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Petra: a city lost and found

Friday, 06 January 2017
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For thousands of years, Petra, the Rose City, has stood as a symbol of Jordan; its warm-coloured stone a feast for the eyes and its rich history a treat for the intellect. Famous for its architecture, carved out of the rock itself, and for a water conduit system to rival any modern engineering ingenuity, Petra continues to attract a host of visitors each year to marvel at its wonders. It is JordanÔÇÖs biggest tourist attraction and the countryÔÇÖs greatest treasure.

It seems incredible, but this area of outstanding natural and man-made wonders was completely unknown to the western world for most of its history. It was only in 1812 that Petra was ÔÇ£foundÔÇØ and revealed to an astounded Western public, by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Now Petra waits to be ÔÇ£foundÔÇØ anew by the thousands of first-time visitors who flock to discover its mysteries every year.

Petra a city lost. and found

A UNESCO World Heritage site, inhabited since prehistoric times, the settlement to be seen today dates back two thousand years, to when it was established by the Nabataeans, an ancient Arab people who made it their capital. Petra became an important trading hub at the junction of the silk and spice routes, where China and India met Egypt, Greece and Rome. The Nabataeans were gifted engineers, and evolved an ingenious water-management system which ensured that the city thrived even in an arid landscape.

You may read your guidebooks and look up pictures on the Web, but nothing prepares the first-time visitor for the awe-inspiring first glimpse of the city in real life. Tourists enter the site through a kilometre-long narrow gorge known as the Siq, with dizzying cliffs on each side, before emerging for a first look at ÔÇ£Al KhaznehÔÇØ (ÔÇ£The TreasuryÔÇØ), the breath-taking fa├ºade carved as the tomb of a king. This is only the beginning. Petra has hundreds of tombs, a Roman-style amphitheatre which was built to seat 3,000 people, temples, altars, streets and monuments.

To really make the most of your visit to the site, a visitor would need three to four days. However, if you donÔÇÖt have that sort of time, the Petra Archaeological Museum and the Petra Nabataean museum offer an excellent guide through the siteÔÇÖs highlights.

Here are some practical notes for travellers: Cars are not allowed to enter the site, so people either walk the kilometre along the ÔÇ£SiqÔÇØ or hire a horse/horse-drawn carriage to take them through. Once in Petra, many people hire donkeys or camels (with handlers) to help them explore the city. Keen photographers advise that the best time to take photos is either early morning or late afternoon, when the slanting sunlight shows off the treasures to their best advantage. And as with all tourist spots in hot countries, itÔÇÖs best to arrive armed with plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat.

Supplied with the necessities, and prepared in advance, awestruck visitors to Petra will be free to marvel at the natural beauty of the red mountains, and the man-made splendour of the civilisation carved into them.

So why wait? Grab your plane tickets, and make Petra your next holiday stop.

Last modified on Friday, 06 January 2017 05:50