We decided to take a short family trip and chose Petra, Jordan as our destination. It is quite easy getting to Petra friom Israel. We had heard that it was recently chosen as one of the wonders of the world and it is so close to Israel. The Petra pictures we had seen on the internet were stunning and thought it would be great place to take some pictures. After doing our research we found that the easiest way is to travel to Eilat and take one of the organized Petra tours. There are a bunch of companies that offer Petra Israel tours from Eilat and after hearing from friends who made a trip last year, chose what we believed was the best and most experienced tour company. Taking the day trip meant we didn't have to make arrangements for Petra, Jordan hotels.
We piled into the car and drove down to Eilat. It would be great if we could do the whole Petra Israel trip in our own car but taking a Petra tour is easier than navigating a new country. It is only a four hour drive but the landscape changes dramatically as you drive south. The green disappears and the vastness of the desert makes you feel that Israel is a large country. We found our Eilat bed and breakfast and prepared for the next morning.
After a great Israeli breakfast, we received a call from the representative of the tour company telling us that our driver was ready and waiting for us outside. We got into his 4x4, picked up another traveler, and proceeded to the border.
My wife and I were a bit apprehensive about crossing into Jordan but the procedure is well organized and we felt very much at ease after crossing over. Our tour company is very experienced at organizing Petra tours from Israel and had supplied the passport information a few days in advance and all we had to do was to give our passport in for stamping on the Israeli side. After leaving the Israeli side we all gave our passports in to the Jordanian tour operator and waited while they were stamped. It is always a good idea to check the travel advisories in case the security situation has changed.
The 15-minute wait gave us a chance to do some shopping at the border gift shop and watch the famous sand bottles being filled. The kids were fascinated as they watched the bottle fill with sand and slowly take shape, creating camels, trees and words. We had a chance to talk with the other members of our group and found that some were Israeli, looking to take a one day trip to Petra. Others were tourists from the USA and Canada who had decided to stay on longer than their tours and do an add on tour of Petra. After doing the trip we realized how easy it is to do the add on extension tour of Petra or book and excursion to Petra from Israel since all the arrangements are done by the tour operator and all you have to do is show up in Eilat.
Our tour company gave us a sticker with their name on it and our guide gathered us and led us to the air-conditioned bus. The guide is licensed by the tourism department and spoke an excellent English. Each bus had a Tourist Police officer accompanying the group along the trip. When we got to Petra we also saw stations for the tourist police. The tour started in Aqaba and gave us a feel for a Jordanian city. Aqaba is a city, similar to Eilat, on the edge of the Red Sea. It has one of world’s largest flags, which is visible from Google Earth. Our tour took us past the Royal Palace and a lot of new construction of hotels and condos. Petra tour companies typically leave Eilat early in the morning, so Aqaba is not very busy by the time we started our tour.
The road to Petra is a modern two lane divided highway. Ali, our tour guide, spoke about the history of Jordan, the duty free trade zone around Aqaba and surrounding countryside as we took the two hour trip to Petra. At about the half-way point, we stopped at a rest stop for coffee, souvenirs and washrooms (bring your own toilet paper), then continued on to Wadi Mousa. Wadi Mousa, or Moses Valley, is the location that Jordanians believe Moses hit the rock and made water come out for the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt. Ali pointed out a distant mountain that is traditionally considered the burial place of Aaron, Moses’ brother. A few minutes later we arrived in Petra.
The visitors’ center, as many public building in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is adorned with large photos of His Majesty King Abdullah II and his late father, King Hussein. King Abdullah II assumed the throne on February 7, 1999 and is reportedly the 43rd-generation direct descendant of prophet Muhammad.
Our guide set up the day in two parts. The first part was the tour of Petra, stopping at the major sites with his explanation, the second part was lunch and about two hours of free time. He suggested that we keep up with his tour and stop at our own pace on the way back if we wanted to spend more time at one of the sites. Two hours is not a lot of time if you want to see everything but for us, with two little kids in tow, it was the perfect amount of time. We were given the choice of walking the whole way back and forth or taking the local "taxi" service one way. Petra is built on a slope, so taking the taxi back up is suggested if you don't feel like walking.
Obelisk Tomb and Bab as-Siq Triclinium
A beautiful monument and a perfect example of the artistic intermarriage of styles between East and West. The obelisk is obviously an Egyptian influence; the niche between the obelisks is a Graeco-Roman influence. The triclinium is a chamber with three benches, the purpose of which, being Nabataean, was the celebration of the sacred feasts, which took place every year in honor of the dead.
The ancient main entrance to Petra. An impressive 1,200 meter long, deep and narrow gorge of stunning natural beauty. The Siq is hemmed in by cliffs soaring up to 80 meters. Suffice it to say that passing through it, one gets to see all the typical Petraean features, bizarre-looking geological formations, colorful rocks, agricultural terraces, waters channels cut into the cliffs, dams, and votive-niches carved into the rock.
