Aqaba has much going for it in its own right, but there’s no getting away from the fact that its primarily a gateway port to Petra, the lost Rose-Red City of the Nabataeans lying a two-hour drive from Aqaba in an isolated valley that was long forbidden to visitors.
Petra was a major trade hub in the Roman period, but was ultimately abandoned when the old Silk Road trade route collapsed. The city, hidden among the craggy encircling mountains, was ‘lost’ for a thousand years, but is now the most visited site in Jordan.
A walking tour of Petra begins in a narrow gorge call the Siq. This stunning natural canyon winds through the towering rock towards the city. As your guide takes you through the Siq, you will see remains of water channels, carvings, and representations of Nabataean gods.
The towering walls of this narrow passage create an artificial gloom that is dramatically dispelled as you emerge into the blinding light of Petra, with the famous facade of the Treasury before you.
The Treasury is the most famous and outstanding of all Petra’s monuments. Local legend held that treasure was hidden in the urn at the top of the portal and the bullet marks on and around it are evidence of raiders’ attempts to find it.
Visitors move along the street of the façades before the Petra Theater comes into to view. Built during the cultural and political apex of the Nabataean kingdom 2,000 years ago, it was able to seat more than 8,500 people and is carved directly into the rock of the mountains.
As you approach the main colonnade, you’ll pass a series of Royal Tombs carved into the face of Jebel Khubtha, consisting of the Urn Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the three-story Palace Tomb.
Leading west is the main street of Petra, which once boasted numerous stately columns along its route. At the end of the street, to the left of the path, is the partly restored Qasr Al Bint, the only freestanding structure in Petra. It is thought to have been the main place of worship in the Nabataean city.
Notes for visitors:
While there are a limited number of carriages, camels and donkeys available at Petra for transportation, they are strictly on a first-come, first-served basis and are not insured by any cruise lines.
Even if you engage a carriage or service animal, you must still travel on foot over uneven and inclined terrain in order to completely view the site.