Sacred places – THE LOST CITY OF PETRA

Since the earliest times, people have ascribed sacred significance to certain places. Such places—whether human made or naturally occurring—typically inspire awe, and often invoke devotion and respect. Not surprisingly many of these places are revered and well known. 

Situated in present-day Jordan and hidden amidst nearly impenetrable mountains to the east of the valley connecting the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea, stands the ancient city of Petra. One of the world’s most visually stunning archaeological sites, Petra (meaning ‘the rock’ in Greek) is an abandoned necropolis of temples and tombs cut into towering cliffs of red, pink and orange sandstone. The magnificent rose-red city was first established sometime in the 6th century B.C. by an ancient nomadic tribe called the Nabataeans. The splendid ruins of Petra, which were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, have for some years been faced with a worrying threat; salt blown in from the Dead Sea is encrusting the relatively delicate sandstone and slowly weakening the buildings.


The city of Petra is situated at the beginning of Wadi Musa, meaning the Valley of Moses, and this site had long been venerated as one of the traditional sites where Moses struck the ground and the water gushed forth. The region was also revered by the Nabataeans as the sacred precinct of their god Dushara.According to certain traditions it was in the region of Petra that Miriam, the sister of Moses, died and was buried. Her mountaintop shrine was still shown to pilgrims at the time of St. Jerome in the 4th century AD but its location has not been identified since. Some scholars have suggested that the temple of Al Deir may be the site of her grave but this was certainly not the original or the primary use of the temple.


Studying the Middle East with the funding of an English explorers society, a young Swiss adventurer, Johann Burckhardt, was slowly making his way from Damascus to Cairo by a little known and dangerous land route. Fluent in Arabic and posing as a Muslim traveler, he heard tales from desert Bedouins of the extraordinary ruins of an ancient city hidden in the remote Sharra Mountains. No European had seen the fabled city, or lived to tell about it, and Burckhardt recognized that he would have to resort to deceit to gain entrance. A plan developed in his mind. He would hire local Bedouins as guides, telling them that he intended to sacrifice a goat at the shrine of Aaron (the brother of Moses), whose tomb he believed was in the vicinity of the ruined city. At the village of Elji (now called Wadi Musa), Burckhardt persuaded two Bedouin to escort him along the Valley of Moses and toward the shrine of Aaron. There is only one reasonably safe path leading to the shrine from Wadi Musa and, luckily for Burckhardt, it passed directly through the ruins of Petra. Winding his way along an extremely narrow gorge the explorer came unexpectedly upon the great rock temple of Khasneh. More than 30 meters high and carved entirely out of the face of the sheer cliff, the Khasneh has become the symbol of Petra and was immortalized in the Hollywood movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Bedouin leading Burckhardt to the tomb of Aaron became increasingly suspicious of his intentions with the result that he neither reached the tomb nor was able to view the major shrine of the Nabataeans, known as Al Deir (he did, however, perform his mock sacrifice at the foot of Jebel Haroun).

Other important sacred places in Petra include Al-Madbah, The High Place of Sacrifice, on the summit of Jabal Madbah; a cult site devoted to the spirit of water on the mountain of Umm al-Biyara; the mountain of el-Barra where stands Aaron’s tomb; and, at the entrance of Petra, three massive Jinn (spirit) stones sacred to the local tribes. Fifty miles north of Petra, on the peak of Jebel Tannur, stands the important Nabataean shrine of Khirbet Tannur.


Religion in Petra

The prosperity of Petra enabled the city to honor its gods and goddesses through monumental architecture. The city evolved around its largest temple, the Qasr al-Bint, dedicated to the supreme god Dushara. Nearby stood the Temple of the Winged Lions, most likely honoring the city’s primary goddess, al-‘Uzza. Worshippers gathered to make offerings to the deities at temples and also at high places, sacred open-air sites located on mountain summits.

At religious sites throughout the city, the Nabataeans carved or placed a standing stone called a baetyl, literally “house of god.” As the term suggests, a baetyl physically marked a deity’s presence or residence.

The chief male divinity of Petra was Dushara, whose name probably refers to the Shara, a mountainous area southeast of Petra. We know little about Dushara’s character, but as his mountain residence suggests, he had the celestial powers of an ancient Near Eastern storm god, with control over rainfall and seasonal cycles of vegetation.  Dushara was considered the protector of the royal house. Nabataean royal inscriptions call him “the god of our lord,” an expression that refers to the reigning king. Through trade, his cult spread far beyond the borders of Nabataea to Phoenicia, Asia Minor, and even Rome. The geographic extent of his popularity underscores his prominence as a Nabataean deity.

Indiana Jones Location

Several scenes from the Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed in Petra. The movie’s fictional Canyon of the Crescent Moon was modeled on the eastern entrance to Petra, a 250-foot-high (76-meter-high) sandstone slot canyon known as the Siq that leads directly to Al Khazneh (the Treasury)—perhaps the most stunning of Petra’s dozens of breathtaking features.

In the film’s climactic final scenes, actors Harrison Ford and Sean Connery burst forth from the Siq and walk deep into the labyrinths of the Treasury in their quest to find the Holy Grail. But, as usual, archaeological fact bowed to Hollywood fiction when Indy came to Petra.

A giant urn carved above the entrance to the Treasury bears the marks of hundreds of gunshots. Bedouin tribesmen living in and among the ancient ruins say the damage was caused when local men would open fire with rifles, seeking the loot thought to be inside the urn (actually made of solid stone).

