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Journey Through Jordan, Part 3

Where are my fellow Indiana Jones movie fans?  Did you know that most of the final scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed on location at one some of the most famous parts of Petra, the Siq and Treasury.

That movie combined with its UNESCO World Heritage site designation and a 2007 designation as one of the new wonders of the world have made Petra the most visited site in Jordan.  Now, I am no formal treasure hunter, but I felt like I struck gold when I visited Petra and Little Petra on my recent travels to Jordan

Petra is so much more than the Treasury, a Nabataean royal tomb carved into the mountain, that people travel to see.  In fact, Petra covers over 100 square miles, has a wonderful museum to explore and plenty of trails to hike.   And, Little Petra is just a magnificent to visit and imagine how the area was used for camel caravans.  If your schedule allows, you could spend two to three days exploring all Petra and its surrounding areas have to offer.

Petra History
It is unknown when Petra was originally built but the city is known to be the capital to Nabataean Arabs. It grew through the first century BC as the premier spice trading route with various spices, frankincense, and myrrh.  Yes, that is the same frankincense and myrrh from Biblical times.  Trading was strong for many, many years until the Roman Empire conquered the area in 106AD.

Trade slowly declined as trade routes transitioned to the sea and earthquakes impacted the area.  You can see the mix of Roman and Nabataean influences in the ruins that remain.  And, despite its desertion by most, the local Bdoul Bedouin tribe actually lived in the caves throughout the city until 1985 when Petra was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  At that time, as part of the negotiation, they were relocated to a new settlement area a few miles away, but they were also given exclusive rights to sell their goods and trinkets.  Don’t assume that someone living such a nomadic lifestyle isn’t great at a business negotiation!

Petra comes from the Greek word for rock.  It is translated from the Arabic phrase “al-madina al ward ah” which means rose-colored city because of the color of the rock where the structures are carved.  It is estimated that only about 15-20% of Petra has been discovered and excavated.

A walk through Petra
Grab your water, sunscreen and your kaffiyeh, the traditional headdress seen around much of the Middle East.  The main trail that begins the journey into Petra is a short walk of about one mile.  If someone wants or needs a little help, they can ride a horse for this first part of the experience.  Be aware that the Bedouins will expect a large tip for this ride even though the horse ride is included in the entrance price.

One of the first things to see on the trail is the Obelisk Tomb.  This is a great example of how the tombs were built with a banquet hall on the first floor to host a feast in honor of the deceased.  The pyramids on top represent those buried there.  Then the trail slopes a bit and curves around past a 300-foot tunnel created by the creative Nabataeans to capture flood waters to supply to the city. 

After this mile-long stroll, visitors enter the Siq, or rock valley.  Take your time wandering through this section of Petra.  The rock walls that tower over 200-feet high look different each way you look depending on the shadows and where the sun is during your visit.  You can also see some remnants of the water systems created by the Nabataeans.

The Treasury
Then as you come to the last few feet of the Siq, the Treasury, or Al Khazna, begins to appear.  It is a breathtaking experience to see in person.  The Treasury is such a sight to behold from its sheer size to its intricate carvings. Coming upon this particular tomb was all we hoped for, expected and more.  This is also where the animal options change to offers to ride a camel or donkey through the ancient city.

So Much More to See….
We then took our time seeing the Street of Facades, a cluster of tombs, and the Theater that was built to hold 3,000 attendees and the Royal Tombs.  Then the main trail curves and takes you back west a bit to the Great Temple and the Colonnaded Street before resting over a late lunch at the Basin Restaurant. 

A few in our travel group were up for a challenge after lunch to hike up to Ad-Deir, the Monastery, which includes a climb of about 850 steps.  The challenge was in both the ascent as well as the timing to complete the hike and leave the park before dark.  So, be sure to plan your day(s) accordingly.

Wrapping up a great day
The rest of our travel group took our time making our way back the way we entered and admiring the different handmade crafts and goods for sale by the local Bdoul Bedouin tribe.  We got to see the sun hit the different tombs, the Treasury and the Siq differently.  As the day goes on, the rocks appear a darker red compared to earlier hours of the day.  While most animal rentals are done near the end of the day, there are golf cart ride options to get you back to the main entrance for a nominal charge of about $20 JOD.   

Little Petra
Al Beiha is most commonly known as Little Petra and is another important archaeological site just outside of the town of Wadi Musa.  This Nabataean site is situated so that it is thought to be like a suburb to Petra that was considered a settlement town.  There is a smaller version of The Treasury near the entrance of Little Petra before you wander through the 350-meter long Cold Siq, Siq Al-Barid.  It is mostly enclosed so that very little to no sun can get into the main open area after you come out of the Siq.  Once you come through the Siq, you encounter former cave homes and the Painted House known for its painted ceiling.

In addition to its suburb housing design, this area was used for religious activities and the Feast of the Drink hosted by the king of the Nabataeans. This history is fitting as Little Petra is a place where a custom, private dinner event can be hosted. We had the privilege to experience an evening dinner party with a local chef featuring all the best foods of the Middle East. This kind of experience is not offered as a regular excursion or experience that you can find online but can be arranged through a travel advisor that has a strong partnership with colleagues in destination. This is just one of many unique experiences that I, as a travel advisor, can arrange.

What a special couple of days in Petra and Little Petra.  While I tried to share highlights of what we saw including some great photos, nothing compares to wandering through this ancient area in person.  I would love to help you experience the magic of Petra.But what is just about as magical as Petra?  Stargazing in the Wadi Rum Desert and floating in the Dead Sea.  Stay tuned for these last big highlights of my journey through Jordan next week.

Did you miss other posts about our journey through Jordan?  Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 now.

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