Petra is an ancient metropolis carved into a canyon and established by the Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe from western Arabia skilled in trade and engineering. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Nabatea, strategically located along major ancient trade routes. Sacred sculptures, monuments and around 800 tombs cover the 264 square kilometres of ruins, the most famous of which is the Treasury, believed to have been the mausoleum of Nabataean King Aretas III in the 1st century AD. Petra lay for centuries until it was rediscovered in 1812 and has now become Jordan‘s most popular tourist attraction. Referred to as the “Rose City” because of the colour of the stones used in its buildings, Petra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and in 2007 it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Coordinates: 30° 19′ 43″ N, 35° 26′ 31″ E

Some of the earliest settled communities in the world lived in the area of Petra. Between 8,500 BC and 5,000 BC, farmers settled intermittently and lived in small villages of stone houses in the surrounding wadis and hillsides of Petra. Remains of the most famous of these villages, Baydha, were excavated in the 1950s just north of Petra. During the Bronze Age (3,000 BC to 1,200 BC), there was not much evidence of human activity in the Petra region. The Iron Age (1,200 BC to 539 BC) then brings significant historical history as the Edomites were thought to have established their kingdom there (Edom). Edom collapsed in the 6th century BC and was destroyed by the Babylonians in 552 BC.

The Nabataeans arrived in the region of modern-day Jordan from the Negev Desert sometime before the 4th century BC. Their empire covered southern Jordan and stretched as far east as the Sinai Peninsula. They gained their wealth through trade on the Incense Routes travelling between the Kingdom of Saba in southern Arabia and the port of Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea. Using advanced skills in engineering, they eventually created their capital city of Petra, half-built, half-carved into the rock. This Nabataean caravan city, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, became a major caravan centre for the incense of Arabia, the silks of China and the spices of India, a crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia.

Types of Tomb Facades.

Petra is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges with an abundance of freshwater. The inventive Nabataeans used water to build their city and became masters in water engineering, creating a highly sophisticated system of reservoirs and irrigation channels. Rain and spring water were collected in individual deposits, from which it was then distributed across the city. The water was sufficient to support a nymphaeum, pools, and elaborate gardens. These irrigation systems are found to this day throughout the area.

Many of Petra’s incredible monuments were constructed during the reign of King Aretas IV, between 8 BC and AD 40 and may have grown to house 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday. The city was at its height in AD 106 when emperor Trajan annexed the kingdom of the Nabataean and turned it into a province, Arabia Petraea. Around this time, the Via Traiana Nova, an ancient Roman road, was built to link Bostra in the north to the seaport of Aila (Aqaba) in the south. Petra obtained the title of metropolis (chief city) of Arabia from Trajan and was called Hadriana Petra after Hadrian’s visit in AD 129/30. At the beginning of the 3rd century AD, Elagabalus honoured the city with the status of a Roman Colony.

Aureus of Trajan and the personification of Arabia. She holds an incense branch and a bundle of spices, and a camel, the symbol of the province, stands behind her to the left.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Roman city planning was adopted, and new structures were built, including the colonnaded street, the Roman Soldier Tomb and the Sextius Florentinus Tomb. Petra continued to flourish for more than 250 years until the middle of the 4th century AD when an earthquake destroyed many of its buildings. The Byzantines eventually took control of the region and governed Petra for some 300 years. Some of Petra’s population converted to Christianity, while others maintained their Pagan beliefs. The city became the seat of a bishopric, indicating its importance during the Byzantine period. Another major earthquake in AD 551 brought further devastation. Then trade routes shifted, and by the middle of the 7th century, what remained of Petra was largely deserted.

Petra went unentered by outsiders for nearly 600 years. Only local Bedouin tribes knew of its existence until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt became the first modern European to lay eyes on the ancient Nabataean city on 22 August 1812. The Scottish painter David Roberts visited Petra in 1839 and returned to England with sketches and stories of the encounter with local tribes. On 6 December 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site. In 1989, the city’s carved rose-red sandstone facades were featured in the blockbuster film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. In a popular poll in 2007, it was also named one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The Petra Archaeological Park became an autonomous legal entity over the management of this site in August 2007.

