The Treasury Al Khazneh is one of the most elaborate temples in the ancient Arab Nabatean Kingdom city of Petra, this structure was carved out of a sandstone rock face.
Perfectly positioned opposite the main route into Petra, the Treasury (al-Khazneh in Arabic) was designed to impress, and, two thousand years on, the effect is undiminished. What strikes you first is how well preserved it is; carved deep into the rockface and concealed in a high-walled ellipse of a valley (known as Wadi al-Jarra, “Urn Valley”), it has been protected from wind and rain from day one. The detailing of the capitals and pediments on the forty-by-thirty-metre facade is still crisp. It is normally dated to the first century BC, possibly to the reign of King Aretas III Philhellene (“the Greek-lover”), who brought architects to Petra from the centres of Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean.
Petra was first established sometime around the 6th century BC, by the Nabataean Arabs, a nomadic tribe who settled in the area and laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into Syria.
Despite successive attempts by the Seleucid king Antigonus, the Roman emperor Pompey and Herod the Great to bring Petra under the control of their respective empires, Petra remained largely in Nabataean hands until around 100AD, when the Romans took over. It was still inhabited during the Byzantine period, when the former Roman Empire moved its focus east to Constantinople, but declined in importance thereafter.
The Crusaders constructed a fort there in the 12th century, but soon withdrew, leaving Petra to the local people until the early 19th century, when it was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
The giant red mountains and vast mausoleums of a departed race have nothing in common with modern civilization, and ask nothing of it except to be appreciated at their true value - as one of the greatest wonders ever wrought by Nature and Man.
Although much has been written about Petra, nothing really prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed.
Petra, the world wonder, is without a doubt Jordan's most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Petra Archaeological Park
The Petra Archaeological Park (PAP) covers a 264 dunum (264,000 square metres) area within Wadi Musa, which is considered a tourism and archaeological site, and a World Heritage Site registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1985. The area encompasses a breathtaking landscape of pink-hued rock mountains, the focus of which is the amazing ancient Nabataean city of Petra, which was carved into the rock more than 2,000 years ago.
The best times to view the Treasury are when the sun strikes it directly, between about 9 and 11am, and late in the afternoon, around 5 or 6pm, when the whole facade is suffused with a reflected reddish-pink glow from the walls all around.
To the left of the facade, a set of stairs comes down into the valley from the Danqur al-Khazneh area. Off to the right, a wall blocks the narrow north end of the Wadi al-Jarra; if you climb over the wall, then double back to scramble up the rocks, you’ll reach a small, jutting plateau, with a perfect view from above of the Treasury and the whole bustling plaza in front of it.
The Treasury facade
The Treasury is merely the first of the many wonders that make up Petra. You will need at least four or five days to really explore everything here. As you enter the Petra valley you will be overwhelmed by the natural beauty of this place and its outstanding architectural achievements. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings - unlike the houses, which were destroyed mostly by earthquakes, the tombs were carved to last throughout the afterlife and 500 have survived, empty but bewitching as you file past their dark openings. Here also is a massive Nabataean-built, The carvings on the Treasury facade, though much damaged by iconoclasts, are still discernible and show to what extent Nabatean culture was an amalgam of elements from the Hellenistic and Middle Eastern worlds.
Atop the broken pediments, framing the upper story, are two large eagles, symbols of the Nabateans’ chief male deity, Dushara. In a central position on the rounded tholos below the urn is what’s been identified as a representation of Isis, an Egyptian goddess equated with the Nabatean goddess al-Uzza; in the recesses behind are two Winged Victories, although the remaining four figures, all of whom seem to be holding axes aloft, haven’t been identified. Two lions, also symbolizing al-Uzza, adorn the entablature between the two storeys. At ground level, the mounted riders are Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus. The parallel marks up the side of the facade, which occur in a couple of other places in Petra, may well have been footholds for the sculptors and masons.
One column is obviously new, a brick-and-plaster replacement for the original, which fell in antiquity. This neatly demonstrates one of the most extraordinary features of Nabatean architecture. A normal building that lost a main support like this would have come crashing down soon after; these Nabatean columns, though, support nothing. Like most of Petra’s surviving monuments, the entire Treasury “building” was sculpted in situ, gouged out of the unshaped rock in a kind of reverse architecture.
At the base of the facade, excavations into the four metres of gravel that overlie the original Nabatean road surface revealed that the Treasury was carved above a line of older facades, also probably tombs, which are now viewable through a grille set into the ground.
