Petra, Jordan – A Rose Red City, Half As Old As Time!

To my mind, it is the long preparatory trek through the narrow path – the 1.2 km gorge called the Siq – that lays the groundwork for the dramatic unveiling of the city of Petra.

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A natural geological fault eroded smooth by sand, water and wind, and with walls of up to 182 metres (600 feet) high, this is the grand entrance to the city. once topped by a triumphal arch. Interspersed with eroded shrines and votive niches, it narrows to less than 3 metres at some points and as you turn into the final bend, you come upon with breathtaking, unexpected suddenness, the marvellous Al Kazhneh.

Was it a tomb? A temple? A library? Its uncanny resemblance to the facades of well known libraries like the one in Ephesus and the similar floor plan, make the latter highly plausible. But no one really knows for sure. The Tholos or urn at the top was rumoured to have held the Pharaoh’s treasure – hence the name – but that wasn’t proved either.

The unanswered questions add to its mystique. As does the sunlight suffusing its facade like a floodlight tracing its length top down. The best time to witness that? Around nineish in the morning.

When you have pushed your jaw back up after that first sighting, just grab a chair in the cafe opposite and sip some sweet spiced tea until the entire monument is illuminated.

Then wander off into the bowels of the incredible Nabatean city to seek out more of its equally impressive, if less dramatic treasures. Every single one underscoring the ability of this remarkable nomadic Arab tribe to control and channelise water, and build a showpiece worthy of any Hellenistic neighbour……tombs, temples, theatre and all! Not built up from the ground, but every inch hand hewn from the surrounding pink sandstone. Most, as early as the 1st century AD!

When you are done exploring the striated caves and tombs, ascend the 800 or so steps, or take a heart stopping mule ride up to the inaccurately named Monastery (Al Deir) – the largest monument in the city. A hike well worth every effort and sore muscle.

Petra’s inhabitants – the Bedul (gypsy) Bedouins – have been living in caves inside the site for centuries. Although technically relocated to Umm Sayhun, a neighbouring village, where they have been provided housing and modern amenities on condition that they are the only people allowed to work inside the UNESCO site, most assert this is, and will always remain, their true home. They subsist on tourist dollars and some claim they return to their cave homes when the tourists leave.

# The title is the last line from the poem ‘Petra‘ by John William Burgon


While you are here, do take the time to read the history and legends of another historical monument on the Kings Highway.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

112 thoughts on “Petra, Jordan – A Rose Red City, Half As Old As Time!

    1. Yes, it is an incredible site and nothing prepares you for that first glimpse! Thank you for dropping by Lesuperkikke 🙂

  1. Amazing photos! (And with a borrowed camera!) Incredible journey! And what a story, Madhu! I read the studies, and it’s terrifying, to be in the middle of nowhere, and in medical crisis. That’s got to be one of the worst travel stories I have heard.

    The night before I was to go on my balloon flight over Cappadocia, my camera card was overloaded and wouldn’t download into my computer. My extra film card, I discovered in its bag in the car after I got home. We were leaving at 5:30AM for the flight, without a chance to buy a new one. But my son came through, downloading his smaller one onto his computer and loaning me an empty film card. If not for that, I would have missed some of my best photos that day. But on a life scale, that would have been nothing in comparison to a health scare like that.

    So glad you came through. Thank you for speaking out about the Flouroquinolones!

    1. The camera worked fine up until we reached the caves on the main street. Happened to me once before in Troy and there was no clever Abdullah then to bail me out 🙂
      Yes the drug reaction was scary, although I didn’t know it was that and how serious it was at the time! Strangely, these drugs are routinely prescribed all round the world, even when a simpler antibiotic will do! And the website I had used for research, solely dedicated to publicising this, has been taken down!!

  2. Amazing photos Madhu! I would have a photo fantasy clicking away in this area. I am so glad you were able to swap out your memory card to get these photos. Thanks for the history and the photos.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  3. I’m sorry for your problems with health …. this’ a risky business when you’re traveling!
    Damn, I who suffer from allergies to different medicines! I know what it means…
    Petra: this is a place I want to visit with my family …
    but for now the boys are too small.
    Many thanks for the wonderful photos, Madhu…
    :-)serenity claudine

    1. Yes, and it was surprising because I have no known drug or food allergies!
      Petra with children isn’t a good idea of course, the walk through the site is pretty demanding. The reason why our daughter hasn’t visited either.
      It is my pleasure to share my experience Claudine, thank YOU for reading 🙂

    1. Thank you. That should be rule number one for anywhere! And always carry spares, on you, they aren’t much use in the car or hotel room 😀

  4. Madhu, how I love Petra! My parents and I went there for the American Thanksgiving holiday three years ago. I remember that dramatic approach you write about, then the first sighting of the Treasury.

    I’m so happy you found a guardian angel to lend you her camera as it’s such a picturesque spot, it’d be sad to have been without one.

