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Wordtravels

Petra Travel Guide

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The Treasury, Petra © Judith Duk

Carved into the rock and protected by rugged mountains on all sides is Jordan's most famous attraction, the ancient rose-red city of Petra, one of the world's most spectacular ruins set within a deep canyon near the town of Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa, or the Valley of Moses, was once the name of the whole valley and not just the small tourist town sprawled along the sides of the valley leading down to Petra. The town's existence is primarily to service the tourist industry as the gateway to Petra.

Over 2,000 years ago, a nomadic tribe from Arabia settled in the area and these Nabateans established Petra as their capital. It became a powerful fortress city that controlled the passage of traders, and grew prosperous from the caravans crossing their land carrying spices and riches from India and Arabia. From this wealth was created an astonishing city of monumental tombs, temples and decorative buildings carved from the solid rock, which still stands as a testament to the remarkable creativity and engineering prowess of the Nabateans.

Today's Petra is a staggering landscape of rock-hewn monuments, amphitheatres, palaces, arched gateways, water channels and detailed carvings spread over a vast area. Dramatic tombs and temples unfold with each step taken further into the winding canyon, and intricate facades cut into the soaring cliff faces dwarf the ubiquitous camel drivers, traders and tourists to insignificance. Where the uppermost layers of the rock have eroded away, fantastic surreal streaks of blue, red, yellow, purple and white cover the monuments in undulating patterns.

To enter the city, visitors must first pass through a long, narrow chasm in the rock, the Siq, that winds its way for almost a mile (1.5km) with steep inclining sides that come close to meeting 656 feet (200m) above. Suddenly the Siq opens out onto the canyon floor, dramatically revealing Petra's most famous monument: the Treasury, or Al-Khazneh, is intricately carved into the solid rock of the pink mountain face and stands 140 feet (43m) high. The towering façade was used in the final moments of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Petra's second most fabulous structure is the Monastery (El-Deir) situated among spectacular desert scenery high up on the mountain, and while it is bigger than the Treasury, it was never finished and is less ornate. A number of places require a bit of effort to reach, but climbing will be rewarded with enchanting views of the desert setting, an overwhelming sense of the size of the site and panoramic lookouts over the rose city of Petra, a certain highlight of any trip to Jordan.

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