All roads lead to Petra
nofficially called the eighth wonder of the ancient world (and also one of the seven of the modern world), Petra is among the best-known destinations on earth. So much so, in fact, that Google Street View offers virtual tours to allow you discover its monuments. But, as Lawrence of Arabia would say to Google: “You’ll never know what Petra is until you discover it in person.” So, don some comfortable shoes and a baseball cap, because we have five routes for you to explore its every corner.
This is the only one that every visitor to Petra follows, since it connects the town of Wadi Musa, the base camp complex, to the centre of the old city. It takes nearly an hour on foot, but you can also do it on donkey-back or in a buggy. It passes through the Siq gorge, a natural opening in the rocks. Here, the walls contain remnants of altars cut into the stone, where the Nabateans would worship their pagan gods. And the final stretch, the narrowest of all, opens up to reveal an unforgettable sight: al-Khazneh façade, also known as ‘the Treasury’, immortalised by Indiana Jones.
Petra never sleeps, at least not until very late at night, three times a week. At sunset, 1,800 candles alight the 1,200m of the Siq, creating a magical pathway. This opens onto the façade of the Treasury, also illuminated by hundreds of twinkling candles, creating an enchanting, almost mystical, atmosphere. An extra touch of folklore is added by the Bedouin, who break the solemn silence with their music. Tours start at 8:30pm, and it is a good idea to take some warm clothes, to avoid the temperature drop catching you unawares.
This path starts behind Petra’s Theatre and ends at al-Khubtha mountain. Sunset is the best time to follow it, when the sunlight dims, and bathes all of Petra in rich colour. The route passes by tombs the Nabateans dug into the rocks and adorned with elaborate engravings. These sumptuous resting places for the dead emulated the façades of temples or their homes. The Palace tomb, the largest of all, is special because its upper section was built in stone rather than being excavated into the rock, as is the case with the other constructions at Petra. From here, you can reach the highest part of al-Khubtha mountain, with sensational views of al-Khazneh.
Spanning the whole of Petra, this route takes you to the Monastery (ad-Deir) and affords views over the entire city. It takes about four hours and you have to be physically fit, since it involves climbing a stairway with 800 steps. The reward for so much effort (particularly on hot days) is an imposing façade measuring 50m high and 45m wide, an icon of the Nabatean archaeological style. Despite its name, the Monastery was built as a funerary monument. The stairway also provides access to three viewpoints where photography lovers will want to set up home, since they overlook the lunar landscape of Wadi Araba valley.
Part of the nympheum (a sanctuary dedicated to nymphs), this route winds through Petra for about four hours, until reaching the peak of Umm al-Biyara mountain, 1,178m high. It is home to the remains of Sela, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Edom, with ruins of cisterns, unexcavated tombs and other vestiges of the ancient city. The walk is hard and you need to be fit, but it is worth the effort. No going on your own though – you have to do this route with a guide.