Being one of the most famous ancient sites on the globe, Petra features on every traveler’s bucket list. Going to Jordan to see it in person, however, may not be possible for you right now, so what’s the next best thing?
Learning a few interesting facts about Petra, of course. Why?
Because it will spark your wanderlust so strongly that sooner or later, you’ll make that trip. And let me tell you something, that trip will be a trip of a lifetime.
Let’s stay on topic; we’re here to talk about curious Petra facts, not Jordan travel (we do that here). And boy on boy, are they plenty. From the Treasury that is not a treasury to the cave house visited by Queen Elizabeth II, it’s time to learn more about the incredible Rose City of the Nabateans!
A Wonder of the World
Established as early as 312 BC, the ancient city of Petra is half man-made and half-carved into the pink rocks of Jordan. It’s an incredible sight you can’t find anywhere else on the globe, so it’s not surprising that the Rose City was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 described as ‘one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage’, when it comes to travel and adventure, Petra is the real deal.
The Treasury is no treasury at all
The Treasury (or Al-Khazneh) is the most famous rock structure of Petra. It’s literally the face of the ancient city. It’s so popular that most people think the Treasury is Petra itself.
Al-Khazneh, however, is not Petra. In fact, the famous Treasury is not even a treasury. One of Petra’s most elaborate and well-preserved structures is believed to be a mausoleum of the Nabatean King Aretas IV.
Why was it called The Treasury then?
The name of Al-Khazneh derives from the urn on the top of the temple. For many years, the Bedouins believed the solid-sandstone jar contained vast amounts of gold and gems. If you look really carefully, you can see bullet holes made by promiscuous Bedouins who shot at the urn trying to release the treasure.
and the Monastery is no monastery
We continue our interesting facts about Petra with the second most famous structure – the Monastery. Also known as Ad Deir, the monastery is located in the far end of the ancient city and is not that easy to reach.
All those who finish the long trek, however, are rewarded with a glorious sight of the monumental building handsewn out of pink rock.
Built in the mid-first century AD, the purpose of Ad Deir is not yet determined. What’s pretty sure, however, is that the Monastery is not a monastery at all. The current name was given to the structure by the native Bedouins due to the crosses inscribed on the interior back wall during its Christian use in Byzantine times.
See Also: The Ultimate Petra Photo Guide
There are more tombs in Petra than there are in Luxor
Valley of the Kings in Luxor is the most famous ancient burial site. There are 64 ancient Egyptian tombs discovered there, and speculations for dozens more still hiding underground. This may sound impressive, but it’s nothing compared to Petra.
While the ancient city was not a necropolis valley, but a fully functional town with more than 30,000 inhabitants, the Nabateans seemed to hold their dead in high esteem because around 1,000 tombs were found there. All of them, well-made and carefully protected.
Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to a cave home in Petra
It’s time for Queen Elizabeth to join our facts about Petra.
Wait, what? What the English Queen has to do with an ancient Nabatean city in Jordan?
In 1984 when the middle east was still a mystery to most westerners, the Queen made a visit to Jordan. Petra, of course, was the highlight of her trip. There she had a curious meeting with Marguerite van Geldermalsen and her husband Mohammad Abdullah Othman, a Bedouin from Petra.
Marguerite, called ‘Fatima’ by the Bedouins, was born in Nelson, New Zealand, but when she traveled to Petra, she fell in love with Mohammad and moved to live in his Nabataean cave.
The whole story intrigued Queen Elizabeth quite a lot, so she visited the cave and met the peculiar couple and their three children.
(Marguerite’s whole story is told in a wonderful book named ‘Married to a Bedouin‘)
Some of the Nabataeans descendants still live there
As you already guessed from the previous fact, some Bedouins still live in caves around Petra. But don’t think of them as some semi-barbaric cave men. The bedouins are knowledgeable and resilient people; a lot of them are just used to live in harsh conditions and relish it.
When Petra became a World Heritage Site in 1985 and tourists began to flock, the Jordanian government tried to relocate the Bedouins to a brand new village nearby. Many of them took the offer, but some, like Mofleh, remained in their cave and declared no intentions to move whatsoever.
See Also: The Magical Wadi Rum
There’s a Little Petra
Next on our interesting facts about Petra, we have… Little Petra. No, it’s neither an attraction in Vegas nor a Disneyland ride. Little Petra, also known as Siq al-Barid, is an archaeological site located north of the original ‘big’ Petra. As the name suggests, it’s another Nabataean site with unique rock-carved structures.