Al Khazneh is one of the most elaborate buildings in the ancient city of Petra and really is beyond belief. As with most of the other buildings in this ancient town, the structure was carved out of a sandstone rock face. It has classical Roman-influenced architecture, and it is a popular tourist attraction.
Al Khazneh was originally built as a royal tomb, probably between 100 BC and 200 AD. Its Arabic name Treasury derives from a legend that bandits or pirates hid their loot in a stone urn high on the second level. Significant damage from bullets can be seen on the urn. Local lore attributes this to Bedouins, who are said to have shot at the urn in hopes of breaking it open and spilling out the "treasure" within (the decorative urn however, is solid sandstone). Many of the building's architectural details have eroded away during the two thousand years since it was carved and sculpted from the cliff. Religious unrest in the area during recent years has reportedly resulted in further damage to the site.
Just when you think you have seen enough dazzling sights in the Siq, emerging from it you suddenly come face to face with Al-Khazneh…the pride and joy of Petra and the most beautiful monument there.
The architectural style of it was quite unique in the ancient world. Main inspiration was Helleistic, Alexandrian Hellenistic, plus that unique encompassing Nabataean artistic touch. On-looking tourists usually feel dwarfed by the huge size of the façade (30 m wide and 43 m high). It is truly breathtaking, so much so that no amount of descriptive prose does it justice, it is better-experienced first-hand. It was carved in the 1 st century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataean king; some scholars believe it was later used as a temple. The elaborately carved façade represents the Nabataean engineering genius.
Street of Facades and Theatre
Past Al-Khazneh and the adjacent Outer Siq, we come to the Street of Faces, rows of Nabataean tombs with intricate carvings. The theatre looks Roman but was executed by the Nabataeans in the 1 st century AD, as the shadow of Roman influence hung over the Near East. It is carved into solid rock except towards the front on either side, where part of it was built freestanding. Initially it could seat 3000 people, but was later extended to finally hold about 7000.
The largest of the Royal Tombs, its immense courtyard and main chamber, 17 X18.9 m in size, are imposing. Believed to have been carved around 70 AD, it was altered in the mid-fifth century as it was reconsecrated to serve as a Byzantine church. Above the doorway are three chambers. A stone presumed to be depiction of the man buried inside blocks the central chamber.
An exquisite carved monument has the appearance of a palace, hence the name. Badly eroded yet it still looks magnificent, composed of three levels, richly decorated with columns and pillars.
Sextius Florentius Tomb
The Latin inscription over the doorway makes it the only tomb in Petra we know for sure who it was built for. Sextius was the Roman governor of the province of Arabia and, as the inscription tells us, wished to be buried in Petra. His elaborate tomb was carved around 126-130 AD
The Colonnaded Street
A beautiful colonnaded street, which led through the city centre, flanked by temples, public buildings and shops. A nymphaeum once adorned the street, the marble pavement still visible today.
Probably the main temple of the Nabataean capital, it is the only freestanding building in Petra to have survived centuries of earthquakes and floods. Its solid-looking silhouette dominates a large paved holy precinct (Greek:temenos), which was open to common worshippers, while the temple itself and the altar in front of it were the realm of the priests.
High Place of Sacrifice
Accessible after a hard but enjoyable mountain climb during which the tourists climb up flights of steps cut into the rock. Once you have reached the top, you will be rewarded with the spectacular view of Petra down below. The High Place, which is well reserved, was the venue for important religious ceremonies honoring Nabataean gods. It was perhaps also used for funeral rites.
A flight of 800 stairs cut into the rock takes you up the mountain of Ad-Deir, marvelous mountain scenes along the way up. And when you reach the top you will encounter Petra's second most famed attraction…Ad-Deir. Huge in size yet beautifully awesome. The overall design resembles that of the Khazneh, but the architectural embellishment is simplified. Either tomb, temple or both- the Deir used to be an important pilgrimage site the way up the mountain serving as processional route and the open area in front of the monument as gathering place. Later, in Byzantine time, it was probably used as a church.
Antiquities at Petra
You will be approached by all kinds of people selling all kinds of goods. There are lots of little children selling beautiful multicolored rocks, women with beaded necklaces and everywhere there are people selling "ancient" coins. The tactic used by these dealers is to have two sets of coins. If you say to them that the coins are fake, they say: "Yes, you are right, you spotted the fakes. Those are fakes but here I have the really good stuff" and they proceed to show you coins that they claim are authentic. Unless you are a specialist, buying these "ancient" coins is at your own risk. In addition, taking antiquities out of Jordan, like many countries, is forbidden.