The Treasury interior
Inside the Treasury doorway – unlike the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy finds stone lions and Crusader seals set into the floor – there’s only a blank square chamber, with smaller rooms opening off it, the entrance portico flanked by rooms featuring unusual round windows above their doors. Access to the interior is barred, but you can poke your nose in. The function of the Treasury is unknown, but a significant clue is the recessed basin on its threshold with a channel leading outside, clearly for libations or ritual washing. None of Petra’s tomb-monuments has this feature, but the High Place of Sacrifice does, suggesting that the Treasury may have been a place of worship, possibly a tomb-temple.
Petra Al-Batrāʾ; Ancient Greek, originally known to the Nabataeans as Raqmu, is a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan. The city is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduit system. Another name for Petra is the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved.
Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Arab Nabataens, it is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan's most visited tourist attraction. The Nabateans were nomadic Arabs who benefited from the proximity of Petra to the regional trade routes, in becoming a major trading hub, thus enabling them to gather wealth. The Nabateans are also known for their great ability in constructing efficient water collecting methods in the barren deserts and their talent in carving structures into solid rocks. It lies on the slope of Jebel al-Madhbah (identified by some as the biblical Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a world heritage site since 1985.
The site remained unknown to the western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, It was described as "a rose-red city.
Petra’s most awe-inspiring monument is also one of the most taxing to reach. The Monastery (Ad-Dayr or Ad-Deir in Arabic) boasts a massive facade almost fifty metres square, carved from a chunk of mountain nearly an hour’s climb northwest of the city centre, 220m above the elevation of the Qasr al-Bint. Daunting though this sounds, there’s a well-trodden route the whole way – involving roughly eight hundred steps – as well as plenty of places to rest; a tranquil holy spring two-thirds of the way up is almost worth the climb by itself. Even if you’ve had your fill of facades, the stupendous views from the mountain-top over the entire Petra basin and the Wadi Araba make the trip essential.
Whether you want to ride a donkey to the summit or not (prices are very negotiable), you’ll most likely have to beat off the hordes of kids riding alongside offering them as “Air-condition taxi, mister?” Bear in mind that the archeological authorities would prefer that you walked: all those hooves are seriously degrading the Nabatean-carved sandstone steps on the route up. The best time to attempt the climb is in the afternoon; not only is the way up mostly in shadow by then, but the sun has moved around enough to hit the facade full-on.
Walking up to the Monastery
The walking route passes in front of the Basin restaurant and museum, and leads dead ahead into the soft sandy bed of the Wadi ad-Dayr. The steps begin after a short distance, and soon after there’s a diversion pointed left to the Lion Triclinium, a small classical shrine in a peaceful, bushy wadi, named for the worn lions that flank its entrance. A small, round window above the door and the doorway itself have been eroded together to form a strange keyhole shape. The frieze above has Medusas at either end; to the left of the facade is a small god-block set into a niche.
The processional way up is broken after another patch of steps by a sharp left turn where the Wadi Kharrubeh joins from in front; a little way along this wadi – off the main path – you’ll find on the right-hand side a small biclinium, a ceremonial dining room with two stepped benches facing each other. Back on the path, after a step-free patch, the climb recommences. Some twenty or thirty minutes from the Basin, where the steps turn sharply left, you can branch right off the main path into a narrow wadi; double-back to the left, follow a track up and then right onto a broad, cool, protected ledge overlooking a deep ravine below. This is the Qattar ad-Dayr, an enchanted mossy grotto enclosed by high walls, completely silent but for the cries of wheeling birds and the continual dripping of water; it’s a perfect spot for a picnic. Here, the one place in Petra where water flows year-round, the Nabateans built a triclinium and cisterns, and made dozens of carvings, including a two-armed cross.
As the steps drag on, the views begin to open up, and you get a sense of the vastness of the mountains and valleys all around. With tired legs, it’s about another twenty minutes to a small sign pointing right to the Hermitage, a sheer-sided pinnacle of rock featuring a less-than-gripping set of caves carved with crosses. Another ten minutes, after a squeeze between two boulders and a short descent, and you emerge onto a wide, flat plateau, where you should turn right for the Monastery.
The Monastery facade is so big that it seems like an optical illusion – the doorway alone is taller than a house. A local entrepreneur has thoughtfully set up a café in a cave opposite: sink down at one of the shaded tables in front to take in the full vastness of the view. At first glance, the facade looks much like the Treasury’s, but it’s much less ornate; indeed, there’s virtually no decoration at all. The name “Monastery” is again a misnomer, probably suggested by some crosses scratched inside; this was almost certainly a temple, possibly dedicated to the Nabatean king Obodas I, who reigned in the first century BC and was posthumously deified. Inside is a single chamber, with the same configuration of double staircases leading up to a cultic niche as in the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of the Winged Lions. The flat plaza in front of the monument isn’t natural: it was levelled deliberately, probably to contain the huge crowds that gathered here for religious ceremonies. You can pick out traces of a wall and colonnade in the ground to the south of the plaza, near where you entered. The opposite side (the left flank of the monument as you face it) has a scramble-path leading up to the urn on the top of the facade, which is no less than 10m high. Leaping around on the urn is a test of mettle for the local goat-footed kids, and some even shimmy to the very top; follow them with your life in your hands.
