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When I thought of Petra, it was always the famous picture of Al Khazneh, the treasury, that came to mind. I wasn’t aware, that the famous building is actually only a small part of what is a gigantic ancient city, which at one point had up to 40’000 inhabitants. Petra is enclosed by rock and can only be reached through a steep mountain pass on one side, and the Siq – a narrow canyon of beautifully shaped pink, white, orange and red sandstone – on the other end. The fact that we entered Petra around 10am, left around 5pm and spent the whole seven hours in between walking, without even seeing it all, proves, just how big this site actually is.

Although about 1000 buildings have been uncovered in an area covering 20 square kilometers, experts believe, that only about 20% of Petra has been found so far. The rest is still hidden somewhere beneath sand and stone.

Camel in the Siq

Two camels in the Siq.

Inside the Siq

Colourful rock formations inside the Siq.

As I learned from our guide, Petra used to be the center of the caravan trade in the region and the capital of the Nabataeans. One can see why: it is a natural fortress, only reachable through the narrow and winding Siq and easily defendable. It was located at the center of trade routes connecting such cities and regions as Damascus to the north and Aqaba on the Red Sea, as well as Gaza and the Persian Gulf. The dry valley was and is prone to flash floods, but the Nabataeans invented a clever water distribution system, that protected the city from the floods through dams and channels and stored the water in cisterns for the long droughts ahead.

While walking through the Siq, I also learned that after around 100AD, the Romans controlled Petra for a few hundred years, and left behind their cobblestone roads, part of which can still be seen today. The western world was then only (re)introduced to Petra in 1812, when the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as a Muslim merchant, heard about the ruins from some locals and then used the excuse that he wanted to sacrifice a goat at Haroun’s (Aaron’s) Tomb, to convince his guide to enter the region. He then rediscovered Petra and wrote about it in a letter to his employers back in England.

The walk from the entrance down through the Siq took us about an hour, counting in the numerous times we stopped to take pictures. If you want to get there faster, the Bedouins offer horse carriages, which race through the canyon in much less time, and make the people on foot jump out of the way quickly, in order not to get run over.

Horse carriage in the Siq

One of the speeding carriages and parts of the old Roman cobblestone street towards the left.

The end of the Siq with a view of the Treasury

The end of the Siq with a view of the Treasury.

After the long walk through the winding gorge, the Siq suddenly ends and a magnificent building is hewed out of the rock: Al Khazneh, the famous Treasury. Although there are a lot of visitors in Petra, the huge distances and long walks make the people spread out and sometimes, one is basically alone in the canyon or at a tomb. There was a big congregation of people by the Treasury, which obviously is the most popular spot and is fairly crowded with tour groups as well as the Bedouins and their camels. The Treasury is therefore best photographed early in the morning, late in the afternoon, when most visitors have returned to their busses or hotels – or at night.

Camel in front of the Treasury

A camel and the Treasury.

Walking to the city center

Walking towards the old city center.

From the Treasury – which by the way never held any treasure, it’s thought to be a tomb or a crypt – it’s another hour walk through a more open landscape to the Great Temple and the Colonnaded Street, which are part of the old city center. Tombs are carved into the sandstone everywhere, ranging from small holes in the rock, to gigantic structures even bigger than the Treasury.

Another 30-45 minute hike straight up the hill leads to Ad Deir, the Monastery, which I found to be grossly underrated. The Monastery looks very similar to the famous Treasury, but since it’s a bit out of the way, is a lot less crowded, more serene and offers a beautiful view over the surrounding rugged landscape. There are Bedouins selling coffee and tea and it’s a beautiful place to hang out for a bit and catch your breath. It’s definitely worth the extra effort to walk up there. And yes, if you’re that lazy, you can hire a donkey.

Enjoy the rest of the photos from beautiful Petra:

Walk to the Monastery

Returning from the hike up to the Monastery.

The Monastery

Ad Deir, the Monastery.

Brendan and I at the Treasury

Brendan and I in front of the Treasury.

Walk through the Siq

Inside the canyon.

Camel

The camel “November” in front of the Treasury. It’s a male, as females are only used for breeding and their milk.

The Treasury late in the afternoon

The Treasury late in the afternoon, after most visitors have already left.

About The Author

Tiffany is a Swiss travel writer, digital nomad, and photographer, who, after a fateful journey through Africa, has decided to get her passport renewed, sell all her junk, and live out of a suitcase in various corners of the world, as well as share the experiences with other travel enthusiasts. This blog is intended to inspire you to pack your bags, leave everything behind for a while, and make you go discover the world. Check her out on .

13 Responses

  1. Charlie

    Looks great, you’ve captured the place really well in the photos – I’d never even thought about going until now! Love the shot of the camel too 🙂

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Thanks 🙂 Petra should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list, it’s an incredible place. You won’t quite get the scale of it until you’re standing in the middle of the ancient city.

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    Awesome post! I’ll be there in March and we also just have 1 day at Petra (we will be heading there early from Wadi Rum). I’ve been told over and over that 1 day is not enough, but we will have to make due!

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      One day is enough if you go in early and stay the whole day. There’s is lots to see but you’ll be able to cover the most important things I think. Also try to do the Petra by night tour, it’s incredible!

      Reply
  3. ash

    amazing pics 🙂 something we see in national geographic

    Any special tips for desert photography?? I use a nikon d5100 with 18-300 lens.

    regards/ Ash

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Hey thanks so much for your comment Ash 🙂 As always, it doesn’t matter much what equipment you use, but I do recommend a tripod and shooting at the right time of day during the golden hour (right before sunset and after sunrise). During these times of day, the light gives the desert this absolutely amazing glow. I wrote an article here about the topic, in which I coincidentally used photos from the Gobi Desert in China: http://www.worldmeetsgirl.com/time-day-matters-harsh-soft-light-affect-photography/
      As for lenses, deserts offer a huge variety and you can do anything from very zoomed in shots showing ripples in the sand or the curve of a sand dune to something really wide showing the vastness of it all. Maybe try some star photography too, as the night sky is usually absolutely stunning in deserts away from light pollution.

      Reply
      • Ash

        Thank you for your expert comments… if i ever shoot up something worth sending… I shall send it across ha ha … thank you 🙂

    • Tiffany

      I went about a year ago and I felt very safe and welcomed. All in all a great experience and I can really recommend it!

      Reply

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