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Petra is often referred to as a place that everybody must visit at least once in their lifetime. Here, Jordan specialist, Megan Shaw outlines its history and what it has to offer.

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan
The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

Interesting facts

  • Well over 2,000 years old, Petra grew rich through its control of vital trade routes passing through the area.
  • Following a devastating earthquake in the 4th century AD and the founding of new trade routes, the city went into decline before eventually being abandoned.
  • Rediscovered by a Western explorer in 1812, 2012 is the 200th anniversary of Petra's rediscovery.
  • The Treasury was featured in the film 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'.

Detail from the Treasury, PetraIn 1809 a young Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt set off on a voyage through the Levant in search of the source of the River Niger in Africa. During his adventure Burckhardt immersed himself in the surrounding Islamic culture and, whilst cloaked under a Muslim guise, stumbled across one of the world's most fascinating sights and best kept secrets, the rose-red city of Petra.

Nothing can quite prepare a visitor for their first glimpse of Petra, a vast city intricately carved into a rock face. It is understandably Jordan's most celebrated attraction. Located toward the south of the country, the city is surrounded by dramatic mountainous terrain which provides a sensational backdrop for this ancient treasure.

Petra is often referred to as a place that everybody must visit at least once in their lifetime. The 200 year anniversary of Petra's rediscovery falls on August 22nd 2012 offering a perfect opportunity to follow in Burckhardt's footsteps.

Siq trail leading to the Treasury, Petra, JordanOriginal construction of the site dates back well over 2,000 years, though Petra enjoyed its golden age of prosperity under the Nabateans from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. New trade routes established during the later Roman and Byzantine periods led to the city's decline and near abandonment by the 8th century. Subsequently, Petra lay largely undiscovered by the outside world until the early 19th century. Even today, the ruins are so well preserved that it is easy to imagine the site as the thriving city it once was.

Petra's entrance is marked by a narrow winding gorge, known as the Siq, which stretches for roughly a kilometer through the cliffs. The Siq opens suddenly to reveal an iconic sight of the Middle East, the towering, carved façade of the Treasury.

This outstanding architectural feat was constructed as a tomb for a revered Nabataean king, and is the first of many captivating sites you can explore. Days can be filled visiting tombs, the theater, temples, obelisks and the colonnaded streets.

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