In the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade film, the Treasury stood in for the temple housing the Holy Grail.

Visitors today can see varying blends of Nabataean and Graeco-Roman architectural styles in the city’s tombs, many of which were looted by thieves and their treasures thus lost. Many people think that Petra begins and ends with Al Khaznah – The Treasury – but there is so much more to explore within this ancient city.


The Bab as-Siq, the gateway to the Siq. This path contains several rock-hewn monuments known as Djinn Blocks or God Blocks, the rock-cut funerary complex of the Obelisk Tomb and the Bab el-Siq Triclinium.
These free-standing cube-shaped monuments are known as Djinn Blocks. They may have served as tombs and memorials to the dead. They were built by the Nabataeans from the end of the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD.

The Obelisk Tomb and Bab as-Siq Triclinium. This burial complex is unique in Nabataean architecture. It consists of two very different rock-cut structures, both of which were built around AD 40 – 70. A triclinium is a dining room widely used in Antiquity with three benches (or sofas) on which the guests reclined while feasting. In Petra and across the ancient world, it was customary to hold an annual feast in such places to honour the dead.
An 88-metre-long Nabataean tunnel was built in the third quarter of the 1st century BC to stop floodwater from Wadi Musa flowing through the Siq.
The entrance to the Siq. It was once marked by a Nabataean arch. It survived until the end of the 19th century, and some remains can be seen on either side of the entrance.
The Siq, with its 200m-high wall, winds over 1.2 km through a cleft in the sandstone massif, which in some places is only 2m wide.
The paved road in the Siq. The Nabataeans fortified the former gravel road with a paved road and sidewalks in some places. The road was completed around 30 to 20 BC.
Some of the most important rituals of Petra’s spiritual life began as a procession through. At this broad point, there was a shrine designed like a temple gate and framed by pilasters with Nabataean horn capitals.
The Sabinos Alexandros Station. Many of the wall niches that are still visible today along the Siq’s walls were designed to hold figures or representations (called baetyls) of the main Nabataean god, Dushara. This cult site in the Siq is named after Sabinos Alexandros, one of the donors mentioned by name.
A larger-than-life camel sandstone relief was carved into the rock of the Siq. It depicts two camels with their guide going into town. Early 1st century BC.
On both sides of the path through the Siq, the remains of water conduits can be seen. They were built together with the protection system against flash floods and paved roads in the last decades of the 1st century BC.
The first glimpse of Petra’s Treasury (Al-Khazneh) upon exiting the Siq.
Another view of the first glimpse of Petra’s Treasury.
The Treasury (Al-Khazneh) is the most famous monument in Petra. It is a 39-metres-high mausoleum for a Nabataean king or queen, carved deep into the rock face during the first half of the 1st century AD.
The lower level of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh). Four steps lead up to the vestibule. Another seven steps to the elevated entrance of the main portal. Of the six columns of the 25 m wide facade, only the middle two are free-standing. The other four remain connected to the background.
The lower level of the Treasury has 5 m high reliefs depicting the Dioscuri, the twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces (or Pollux) from the Greek myth. The portals to the two lateral chambers are richly decorated with floral capitals.
The upper level of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh). A circular temple structure with columns (monopteros) stands in the middle of an open pediment.
View of the Treasury from Jabal al-Khubtha.
The road that leads to the centre of Petra and the Street of Facades.
The Street of Facades with large tomb facades carved out of rock.
