Petra, an ancient city carved from stone, is without a doubt Jordan’s number one tourist attraction. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World–and the setting for parts of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
But this world-famous archaeological site doesn’t need a movie connection to make it worth a visit. It’s been designated a World Heritage Site and chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 28 places to visit before you die. Lots of accolades for this ancient city of tombs, temples, and a theater carved from solid rock.
Petra inspires awe beginning at the Siq, the passageway that leads to the city. The Siq is a three-quarters mile-long road, sometimes narrow, with towering rose-colored rocks on either side.
Along the way, I was approached by a lad hustling “silver” bracelets. I say “hustling” because the price kept changing, going higher when he thought I was interested, and the bangles were of dubious quality (according to our tour guide, who’d warned us in advance).
“Why aren’t you in school?” I asked him at one point. He seemed confused by my question. I finally waved him away.
These adults performing for money in the Siq were more low-key.
The main draw of Petra is a huge structure called the Treasury. Despite its name, this monument has nothing to do with money. Rather, many believe it was carved out of the mountainside by the Nabataeans two thousand years ago to bury their dead.
So why is it called the Treasury? Bedouins, the nomadic Jordanian people who lived in caves nearby, once believed the urn on top of the front entrance held the treasure of a pharaoh.
I’m with the Bedouins. The Treasury is so magnificent, I, too, could believe it held loot. Keep in mind, this thing was chiseled from stone. Two thousand years ago.
The Petra “entrepreneurs” were aggressive on the day my tour group visited. We were constantly asked if we wanted a ride to travel further into the city. I’d already had my camel experience for the trip (https://patsypridgen.com/2022/06/30/jordan-jerash-and-wadi-rum/), and I wasn’t interesting in traveling by donkey, so I declined (over and over).
However, I’ve never been one to turn down a visit to a gift shop. My husband likes to take my picture on the sly to make fun of my love of souvenir shopping. That’s me on the left with another shopaholic from our tour group.
Jordanian shop owners expect customers to haggle over prices, not one of my better skills. Still, I really wanted a couple of shawls from this enterprise set up across from the Treasury.
I decided to try a two for the “retail” price of one deal. “No way, no way,” the shopkeeper exclaimed. “These are hand-made. Women sew at home.” We haggled back and forth, and he dropped the price slightly.
I looked at the machine-stitched embroidery that looked more like factory work to me. Then I thought about the last two years of no income for the Petra merchants due to Covid, a fact the shopkeeper had already brought up. I could afford to overlook his probable lack of truth in advertising, I thought.
I left with two pretty shawls for 40 dinars, about $26 each. A fair deal, I suppose. Here’s the one I kept for myself.
So much of Petra is still unrestored. There are bits and pieces of pottery and interesting rocks lying on the ground everywhere, there for the taking, if a tourist is so inclined.
I preferred to buy my artifact. I didn’t barter at all with the sad-looking child about the size of my five-year-old grandson. He was sitting on a blanket, holding out rocks for sale to passing tourists. I gave him an American dollar, and he handed me an interesting specimen with variegated patterns.
I keep this rock on my windowsill over my kitchen sink. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to live in America, a country where young children are in school rather than helping their families eke out a living from tourists.
Petra is like Jordan, magnificently beautiful but disturbing at times. But yes, this fascinating archaeological site, like the country itself, is definitely worth visiting.