|Hewn out of rose coloured rock, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra is one of the most spectacular destinations in the Middle East and one of the new seven wonders of the World with the imposing facades of its awesome buildings and tombs and rock-cut architecture.
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was discovered by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt- a Swiss explorer. It was once described as 'a rose-red city half as old as time' and UNESCO has described it as 'one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage.' In 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.
It hasn’t been determined exactly when the history of Petra began. Evidence suggests the Horites, probably cave-dwellers inhabited the area lending their traditional habits such burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves to the next wave of inhabitants- the Nabataeans.
In 106 Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire and the native dynasty came to an end but continued to flourish for a century later. Eventually the building of tombs ended and trade moved away from Petra when it fell into steady decline over the centuries.
According to Arab tradition, Petra is the locations where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth. Over time many of the tombs' treasures were stolen by treasure hunters and their glory and whereabouts are unknown. Petra declined rapidly during Roman times and then in 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings.
After a two hour drive from Wadi Musa, a lot of walking is required, under the beating sun, to see all the sites and viewpoints of Petra. To visit the main complex, it was about an hour’s walk through the 1.2km Siq, which is NOT a canyon although that is what it looks like, but one sandstone block that has been rent apart by tectonic forces. The Siq seemed to go on forever but then just as I was starting to think there was no end in sight I caught my first breathtaking glimpse of Al-Khazneh, the Treasury. The Treasury (as featured in Indiana Jones) was carved out of iron-laden sandstone to serve as a tomb but no treasures were ever laid inside.
I kept walking from the Treasury down the Street of Facades, which features a number of grand Royal tombs and the weather-worn 7000 seat theatre. From there I went down the main path along the Colonnaded Street which back in the day was the heart of the city and was lined with shops. There is only one free standing building left in Petra today and that is at the end of the Colonnaded Street.
After that it was a very long walk back, all uphill, the 5km back out of the site and up the hill to Wadi Musa town where I am staying. Thoroughly exhausted after a long day, I plan to get an early night!