The Street of Facades. On the left is Tomb BD 70. A heavily weathered freestanding tower of over 15 m in height, carved out of the rock on three sides.
The Theatre Necropolis with tomb facades has been carved out of the northeast face of the Jabal Al-Madhbah in several rows, one above the other.
The theatre of Petra was carved into the side of the mountain at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice.
Despite its distinctly Roman vibe, the theatre was actually built before the Romans arrived in Petra.
The cavea has about 45 seat rows divided into three horizontal galleries separated by a semicircular walkway and accessed through seven radial stairways. It could seat up to 8,000 spectators.
The scaenae or stage building of the theatre was built of ashlar and faced with marble.
Sculpted out of the western slope of the Jabal al-Khubtha rock massif are the “Royal Tombs,” a series of large mausoleums with impressive façades.
View of the Royal Tombs, from left to right: the Palace Tomb with three distinct stories; the Corinthian Tomb and the Silk Tomb.
The most distinctive of the Royal Tombs is the Urn Tomb, recognisable by the enormous urn on top of the pediment. It was built in about AD 70 for King Malichos II (AD 40–70) or Aretas IV (8 BC-AD 40).
The Palace Tomb was meant to resemble a palace. It has one of the largest facades in Petra, with part of the upper levels built instead of carved out of the rock.
The Corinthian Tomb.
The Royal Tombs.
View of the Street of Facades from the hiking trail to the High Place of Sacrifice.
Two six-metre-high obelisks at Zibb Atuf are entirely carved out of the rock and stand some 30m apart. The mountain has been cleared away, and a flat surface surrounds the obelisks.
The ceremonial platform on the High Place of Sacrifice. The High Place is located at the very top of a mountain. The ceremonial platform has remains of a triclinium (benches for festive meals), a circular altar where animals were sacrificed as well as a stone block as the repository of the god statue.
Panoramic view from the High Place of Sacrifice.
The Lion Monument. A water channel on top of the lion’s head indicates that it has been a fountain figure. In the Nabataean cult, the lion is related to the goddess Al-Uzza.
View of Wadi Farasa East with the Garden Hall at the centre.
The Garden Hall may have been part of the Nabataean water system, as to the right of the structure, there is an immense retaining wall of that creates a natural water reservoir.
View from inside the Garden Hall onto the upper part of Wadi Farasa East.
A large colourful triclinium in the Wadi Farasa. The hall with three benches for annual banquets in honour of the deceased is approx. 11 x 11 metres big. With its fluted columns and window-like sculpture niches, it is the most richly decorated triclinium in Petra.
The Tomb of the Soldier was carved out of red sandstone with niches containing male figures dressed in military style.
The Tomb of the Soldier was originally part of a unified complex with a colonnaded courtyard, built end of the 1st century AD. On the right is the Roman Soldier Tomb, and directly opposite, the large colourful triclinium.
Remains of the colonnaded courtyard of the Tomb of the Soldier.
The Renaissance Tomb, with its elegant facade, evokes elements of Italian Renaissance architecture. The tomb was carved around AD 129.
View of the Broken Pediment Tomb in the Wadi Farasa.
Tombs at the western slope of Zibb Atuf, Petra.
View of the Great Temple. The Great Temple is one of the major architectural components of metropolitan Petra.
View of the Lower Temenos (sacred courtyard) of the Great Temple. It is paved with hexagonal stones and enclosed on the east and west side by triple colonnades that contained more than 100 columns.
View of the Upper Temenos of the Great Temple from the Lower Temenos.
The Theatron, a semi-circular place of assembly, used to have 13 seating rows.
The Theatron had as many as 20 original courses of seats, and a seating capacity is a minimum of 565 and a maximum of 620 persons.