Around the Monastery
There are dozens more monuments and carvings to explore around the Monastery, not least of which is a cave and stone circle directly behind the refreshments cave. At any point, once you climb off ground level, the views are breathtaking. The cliff to the north of the facade is punctuated for well over 100m with Nabatean caves, tombs and cisterns; some 200m or so north of the Monastery, you’ll find a dramatically isolated High Place, with godlike views over the peaks down to the far-distant Wadi Araba, over 1000m below.
The only route back into Petra from the Monastery is the way you came up. Like all these descents, it’s too rocky and isolated even to think about attempting it after sunset.
Dircetions to monastry:
Nearly an hour’s climb northwest of the city centre, 220m above the elevation of the Qasr al-Bint. Daunting though this sounds, there’s a well-trodden route the whole way – involving roughly eight hundred steps
The Royal Tombs of Petra are made of four distinct tombs: the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, and the Palace Tomb. The four tombs lie across from the Roman theater and overlook the main walkway of Petra.
The Urn Tomb is characterized by a recessed facade above a series of arches over a two-tiered vault known as the sijin (prison). The Urn Tomb is the largest of the tombs with an immense courtyard and interior main chamber. It was believed to have been carved around 70 AD and was later used as a Byzantine church.
The Silk Tomb, is a small tomb to the left of the Urn Tomb. Although not as large of ornately decorated, the Silk Tomb takes its name from the rich color of the stone it was carved from. Upon closer look, the Silk Tomb is one of the most colorful tombs in Petra.
The Corinthian Tomb , supposedly a replica of Nero’s Golden Palace in Rome, is to the right of the Urn Tomb. What is striking about the Corinthian Tomb is its resemblance to the Treasury. Although smaller, the architecture looks very similar, albeit worn and seemingly unfinished.
The Petra Church seems to have first been built over Nabataean and Roman remains around 450 AD. It may have been a major 5th- and 6th-century cathedral, which is intriguing given the other evidence of Petra's decline after a 363 AD earthquake.
When first constructed around 450, the church had only one apse and an entrance porch. The Mosaic of the Seasons in the southern aisle is from this period. In 500-50 AD, the church was remodeled. Two side apses were installed and the two-story atrium built. The nave was paved and the chancel screens, a pulpit, and wall mosaics were installed, as were the mosaics of the northern aisle and the eastern end of the southern aisle.
Around 600 AD, a second remodeling may have been in progress when the church suffered a major fire, and it stood derelict until it was finally destroyed by earthquakes.
The Petra Church was discovered by Kenneth W. Russell in 1990, who passed away in 1992. The site was excavated in 1992-98 by the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In December 1993, 152 papyrus scrolls were uncovered inside the church. The scrolls, which are the largest group of ancient written material found in Jordan, were carbonized due to the early 7th-century fire and are still being deciphered. The scrolls are the records of one extended family and provide a valuable glimpse into life in Petra between 528 and 582 AD, a period that saw the reigns of three Byzantine emperors: Justinian, Justin II and Tiberius II. Among the documents is a will dividing property among three brothers; the property included vineyards and slaves. The scrolls are probably the family archive of the archdeacon Theodorus, son of Obodianos.
What to See at the Byzantine Church
The Petra Church is currently being excavated and preserved and a protective tent covers the roofless walls. It is a three-aisled basilica, about 26 meters by 15 meters, with three apses on the east end and three west portals. The materials used to constuct the church, including the capitals, door jambs, and reliefs, must have come from the ruined monuments of the Nabataean and Roman periods.
Each of the side aisles of Petra Church is paved with 70 square meters of remarkably preserved mosaics, whose subjects include a variety of animals (local, exotic and mythological) and personifications of the Seasons, Ocean, Earth and Wisdom. Also surviving are significant remains of the nave's pavement, with marble and stone geometric designs.
There is an atrium and a baptistery to the west of the nave. The latter dates from the mid-5th century and is one of the largest and best preserved in the entire Near East. Sunk in the southwest corner is a cross-shaped baptismal font accessed by steps. It is surrounded by four columns, which may have supported a canopy.
Place of sacrifice, the most accessible of Petra’s ‘High Places’, this well-preserved site was built atop Jebel Madbah with drains to channel the blood of sacrificial animals.
