Hidden in a remote valley in southern Jordan’s Shara mountains, Petra is Jordan’s most iconic site – an ancient city of ornate classical facades shrouded by drama, intrigue and mystery. Established around 312BC, the city became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and is the face of Jordan’s cultural heritage. Famously described by poet John Burgon as a ‘rose-red city half as old as time’ the colorful sandstone creating this world of tombs, carvings, obelisks, temples and colonnaded streets are a magical must-see.
Despite what you’ve already seen (on Indiana Jones, let’s be honest), nothing quite prepares you for Petra’s giant red mountains and vast mausoleums carved into rock by the Nabataeans, and the spectacular entrance through the Siq (a narrow gorge over 1km in length flanked by towering 80m high cliffs) is the perfect way to begin your exploration of the area. Step off the regular tourist path and wander along carved niches and previously unseen facades for a real taste of what this ancient city once was – a bustling crossroads for the silk and spice trade routes linking China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Scale the 800 rock-carved steps to the impressive Ad-Deir monastery, and if that doesn’t get your pulse racing, climb to the highest point in Petra, the shrine of the prophet Aaron, for breathtaking, lofty, and, most importantly, secluded views of the whole area. If the stillness, heat and clarity of light during the day have left you yearning for more, visit Petra at night, when the whole place is lit by some 1,800 candles, crowds are smaller and the atmosphere is even more ephemeral. Mobile phones and chatter are banned and the resulting silence, darkness and solitude are an unmatched experience. With Bedouin pipe music lingering through the archaeological formations and tea served as you listen to stories told by local guides, the adventurer in you will find yourself lost in a world of ancient fables and the Arab Orient.