Staircases leading up to the proper temple.
Inside the Upper Temenos of the Great Temple.
Remains of plaster decoration with original colours inside the Great Temple.
The West Exedra of the Great Temple.
Column base inside the Upper Temenos of the Great Temple.
Corinthian capital inside the Great Temple.
A capital decorated with an Asian elephant head inside the Great Temple:
The Asian elephant-headed capitals are found in the triple colonnades of the Lower Temenos and are sculpted from limestone.
Fallen columns of the Upper Temenos of the Great Temple.
The ornamental garden and pool complex of the Great Temple was built during the reign of King Aretas IV.
Frontal view of the Great Temple, which rises about 25 m above the Colonnaded Street.
The Colonnaded Street that ran through Petra’s city centre was built by the Romans in about AD 106.
The remains of a nymphaeum at the eastern end of the Colonnaded Street. Elevated upon a stepped podium, this nymphaeum consisted of a freestanding wall decorated with porticoes and featured a large central exedra that contained the fountain proper, whose waters emptied into a shallow pool below.
The Colonnaded Street had a double row of columns and commercial shops on its south side.
The Colonnaded Street.
At the end of the Colonnaded Street, a monumental triple-arched gate marked the access to the sacred open precinct of the Qasr Al Bint.
Built in the 2nd century AD, the monumental triple-arched gate originally had huge wooden doors and side towers.
View of the Qasr al-Bint, one of the main temples in Petra located to the northwest of the Great Temple. The temple was probably the cult centre of the city’s patron deity Dushara (“Lord of the Shara Mountains”).
The Qasr al-Bint was used only by priests and dignitaries. It’s especially unusual because it’s the only one built from brick and not carved from red rock.
A milestone bust of Zeus-Dushara was discovered in the courtyard enclosure of the Qasr al-Bint. Dushara, the chief deity of Petra and the head of the Nabataean pantheon, was identified with the Greek god Zeus. This massive bust illustrates the meeting of Hellenistic conventions with those of Syrian and Arabian art.
The temenos (sacred precinct) of Qasr al-Bint, Petra’s main temple, with an altar in the centre where worshippers would make their offerings. The temple itself was accessed through a wide staircase.
The hiking trail to the Monastery. The trail to the Monastery takes about 40 minutes.
Along the way of the hiking trail to the Monastery are numerous tomb facades, places of worship are niches.
Rock façade tombs along the hiking trail to the Monastery with the Lion Triclinium on the right.
The Lion Triclinium was built around the middle of the 1st century AD. The name comes from the two now strongly weathered lions on both sides of the entrance door.
The Monastery (Ad Deir) is one of the most fascinating landmarks of Petra. The monumental rock building is 47 m wide and 48 m high.
While the Monastery might look like the Treasury, its carvings are less intricate. The upper storey consists of a broken (open) pediment, in the middle of which stands a Tholos (circular structure) with a conic roof.
The façade of the Monastery, like most buildings in Petra, was probably covered with a light stucco layer and was painted in several colours.
The Monastery is deeply carved into a cliff face in breathtaking scenery.
The Petra Church is a triple basilica with three apses to the east and three entrances to the west and accessed from a stone-paved atrium.
The Petra Church was built starting in AD 450 in several phases, using stones from Nabataean and Roman buildings that had been destroyed by the 363 AD earthquake.
The northern aisle of the Byzantine Church, with 84 medallions arranged in three columns and surrounded by a guilloche border.
Mosaic medallion depicting a giraffe in the Petra Church. Around AD 600, the basilica burned down and was hit later by several earthquakes, burying the floor mosaics, which saved them from iconoclast destruction.
Located just above the main church is the Blue Church, named after its impressive columns.
The Temple of the Winged Lions, located at the end of the Colonnaded Street, is a sacred complex thought to have been built by the Nabataeans during the 1st century AD.


Little Petra lies just 6 km north of the Nabataean capital’s centre. It was thought to have served as an agricultural centre, trading suburb and resupply post for camel caravans visiting Petra.
A rock-cut tomb with a classical façade was built between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD.
A Temple above cave rooms.
Ceiling painting inside the Biclinium depicting a web of intertwined grape and ivy vines and a Cupid.
Little Petra.


4 thoughts on “Petra

  1. Thank you for these absolutely wonderful photo’s Carole. This is a place I have wanted to see for a long time. So much history. Hope you are well, Stay safe during these trying times. Hope you had a Happy Easter.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many thanks for a revisit and a reminder of the three incredible days we spent there when my husband was living in Jordan. When we lived in Cairo I found three pages of the Roberts’ prints of Petra in a shop there. I know somewhere I have photographs of our visit but they are nowhere as spectacular as yours. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you SO much. Petra is one of the iconic locations that really has only a single image in the eye of the public, yet hides so very much more. I sent this link to my wife and she is already planning our trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is by far the best blog post on Petra I have seen (and trust me I had looked at hundreds before my trip there last August!). Thank you for taking me back to my 2 days there. It really is a wonderful place, and your photos and info do it justice for sure! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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