The obelisks are over 6m high; they are remarkable structures because they are carved out of the rock face, not built upon it: looking at the negative space surrounding them, you can understand the truly epic scale of excavation involved. Dedicated to the Nabataean gods Dushara and Al-‘Uzza, their iron-rich stone glows in the sun and they act like totems of this once-hallowed ground.
The altar area includes a large rectangular triclinium, where celebrants at the sacrifice shared a communal supper. In the middle of the High Place, there’s a large stone block preceded by three steps. This is a motab , or repository, where the god statues involved in the procession would have been kept. Next to it is the circular altar, reached by another three steps; stone water-basins nearby were used for cleansing and purifying.
The faint bleat of sheep or the clunk of a goat bell evokes the ancient scene – except that no ordinary person would have been permitted to enter this holy of hollies at that time. Cast an eye across the superb panorama in front of you – far above the mortal goings-on of both ancient and modern city – and it’s easy to see how this site must have seemed closer to the sky than the earth.
A flight of steps signposted just before the Theatre leads to the site: turn right at the obelisks to reach the sacrificial platform. You can ascend by donkey (about JD10 one way).
Walking up to the High Place of Sacrifice
The steps up are clearly marked beside a souvenir stall and toilet block. They are guarded by several god-blocks, and wind their way into the deep ravine of the beautiful Wadi al-Mahfur. At several points, the Nabatean engineers took their chisels to what were otherwise impassable outcrops and sliced deep-cut corridors through the rock to house the stairs. It’s a dramatic walk.
The sign that you’re reaching the top, apart from one or two rickety café-stalls, is the appearance on your left of two very prominent obelisks, both over 6m high. As in the Bab as-Siq and elsewhere, these probably represent the chief male and female Nabatean deities, Dushara and al-Uzza, although far more extraordinary is to realize that they are solid: instead of being placed there, this entire side of the mountain-top was instead leveled to leave them sticking up. The ridge on which they stand is still marked on modern maps with the Bedouin name of Zibb Attuf, the Phallus of Mercy (often adapted to Amud Attuf, the Column of Mercy), implying that the notion of these obelisks representing beneficial fertility was somehow passed down unchanged from the Nabateans to the modern age. Opposite stand very ruined walls, the last remnants of what could have been a Crusader fort or a Nabatean structure. Broken steps lead beside it up to the summit.
Little Petra northern suburb of Siq al-Barid, 9km north of Wadi Musa town, is often touted to tourists as “Little Petra” – which, with its short, high gorge and familiar carved facades, isn’t far wrong. However, although it sees its share of tour buses, the place retains an atmosphere and a stillness that have largely disappeared from the central areas of Petra. Adding in its location in gorgeous countryside and its proximity to Beidha (a rather less inspiring Neolithic village), it’s well worth half a day of your time.
The route to Little Petra follows the road north from the Mövenpick hotel. A short way along, where the road curves left, you can park on the shoulder for one of Petra’s best views, a breathtaking sweep over the central valley of the ancient city, with many of the monuments in view, dwarfed by the mountains.
Further on, past the Bdul village Umm Sayhoun, the road heads on across rolling, cultivated uplands that are breathtakingly beautiful after Petra’s barren rockscapes. About 8km from the Mövenpick, at a T-junction, head left for 800m to the end of the road. You are now beyond Bdul territory in the lands of the Ammareen tribe; a signpost points off the road to the Ammareen campsite. In the small car park you’ll likely be approached by Ammareen kids hawking trinkets and guides offering their services.
This whole area was a thriving community in Nabatean times, and there’s evidence in almost every cranny of Nabatean occupation. Just before you reach the Siq entrance, there’s a particularly striking facade on the right, with a strange, narrow passage for an interior.
As you enter, you’ll realize why this was dubbed Siq al-Barid (the “Cold Siq”): almost no sun can reach inside to warm the place. It’s only about 350m long, with alternating narrow and open sections, and differs from most areas of Petra, firstly in the density of carved houses, temples and triclinia – there are very few blank areas – and secondly in the endearingly quaint rock-cut stairs which lead off on all sides, turning it into a multistory alleyway that must once have hummed with life. Feel free to explore. In the first open area is what was probably a temple, fronted by a portico, below which is a little rock-cut house. The second open area has four large triclinia, which could have been used to wine and dine merchants and traders on their stopover in Petra. A little further on the left, stairs climb up to the Painted House, a biclinium featuring one of the very few Nabatean painted interiors to have survived the centuries: on the ceiling at the back is a winged cupid with a bow and arrow; just above is a bird, to the left of which is a Pan figure playing a flute. The third open area culminates in rock-cut stairs which lead through a narrow gap out onto a wide flat ledge; the path drops down into the wadi (Petra is to the left), but you can scramble up to the right for some excellent views.