Discover Jordan's Nature & Cultural Heritage


Jordan abounds in archaeological riches, from Neolithic ruins to the Desert Castles of Umayyad princes. Chief among these national treasures is the soul-stirring, rose-red city of Petra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In order to preserve the site, all tourists’ facilities have been located in the town of Wadi Musa, right next to the entrance of Petra.

Petra is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in south Jordan more than 2,000 years ago. From a remote staging post, they dominated the trade routes of ancient Arabia, levying tolls and sheltering caravans laden with Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides.

The Nabataean Kingdom endured for centuries, and Petra became widely admired for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels. Ultimately, however, the Roman Emperor Trajan annexed the Kingdom.

By the 16th century, Petra was completely lost to the West, and so it remained for almost 300 years. Then in 1812, a Swiss traveler named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt persuaded his guide to take him to the site of the rumored lost city. Secretly making notes and sketches, he wrote, “it seems very probable that the ruins at Wadi Musa are those of the ancient Petra”.

Much of Petra’s appeal comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. From the main entrance, you walk into the chasm, or siq, that ripped through the rock in a prehistoric quake.

Threading your way between the cliff walls as they soar to 80 meters, you pass inscriptions in ancient languages and rock-cut chambers carved into the whorls of sandstone.

Petra’s most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the siq. Used in the final sequence of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this towering façade is only the first of Petra’s secrets. Various walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of rock cut tombs and temple façades, funerary halls and rock relief -enough to keep you here for many days. You find a 3,000-seat theatre from the early 1st century AD, a Palace Tomb in the Roman style, a gigantic 1st century Deir (Monastery). A modest shrine commemorating the death of Aaron, brother of Moses, was built in the 13th century by the Mamluk Sultan, high atop Mount Aaron in the Sharah range.

These sights are at their best in early morning and late afternoon, when the sun confers warm tones to the multicolored stone, and you can view the majesty of Petra as Burckhardt saw it in 1812. When he made his journey, the road was long and arduous. Now a few hours’ drive from Amman brings you to this unforgettable destination.