IMG_1595There are dozens of tombs and other carved or constructed structures and sites within Petra.


To explore the city, you will take the Siq, a narrow gorge more than a kilometer long, bounded on either side by steep cliffs that rise over 80 meters. The Siq offers amazing colors which succeed on its rock formations. then you will admire the Al-Khazneh (Treasury) the Greco-Roman decor. Beyond the treasure you will find the city of the Nabataeans in Petra who settled in the 5th century B.C. and discomfited during six centuries in rocks more than 700 monuments. This zone extends for several kilometers. You will see the Roman remains, theaters, temples and palaces but most imposing tombs, dug and carved mountain rock.


  1. THE SIQ

The slightly downhill route takes between 15 and 20 minutes. We see the 1st graves, like the Jinn and the tomb of the Obelisks. The excitement is so great that everyone seems to attract like magnets by the mysterious flaw. One enters this sandstone show sometimes white, pink or red. The sun made a few timid appearances between cliffs 100 m. Wasn’t the normal entrance to Petra, but was the ceremonial passage into the religious part of the town. It is lined with votive niches all the way; some of them have worn away. The majestic walls of this ravine tower above one all the way down: sometimes looming above one at the narrow parts, sometimes further away; sometimes dark and intimidating, sometimes streaked with the famous Petra colours. Always the Siq is majestic. If by good luck or good management you succeed in passing through it when nobody else is around the atmosphere is wonderful. If a group or a party of students is there, you hear their voices echoing from a hundred meters or more. There are still a couple of places where the original paving stones have been uncovered and left in place. You can see the marks left by the wheels of the heavy carts used by the original inhabitants.

At one point where the ravine widens, a shrine has been placed. A little lower down, on the left hand side of the Siq you can see the carving of a large camel and part of a couple of camel drivers. The camel is not easily seen, but more so since the Siq restoration revealed the feet of the camel drivers which had been buried in the gravel. Nabatean drawing or carvings of camels always indicated where water can be found : the camel’s head is looking towards an ancient waterfall.

2. The Khazneh, or Treasury
The most famous monument in Jordan

 And the temple that we have seen hundreds of times in picture then really stands before you. The Khazneh, called the Treasury, is probably one of the best known monuments in the Middle East, and most certainly the most famous in Jordan! It is in a most remarkable state of preservation, being cut deep into the rock face and tucked away in a valley where wind and rain, not to mention flying sand, has little chance of penetrating. Try to arrange to see it in the morning, between about 9 and 11am, when the sun is shining on it. . The Khazneh appears in the middle of the fault. Known as the great temple since its discovery in 1921 by the archaeologist Bachman, the large building that borders the south of the aisle colonnades is, indeed, impressive by its size and its numerous columns. On one of the walls of the temple, you can see a fragment of a mosaic 2000 years old, which still retains all its colors. However, because of the unusual discovery of a small amphitheater inside the building, many people who design the site as the “senate” Nabataean and not as a temple. Its function is however not yet well defined.


3. The City

After the Treasury is the entrance of the ancient city and its great avenue lined with fallen carved into the rock. Their facades are adorned with fake pediments, carved with care, and soar over 10 meters high. Archaeologists have no other choice to explore these vaults that climb. Unfortunately, most of it was looted long ago, and only a few bones were analyzed. You get by yourself a few tombs. You will realize the work of erosion on these impressive constructions troglodytes. A significant ride that requires an explorer view of the time.

4. El Deir – The Monastery

You will follow the old paved road of the lower city, where markets, temples and Roman baths were to climb the stairs to the Deir. In fact, the arrival to the monastery is via a staircase of 800 steps carved into the rock.

We offer access it on donkeys. At the top, the view of the valley is large and allows you to isolate some groups of tourists

. Be sure to climb these steps in the morning: they are in shade then, which makes a tremendous difference, and by all means take advantage of the offers of refreshment on the way!

It is possible to turn off these steps, perhaps two thirds of the way up, where a narrow track leads off to the right, while the main path turns sharply left. This narrow track brings you onto a wide ledge looking out over the valley below. Here you find Petra’s dripping well in the Wadi Qattar.

This place is cool even in the height of summer. If you have brought a picnic with you, and if you have avoided the tempting detours along the way here, this is a perfect place and time to have your lunch with cold water running nearby! On the way back perhaps, so that you don’t have to push yourselves to finish the climb after eating. If you have have something in which to catch it, the water that drips down is pure and you can drink it with no fears of unfortunate effects – don’t try this with the water on the ground though.

5. The Royal Tumbs

The first and the most visited and the so-called Tomb of the Urn, dated 70 BC, attributed some archaeologists to Malchus II or Aretas IV. The main courtyard, lined with columns will then lead you to the main burial chamber, huge, converted later into church. The second tomb is modest compared to the previous. It is located at the back of the tomb of the urn. It is called the tomb of silk, from the ocher color of its facade. Third, Corinthian tomb, is damaged by time, but it has all the architectural features of Petra. As for the last, the grave palace, it looks just like the Roman palace of Nero.


Visit Petra night, by the light of around 2,000 candles to discover the site from a different angle. Musicians are present to enhance the intensity of the moment, for a concert of Bedouin music. Tours start at 20:30 and end at 22:00.

Most budget hotels are located in Wadi Musa, about three kilometers from the site.  Our favorite  is TETRA TREE  Hotel, very correct in his economic category and icredibles view from Tetra Tree Rooftop over PETRA .

petra night

One Comment Add yours

  1. Roselinde says:

    So cool! Great photos too 🙂


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