Travel Guide to Petra

Petra, carved entirely out of the sandstone canyons and hills of Wadi Araba, was the capital of the Nabataeans who ruled the region surrounding the ancient city in the 6th century BC.

Travel Guide to Petra

History facts

Where: Petra, Wadi Araba, Jordan
When: Dating from 6th century BC, the most impressive ruins date from 1st century AD
History: Ancient Arab trading post conquered by the Romans
Go There For: Impressive huge sandstone buildings and dramatic mountain views

What’s the history there?

Petra, which means ‘rock’, was the capital of the Nabataeans who ruled the region surrounding the ancient city in the 6th century BC. They constructed the city, carved entirely out of the sandstone canyons and hills of Wadi Araba, at the cross-roads of the ancient trade routes between the Far East and Europe. This location meant that they were able to demand tough taxes from any merchants who wanted to pass through their territory.

The Nabataeans resisted all attempts to conquer their capital for almost 500 years. In 31 BC, Emperor Augustus sought to bring about the re-unification of the Roman Empire but it wasn’t until 106 AD that the Romans finally conquered Petra. The city fell into decline and for hundreds of years this incredible feat of architectural engineering was entirely unknown to the Western World.

In 1812 a Swiss explorer called J.L. Burckhardt heard about Petra from the local Bedouin tribes. Nowadays it is considered one of the great wonders of the world and is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world.

What’s there to see and do?

The best time to arrive at Petra is early in the morning or late afternoon, when it’s almost deserted. The approach to the city is along the siq, a 1 mile winding fissure through the cliffs, which leads directly to the breathtaking heart of the city.

The famous Treasury, Al Khazneh, is carved out of sandstone and is an impressive 130 feet high and 100 feet wide. It was probably built in the 1st century AD, as the architecture bears a strong resemblance to Roman styles from that period. You can also visit the impressive royal tomb that was built to resemble a temple, as well as miraculously preserved Roman temples, theatres, tombs, baths, houses and banqueting halls.

The museum at Petra houses artifacts bearing testament to the last 9,000 years of human history, culture, religion, art and architecture in the region.

Take any one of a number of dramatic walks and hikes in the valleys and mountains trails around Petra. Some of the more remote archaeological sites in the area can only be reaches on foot, or alternatively you can hire a horse to explore the landscape.

More Information

Brown University Petra Great Temple Excavation
Take a tour of the Petra, learn more abut the incredible history of the ancient city and find more Petra related resources online.


The Lost Civilization of Petra, Udi Levy, Christian von Arnim (Translator), HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan; Floris Boks 1999

By Jess Halliday

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