Things to Do in Petra
First approached by way of a deep, narrow gorge known as the Siq, the Treasury (al-Khazneh) is one of the most dramatic and iconic monuments in the ancient city of Petra. At 131 feet (40 meters) tall, this towering ancient tomb has lost none of its power since Nabatean times.
A northern satellite of Petra, Little Petra centers on a narrow canyon known as Siq al-Barid. With its water cisterns, carved houses, and rock-cut stairs, it has more of a lived-in feel than Petra proper. Its signature site, the Painted House, is home to one of the only surviving Nabatean painted interiors, which features jaw-dropping frescoes.
Set in the hills above Petra, the Monastery (also known as Ad Deir or al-Deir) is this ancient city’s most recognizable monument after the Treasury. Carved out of sandstone during the 3rd century BC, the Monastery was built as a Nabatean tomb, but takes its name from the crosses etched into its walls during Byzantine times. It’s 148 feet (45 meters) high.
The signature sight of Petra, Jordan’s signature sight, the Siq is a geological wonder: a stark rift in the land, smoothed by time into a scenic swirl of sandstone. The walls reach more than 500 feet (150 meters), while the path narrows to just 7 feet (2 meters), and the view of the Treasury at the end is one of the world’s great reveals.
Located within the ancient city of Petra, the Byzantine Church (or Petra Church) was first constructed in the fifth century AD, on top of Nabataean and Roman ruins, and expanded in the sixth century AD before being destroyed by fire and earthquakes. It’s still being excavated, but visitors can view its well-preserved mosaics.
This ruins of Shobak Castle (Krak de Montréal) date back to AD 1115 when they were built by Baldwin I of Jerusalem as a way to control the caravan and pilgrimage routes between Syria and the Arabian Peninsula.
Today much of the original fortifications lie in ruins. Calligraphic inscriptions on the exterior of the remaining walls date back to the thirteenth century, and within the castle, visitors will find remains of a small chapel, the original gatehouse and several Ottoman cottages. Two large buildings with arched entrances date back to the time of the Crusaders but were later used by the Mamluks as a school.
Situated close to the Roman Theater, the Petra Royal Tombs are carved dramatically into the cliffs above the city, and their facades reveal many Roman and ancient Greek influences. Notable tombs include the vast Urn Tomb, later used as a church, the three-story Palace Tomb, and the Silk Tomb, with its natural swirls of color.
Despite its name, Petra Roman Theater was actually built by the Nabataeans over 2,000 years ago. This massive and impressive theater in the ancient city of Petra was carved out of rock into the side of a mountain, destroying existing caves and tombs in the process, though you can still see some tombs above the theater.
Running north-south along the squiggling spine of the Dead Sea rift, a road trip along the King’s Highway from biblical Madaba to Petra is to journey along a 2,000-year-old trade route bursting with history. Check out the Crusader castles at Karak and Shobak, and the ancient town of Madaba. Pop into Roman forts and visit a Nabataean temple. Or if you’re more into nature, Jordan’s Dana Nature Reserve is famous for its hiking, and in April the region is known for its black irises. Then there’s Wadi Mujib. Reaching nearly 1000 meters downwards, it’s known as the Grand Canyon of Jordan, and the King’s Highway crosses its upper reaches.
Not really a highway but more of a quiet, country road with amazing views around and alongside its 280-km route, you’ll get a glimpse of rural life in Jordan as you drive between the villages which collect at the top of the mountains.
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