Obscura Day 2015: Ancient Petra - Atlas Obscura
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Petra, Jordan

Obscura Day 2015: Ancient Petra

This Obscura Day, discover one of the most astonishing wonders of the ancient world.

More than two thousand years old, the iconic rose red city of Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and a new world wonder since 2007. 

Petra was once the capital city of the Nabataean empire; the Nabataeans were a nomadic and industrious Arab people who settled in southern Jordan over 2500 years ago. The city was an important junction for the silk spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Today, intricate facades sculpted into the sandstone cliffs of the area can still be seen, along with other remarkably preserved structures and monuments of this fascinating civilization.

It is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city in the 4th century AD. The earthquake combined with changes in trade routes eventually led to the downfall of the city, which was ultimately abandoned. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appears to have been largely deserted, and was eventually lost to all except local Bedouin from the area.

In 1812 a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt set out to ‘rediscover’ Petra; he dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city, and began attracting visitors and attention from afar as it continues to do today.

Petra is also known as the rose-red city, a name it gets from the wonderful colour of the rock from which many of the city’s structures were carved. The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides. The city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches. In addition to the magnificent remains of the Nabataean city, human settlement and land use for over 10,000 years can be traced in Petra, where great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features merge.

Saturday, May 30; Petra and its Visitor Center will be open to visitors from 6am to 6pm.
The Visitor Center sells tickets, arranges for guides and provides information and help to visitors. A range of ticket types are available depending on the length of stay and number of visits to be made into Petra:

  • The fee for an accommodated visitor who stays at least one night in Jordan is 50JD (~$70 US) for one day, 55JD for two days, and 60JD for three days.
  • The fee for an accommodated visitor who visits Petra on the first day of their arrival from the border is 90 JD - 40JD = 50 JD. After paying the border ticket fees (90JD), this visitor may return the following day to get a refund of 40 JD.
  • Fees for the non-accommodated visitor are 90JD, or  ~$127USD.
  • Children under 12 years old are free of charge.

Visit http://visitpetra.jo/ for detailed information, including trail maps and recommended lodging.