    Were you there for the evening luminary event? Was it ever cold in November!

    1. Amazing place isn’t it? No we skipped the Petra by night event, because my legs were acting up. Was it good? Have seen some amazing pictures, but have also read reports about how touristy it is.

  5. What a fascinating place. Glad the journey had a happy ending for you 🙂

  6. Good grief! Your illness sounds really traumatic, Madhu. Part of the lasting memories you could do without, I suspect.
    What a place to live! Your Abdullah was a real treasure, wasn’t he?

    1. Yes and yes! Not having photos of the tombs was bad enough, but I was devastated that I would have no pictures of the Monastery! Abdullah was a genius! I would never have thought to ask 🙂

      1. I wish! There is no comparison between our two sets of photos :* Yours look very professional.
        Happy Thursday!

  7. I´ve flown in and out of Jordan on four occasions now, and not once had the chance to visit Petra. One of these days …….

    Fantastic photos and information, Madhu.

  8. Your pictures are beautiful, and interesting in that they carry so many layers. The images of Petra, your medical emergency, the tour guide who managed your photo memories, and the kindness of strangers, all carried within your memory card. I’m glad everything worked out for you!

    1. Thank you Elisa. Can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am that it all turned out well! For a moment there I thought this was the last place I would ever travel to!

  9. Madhu,
    The pictures are beautiful, great post too. I am happy to know you made it through your trip, albeit somewhat in a daze. Still…ou managed some fantastic shot in spite of that. LOL

  10. I do hope you’re feeling much better, Madhu. Thank heavens that dishy guide intervened. (Did you get a pic of him?) Otherwise you’d never have these exotic photos.

    1. This was two years ago and I am completely recovered thanks to my strict yoga regimen. Yes Abdullah was a genius and I so regret not having a photo to remember him by!

  11. What an amazing city, Madhu. Your pics are fantastic. Sorry about the terrible effects of the mixed meds. I’m so glad you’re now recovered. 🙂

    1. Thanks AD. I am so relieved the effects weren’t permanent. Others haven’t been so lucky, even without mixing drugs.

  12. Coming to your site is like opening up a beautiful book of history, complete with the most exotic pictures. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your posts. Petra is high on my list so I was thrilled to see this post. So glad to hear that you recovered from your drug reaction…very scary stuff.

  13. Wow, this is fascinating, Madhu! The narrow path reminds me of the slot canyons in Southern Utah. Thank you for this tour!
    That’s a horrible experience you had with the drugs. I had nightmare experiences with several medications and can’t take them, not even over the counter pain killers. I had extreme side effects that were very scary and took a long time to overcome. Now, I try to use natural remedies instead (such as daily turmeric/sage/ginger which are three of the top natural anti-inflammatories; raw garlic is a good natural antibiotic, etc., etc.)

    1. Utah sounds fabulous from all the pictures I have been seeing on the blogosphere. Hope I get to visit someday. And thank you for the tips on natural remedies.

    1. It is one of those places that ticks everyone’s imagination I guess! It certainly lives up to all the hype 🙂

  14. Love the grand entrance! Kudos to you for taking such gorgeous pics inspite of suffering from pain. That’s the worst nightmare – falling sick while travelling.

    1. Yes, and we were only into the third day of our two week trip! All that walking was probably good for me in the long run 🙂 Thanks Deepa.

  15. Lovely photos, and very timely as I head off to Jordan in just over two weeks! Can’t wait to see Petra, I suspect there’ll be a lot of photos being taken!

    1. Thank you Lucy. Make sure your batteries are fully charged, and you are carrying the spare. If you do forget, you know what to do 🙂

  16. I look forward to visiting this area some day. Thanks to your guide for his persistence in you getting photos. He was a problem solver. I’m also grateful for the medical advice you gave. Important that we pass these life savers on and you did.

    1. Yes, Abdullah was a Godsend 🙂
      That scare underlined the need for caution Lynne. Mine was not an allergy. There is a huge difference between allergies and adverse effects. You will be surprised by how many doctors lack the time to read the small print accompanying most of these drugs!

  17. Thank you for these wonderful images, and to that cheeky travel guide. Just imagine the regret you would have had thinking about those wonderful sites and without the photos. 🙂 And just imagine our loss at being unable to see photos… 🙂 This Petra place is remarkable. I first read about it in National Geographic’s pages many years ago. They are amazing in photos, I wonder how much more they’d be in real life.

    I hope you are well now too. 🙂

    1. So much more amazing Imelda! It is never easy to capture one’s emotions when standing in front of such wonders. I am absolutely fine now, thanks mostly to my Yoga teachers who literally twisted me back to shape 🙂

  18. What a holy place, Madhu! Great photos of the great place, I am in awe! Sorry to hear about legs…

    1. So kind of you Amy, and delighted that you enjoyed these pics. The legs (and both shoulders) are absolutely fine now 🙂

    1. Thank you Deb 🙂 I know I am, not only to be able to visit places such as this, but to have overcome these health issues with no permanent damage. One can never be too grateful!

