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Petra – Red Rose City

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Undoubtedly the most famous attraction in Jordan is the Nabatean city of Petra, nestled away in the mountains south of the Dead Sea. Petra, which means “stone” in Greek, is perhaps the most spectacular ancient city remaining in the modern world, and certainly a must-see for visitors to Jordan and the Middle East The city was the capital of the Nabateans -Arabs who dominated the lands of Jordan during pre-Roman times- and they carved this wonderland of temples, tombs and elaborate buildings out of solid rock. The Victorian traveler and poet Dean Burgon gave Petra a description which holds to this day -”Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime, a rose-red city half as old as time.” Yet words can hardly do justice to the magnificence that is Petra. In order to best savor the atmosphere of this ancient wonder, visit in the quiet of the early morning or late afternoon when the sandstone rock glows red with quiet grandeur.

For seven centuries, Petra fell into the mists of legend, its existence a guarded secret known only to the local Bedouins and Arab tradesmen. Finally, in 1812, a young Swiss explorer and convert to Islam named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard locals speaking of a “lost city” hidden in the mountains of Wadi Mousa. In order to find the site without arousing local suspicions, Burckhardt disguised himself as a pilgrim seeking to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Aaron, a mission which would provide him a glimpse of the legendary city. He managed to bluff his way through successfully, and the secret of Petra was revealed to the modern Western world.

Much of Petra’s fascination comes from its setting on the edge of Wadi Araba. The rugged sandstone hills form a deep canyon easily protected from all directions. The easiest access to Petra is through the Siq, a winding cleft in the rock that varies from between five to 200 meters wide. Petra’s excellent state of preservation can be attributed to the fact that almost all of its hundreds of “buildings” have been hewn out of solid rock: there are only a few free-standing buildings in the city. Until 1984, many of these caves were home to the local Bedouins. Out of concern for the monuments, however, the government outlawed this and relocated the Bedouins to housing near the adjacent town of Wadi Mousa.

Petra is located just outside the town of Wadi Mousa in southern Jordan. It is 260 kilometers from Amman via the Desert Highway and 280 kilometers via the King’s Highway. There are numerous and varied accommodations available in Wadi Mousa, as well as a few hotels on the panoramic drive between Wadi Mousa and the nearby (15 kilometers) village of Taybet. Camping is now illegal inside Petra.
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