Start: The Siq.
Finish: Petra Museum.
Best Times: Early morning, sunset.
Worst Time: Midafternoon, when heat is at its worst.
It is important to remember that many of the sites and buildings at Petra were given fanciful names in modern times that have nothing to do with what we now know were their original functions. Also remember that once inside Petra, a fast but reasonably inclusive tour, without hikes to the sacred high places that overlook the city, can take 5 to 6 hours. Petra deserves at least 2 full days. Give yourself time to feel the mystery and beauty of the place and to explore at your leisure. Petra changes dramatically as the light of day changes.
1 The Siq
Beginning just near the visitor center, the winding 1.2km ( 3/4-mile) walk through the narrow fissure, or canyonlike Siq, that leads into Petra can take from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on your pace. The journey through this mysterious, highly sculptured passageway can be one of the most memorable parts of the Petra experience (especially in the soft twilight as visitors depart from Petra as night falls).
At the entrance to the Siq and at various points throughout the passageway, you’ll notice channels cut into the rock that once held pipes for the water system that carried the spring of Ain Musa into Petra. There is a modern dam to prevent flash flooding during the winter rains; it is modeled after the ruins of an ancient Nabatean dam uncovered by archaeologists at this site. According to Nabatean and local Bedouin legend, Petra’s water source, Ain Musa (“the Spring of Moses”), was created when Moses, leading the Israelites through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, struck a rock with his staff in despair as his people came close to death from thirst. The rocks burst forth with cool water. (Petra’s Ain Musa is not alone in claiming to be the site of this miracle.) Niches in the walls of the Siq once held the images of gods that protected the city, and intimidated visitors entering Petra.
2 The Khazneh (Treasury)
Suddenly, a turn in the Siq reveals the most famous structure in Petra, a royal tomb that has come to be known as the Treasury. Bedouins believed that the solid urn sculpted into the monument’s facade was actually hollow and contained treasure; often they fired bullets at the urn in hopes of having the treasure spill out (you can detect their bullet marks across the magnificent facade). The Khazneh’s stone facade changes color during the day: In the morning it can be a soft yellow-rose peach hue; by late afternoon, a pure, soft rose; at sunset, an intense red, before slipping into the dusty twilight.
Beyond the Khazneh (continuing to the right as you face the Khazneh), the Siq widens into what is called the:
3 Outer Siq
Here you’ll encounter the busy modern denizens of Petra, sand artists, and water sellers. The outer Siq is lined with carved tomb facades in styles ranging from classical Roman to designs that echo Assyrian and nomadic desert influences. Honoring the dead was an important part of Nabatean culture. The outer Siq also contains caves inhabited until recently by Bedouins—the soft sandstone interiors are as wildly patterned as marbleized paper and are good spots to shelter from the hot summer sun.
To the left, opposite the Uneishu Tomb (which an inscription identifies as the tomb of the brother of a queen), is a flight of rough ancient stairs that leads to an uphill trail to the:
4 High Place of Sacrifice & the Tombs of Wadi Farasa
This can be an arduous hike for those out of shape, but it is a very worthwhile. A hike to the High Place of Sacrifice (pictured above) and back down to the colonnaded main street of ancient Petra by a different route can take 1 1/2 to 3 hours. It’s wise to invest in a guide if you decide to make the excursion.
Continuing on down what is now the main street of Petra, you come to the:
5 Roman Theater
Originally built by the Nabateans, who were always adapting elements of other cultures into their way of life, the theater facing cliffside facades of tombs may have been used for religious ceremonies. In the 2nd century a.d., the theater was enlarged by the Romans (who cared little for Nabatean traditions) and cut into nearby Nabatean tombs to create a vast 7,000-seat venue. The theater has been restored and, after a 1,500-year hiatus, will be used again for performances and other events.
Farther along, on the opposite side of the canyon from the theater, are the:
6 Royal Tombs
The tombs earned this name because of their elaborate facades, not because they were created for royal burials.
The first of these is the:
7 Urn Tomb
It’s named for the carefully sculpted urn above its pediment. In a.d. 446, the Byzantines converted the inner chamber of this tomb into a church.
A few facades beyond is the:
8 Corinthian Tomb
The tomb’s facade actually includes a small-scale reproduction of the Khazneh.
After the Corinthian Tomb is the:
9 Palace Tomb
Its two stories jut out from the side of the canyon. Part of the Palace Tomb was constructed of stone, rather than carved into the canyon rock.
Around to the right is the heavily eroded:
10 Tomb of Sextius Florentinus
The tomb was built around a.d. 130 for a Roman governor of the Province of Arabia who so admired Petra’s network of tombs that he asked to be buried in a tomb of his own design in this far outpost of the Roman Empire. A faint Latin inscription and a Roman eagle mark the facade. A route of processional staircases and corridors began here and wound uphill to sacred high places on the mountain beyond.
Staying on the main path to the city center, you come to the:
This two-story fountain, dedicated to the water nymphs, is a major landmark of Petra. This lavish desert structure of flowing water, piped in from Ain Musa, must have been incredible to travelers approaching for the first time. The Nymphaeum was a place of both refreshment and worship.
The open water channel that fed the Nymphaeum continued on along the:
12 Colonnaded Street
The street, built after a.d. 106 by the Romans, lay over the route of an earlier Nabatean thoroughfare. It was lined with shops but also served as a civic and ceremonial route for processions.
On a rise of land to the right (north), as you walk down the Colonnaded Street, is the:
13 Temple of the Winged Lions
Named for the winged lions that serve as capitals for its columns, this was probably a temple dedicated to the worship of the female deity, al-Uzza. Built in a.d. 27, this was one of Petra’s major temples until it was heavily damaged, apparently by fire, in the 2nd century. The structure was then used to house families until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 363. That the temple was not rebuilt as a religious structure after the fire in the 2nd century may indicate the old region of Petra had gone into decline under the Roman occupation.
Also several hundred meters to the right of the Colonnaded Street is the:
14 Byzantine Church
Here’s a large structure with triple apses and extremely beautiful and well-preserved mosaic floors that have been uncovered by the joint Jordanian-American team excavating the site. On both sides of the Colonnaded Street are the outlines of ruined buildings. According to some theories, the Roman forum of Petra would have been among the structures to the left (south) of the Colonnaded Street.
At the end of the Colonnaded Street is the:
15 Triple Arched Gate
The gate is adorned with carved panels containing bas-relief busts, animals, and geometric and floral designs. These monumental gateways would have borne wooden doors that opened to the temenos, or sacred precincts, of your next stop.
16 Qasr al Bint (Palace of the Pharaoh’s Daughter)
Perhaps the most important temple in Petra (again, despite its romantic name, the temple has nothing to do with a Pharaoh’s daughter), this massive structure was built of stone, rather than carved from rock. It is the most impressive building in Petra. It faces north, toward the Sharra mountains, from which the name of the chief Nabatean god, Dushara (“he of Sharra”) is derived and may have been a sanctuary for the Dushara cult. This temple was built around the time of Jesus and was most likely destroyed late in the 3rd century.
Just to the south of the Arched Gate, but not accessible at present to visitors, were the:
17 Baths of Petra
These had access to a corner of the temenos.
Beyond the ruins of the Qasr al Bint Temple, you’ll find the:
18 Petra Museum
There’s a small collection of sculptural artifacts, jewelry, and pottery found at Petra. The museum building also houses the Petra Forum restaurant, as well as restrooms. A second part of the museum is housed in a nearby tomb.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.