A visit to Al-Deir – also called “Monastery” – is one of the highlights of Petra. Of course the walk through the famous Siq to the even more famous Treasury is fantastic, but that is something you expect when visiting Petra. Al-Deir is a lot less known, although this monument is perhaps even more impressive than the Treasury. In this blog, I will tell you everything you need to know about this “monastery”. Of course I’ll also tell you how to get there from the “backdoor” without the tough climb of 900 steps!
Tip: You’ll find the GPX coördinates for the hike on our Petra Backdoor Download page.
What is Al-Deir or the Monastery in Petra?
Though this monument is referred to as a monastery (translated from Al-Deir), it has never been one. Just like most other monuments in Petra, it is a burial monument. It has about the same design as the more famous Treasury but is much larger with a size of 50 meters wide and 45 meters high. To compare this with the Treasury: that monument is 25.30 meters wide and almost 40 meters high. Al-Deir is therefore one of the largest monuments in the Petra area.
But why is it then referred to as a monastery? The monument dates from the third century BC, so it has a long history. First used as a burial monument, it later became one of the secrets of the Jordanian desert along with the rest of Petra. In between, the monument served as a church for a while. Crosses are said to have been carved in the central hall. They were the reason to name the monument a monastery after its rediscovery centuries later. Unfortunately, visitors are no longer allowed to enter the monument, so I wasn’t ablo to spot these crosses.
What is the best time to visit the Monastery?
Ad-Deir may not be in a gorge, but just like all monuments, it is up against a mountain. The sun rises behind the Monastery. That is of course a beautiful sight, but do you want to see the front of the monument in full daylight? Then you have to be here in the afternoon. Both in the early morning as late afternoon, there are much less other travellers here than in the middle of the day.
How to get to the Monastery?
Visiting the Monastery from the main Petra entrance
According to the numbers on the map of the Petra visitor center itself, it takes at least 6 hours from the visitor center to get there. This route starts at the visitor center and takes you along almost all other monuments in Petra.
Tip: at the Visitor Center at the entrance of Petra, you can take a handy map of the entire area for free. Unfortunately the map is sometimes out of stock, the hikes to the ‘Treasury from above’ are not properly marked and the map is not available online to plan your Petra days. So feel free use our Petra map below to find your way through Petra and to the Monastery. Download it offline or print it to use it during your time in Petra!
From the visitor center, you walk to the start of the Siq, the gorge through the mountains leading to the Treasury. The Siq itself is 1.2 kilometers long. It will bring you to the famous Treasury. And that’s just the beginning! To the right of the Treasury, the path leads further into the old town. At the end of the old town – behind restaurant Basin – the climb to Al-Deir begins. Part of this climb? 900 steps up.
Along this route, you will find countless stalls with souvenirs, snacks, and drinks. You will also find a small restaurant opposite the Al-Deir monument itself where you can relax with a drink and a meal.
Tip: on the way up (or back down) you can visit the Lion Triclinium. Few visitors make a stop here, so you’ll probably have this little temple in the mountains to yourself. The temple is named after the carved lions on both sides of the entrance.
Perhaps the easiest way to skip the climb is to accept the offer of a ride by horse, donkey or camel. Our advice is not to do that. There are many stories about how badly the animals are treated and the rides certainly didn’t look very comfortable. Yet we saw young families climb the 900 stairs to the Monastery on a donkey and we understand that. With small children or even a baby, we would really rather not have climbed the stairs ourselves too.
Hiking to the Monastery from the back door entrance
In the area around Petra, there are endless hiking trails. One of them runs from Little Petra – an ancient suburb of Petra – via Al-Deir to the old city. So you can also visit Al-Deir and the rest of Petra from Little Petra. This route is also called the “backdoor trail” to Petra. From Little Petra, it is still quite a walk, but you don’t have to climb 900 steps.
There are three ways to get to the Monastery and Petra via the backdoor (use our backdoor map below to find the exact start of these three routes):
- From Little Petra. You can find the start of the trail on the left side of the parking lot at Little Petra.
- From the motorway. You park your rental car – or get dropped off – along the motorway where a car track of 4WDs runs into the desert. In our backdoor map these car tracks are the dotted lines.
- From the backdoor itself. Do you want to take a shortcut? Then let a 4WD driver drop you off at the backdoor itself.
The easiest place to find your guide or driver is the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp near Little Petra. We understand that the tent camp is run by the management of the Rocky Mountain Hotel. You could also book your guide there too.
We chose to shorten the backdoor trail by getting a guide to drop us off. From the motorway between Little Petra and Petra’s visitor center, the 4WD drove straight into the desert. After a long and bumpy drive and two ticket checks, we were dropped off at a point where the 4WD could not continue. That is the actual backdoor. A beautiful hike started along steep cliffs with beautiful views. Even then you will have to descend and climb a little, but that is nothing compared to the steep steps from the old city.
At the end of the hike, we saw the top of a beautiful monument rise above the hills. Slowly the impressive Al-Deir appeared for us! From Ad-Deir you then walk to the old city. You’ll take these 900 steps, but then down. An additional plus is that you don’t have to take the same route back again.
Tip: even if you have a rental 4WD yourself, we advise you to get a guide to drop you off at the backdoor. Do not drive this desert route yourself without experience with this place. It wouldn’t be very practical as well, as you still need a ride back anyway to collect your car.
Extra tip: we parked our car in Wadi Musa at the Visitor Center of Petra. That’s where our guide picked us up. So after this long day of hiking via the backdoor to the Monastery and through Petra, we didn’t need a guide, but could get to our car right away.
Another extra tip: there is a ticket check on this side of Petra, but no ticket sales. Make sure you already have your tickets for Petra before you enter Petra via this route. Do you have a Jordan Pass with access to Petra? Even then we recommend you to first go to the visitor center because your Jordan Pass must be stamped. Our pass was only scanned the day before at the visitor center – and not stamped – and that caused a lot of hassle at the ticket controls at the backdoor.