  19. So glad to see more of your fantastic Petra shots Madhu. I love the way you’ve walked us into the city along the length of the Siq, only to be bowled over by that first glimpse of the Al Kazhneh through the cleft in the rocks.

    I love how we conjecture about what buildings were what, and for what it’s worth, I’m not sure I buy its being a library! That a library would be the most prominent building in a city so mindful of drama and place would imply that knowledge was its greatest treasure. Now that’s a wondrous notion 🙂

    Thank goodness for the donkey (and the borrowed camera) – that shot of the Al Dier from above – just stunning 🙂

    Perfect – and most appropriate – post for “P”.

    1. Happy you think this is appropriate Meredith 🙂
      No, the presumption is not that they were a race that prized learning, it is that they wanted to impress other nations that did, with a library as grand!! The general agreement is that they loved to show off or perhaps to prove that they were no less than the more sophisticated Greco/Roman states 🙂

  20. Fabulous photos and interesting narrative as always, Madhu. So glad the guide came to your rescue. I hope you are fully recovered now with no lasting damage.

  21. Fabulous photos…I am glad you swapped memory cards and left with these images! Great info on the medication, Madhu. Hope you are fully recovered now.

  22. What a wonderful place … never heard of – thanks for bringing me here … your photos are wonderful too. My favorite is the second from the top. And all built in sandstone that isn’t a really strong material and have survived for so many year. . Breathtaking. Thanks for taking me there.

  23. I have always wanted to visit Petra. I also thought that it wasn’t a safe place so i put it out of my mind. I think I will do some research. Also, I would never have thought to ask someone if I could borrow their camera. You guide was really thinking out of the box.
    I want to thank you for visiting my blog. I truly appreciate your support. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  24. Great history in here! Your photos look a lot like mine (and everyone else’s – haha), but you’ve provided a different perspective, which is the great thing about reading others’ blogs. So funny that you mentioned the kohl-rimmed eyes of the local Bedouin guys; I was taken by them also and yes, they were pretty handsome fellows!

  25. Reblogged this on The Urge To Wander and commented:

    My recent focus on Jordan had me browsing through my archives and I thought this piece on Petra merited revisiting,

    So here it is, edited and revamped with a gallery of new images for those of you who have already read it before. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed revisiting this incredible Nabatean city.

    Until next time….happy travels, no matter where life takes you!

  26. Finally I have the answer to my question about the climb to the top. Eight hundred steps is fine. Much less than I was expecting. Lovely piece Madhu. Can’t wait to get there. It’s close enough now I could just about count the days.
    Alison

    1. Alison, it could be closer to 900! 🙂 Since you are going to be staying longer, do try and check out the Byzantine mosaics in the church. And try to get to the ‘Place of High Sacrifice’ for more interesting tombs along the way and fabulous views. That’s another half hour climb up in another direction, achievable if you split your visit over two days. I would recommend you do that.

      More details here: http://bit.ly/1Rc56T3

      One other thing I regret missing is the newly discovered ceiling frescoes in a dining room in Little Petra, a smaller site a short distance away.

      Have fun 🙂

  27. Thank you for a great journey through an amazing place. A photo of the siq and the treasury in a Sydney paper clinched my vague thoughts about going on a dig in Jordan in 2000, so I have a particularly soft spot for it. I spent a long time sitting in the siq trying to describe the soaring rock face.

  28. Your post is inspiring me (again) about going to Jordan. The exchange rates haven’t been in my favour 😦 But I have to make a decision soon – perhaps next year haha? Can’t wait!

  29. Petra looks like such an incredible corner of the world. I feel like I’ve been seeing it on travel shows and in travel books more and more recently… was the ‘tourist’ presence noticeable?

  30. There are places in the world that stun, bedazzle even. Not just for their beauty or history, but for their sheer monumental testament to human endeavor.

    As always, the combination of your photos and your words give flight to wishful dreaming.

  31. Hi Madhu, It’s good to get the background here. When Eli was working in Turkey this year, he went to Petra and camped out in the desert there. He said it was starkly beautiful. Your photos have captured all that and more.

  32. Good to sit here with my spiced tea, gazing at that unbelievable gateway, Madhu. Actually I’m onto my second coffee on a drizzly English day but I’m using my imagination. It doesn’t take much- I just need to gaze at your incredible opening shot. 🙂
    So nice to be here again. You have the most beautiful blog. My eyes keep wandering off to your Personal Pick, but that’s no hardship either. Hugs from this north eastern fool.

  33. Beautiful, with the first photo for a moment I thought I was seeing parts of the SW of the States and then the intense and beautiful history of Petra and your words/photos took over.

  34. I have just watched an amazing documentary of this fabulous place it is so incredible to imagine how it was built and how the water channels and lakes and dams created a city of such riches so long ago.

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