Unlike the other Petra, though, Siq al-Barid is way smaller and way less crowded. It’s perfect for travelers who want to enjoy the ancient Nabatean marvels but dread the hustle of the crowds.
and Petra by Night
Petra by Night is an incredible bucket list adventure. It is precisely as it sounds, a visit to the ancient city after sunset. The whole experience is made extra special by 1,500 candles that not only light your way to the Treasury but also give it a special mystical glow. To complete the enchanting experience, there’s also a Bedouin playing a traditional flute, telling ancient stories about the Rose City.
To make sure you have the chance to experience this magical experience, plan your visit to Jordan carefully. You need to be in Petra on either Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday to attend the show.
It’s movie famous
As far as facts about Petra goes, this one is the most well-known. While Petra became an attraction when it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it became a world-renounced phenomenon after its appearance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Yes, it was in the Rose City where Indiana Jones and his father found the Holy Grail and rode into the sunset.
The ancient city was also a set to many other Holywood blockbusters, such as Disney’s Aladin, The Mummy Returns, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
See Also: Top 10 Fun Facts About Istanbul
Half of Petra is Roman
We’re slowly reaching the less known Petra facts. This one, for example, comes as a shock for most people, me included. When I visited the famous Nabatean city, I didn’t expect to find tons of Roman ruins there. Amphiteatre included! I mean, I knew Romans used to rule half of the world but still, I don’t expect to find their temples in desolate places like the Jordanian desert.
It turned out Nabataea was annexed by the Romans and renamed Arabia Petraea. When Petra’s trading importance declined, the locals left the desert city, leaving it to the Romans and later Byzantines, who kept building Christian churches. That led to the curious combination we have today that resembles something of the current historical center of Rome if it was located in the Giza plateau in Egypt. Odd combination, but it works well.
Petra is aligned with the sun
Did you know that most structures in Petra are aligned with the sun? While the ancient city was created as a trading hub and housed the insane amount (for the time) of 30,000 people, it was also designed to highlight solstices and equinoxes.
It turned out the wealthy spice traders worshiped the sun, just as much as the other ancient civilizations, and made sure their important monuments were carefully aligned with its position on the horizon.
Petra is a renounced hiking area
Here’s my favorite of all facts about Petra – the ancient city is not only a treat for the history enthusiasts but also for the nature bugs like me. What do I mean? I mean that the area offers some of the most incredible trekking paths out there.
The incredible Jordanian wasteland views blended with the ancient Nabatean and Roman monuments create the perfect mixture to have a great time. Just make sure one of your Petra days is dedicated to trekking and you have plenty of water with you. You won’t be disappointed. Castaway guaranteed!
Petra is still undiscovered
Petra is a massive site. You literally need a few days to check everything there. The incredible fact here is that the beautiful monuments, peculiar tombs, and rock-hewn structures are estimated to be only 15% of the entire city. Everything else is still buried and waiting to be discovered!
I sure hope they managed to get it out soon cause I have a severe FOMO about all those ancient wonders hidden underground.
Petra had a revolutionary water system
I mentioned a few times already that Petra used to house over 30,000 people. I also mentioned it’s located in the middle of the Jordanian desert wasteland. So, the natural question is, how did all those people have enough water and food?
First of all, the Nabateans were incredibly wealthy traders, so they could’ve bought everything they wanted. They were also, however, incredibly smart and ingenious. Their engineers were so advanced that they developed a sophisticated water technology to help grow and support the ancient megapolis.
Having a keen awareness of the desert climate and rainfall, the Nabateans managed to harness and capture the powerful runoff during flash floods in the winter season and use the water reserves during the entire year. Even today, you can see traces of the ancient water system circling the Rose City.
It was destroyed by an Earthquake
We cap our interesting facts about Petra with the demise of the Rose City.
While there were multiple reasons for the once prominent desert city to be abandoned, the most significant catalyst was the earthquake of AD 363.
It was a hefty blow for Petra and damaged many of its sacred monuments and tombs, alongside half the city. It even disrupted the elaborate water supply system. The earthquake devastation combined with trade routes’ changes sapped the city’s vitality and led to its abandonment.
Bonus: What’s inside Petra?
One of the most common Petra questions I get is ‘What’s inside Petra?’ So, I wrote a whole post describing everything there is inside the Rose City. It turned out that most people wanted to know not what’s inside Petra, but what’s inside the Treasury, the structure featured in Indiana Jones.
Well, going inside is forbidden today, but you can easily see what’s inside. Unfortunately, it’s nothing interesting. It’s literally nothing – just colorful rock walls.
That’s all from me, I hope you enjoyed these 15 interesting facts about Petra.
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