jordan.
Royal Tombs, Petra, Jordan.
The Monastery building at Petra.
The street of Facades in Petra.

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