The ancient Petra remains a mysterious place. Archaeological excavations are still being carried out every day to unravel the secrets of the old city. Do you want more background information about this unique place? These are the most interesting facts about Petra!
# 1 Petra was not a city of the dead
The most important monuments the Treasury, Ad-Deir (Monastery) and the Royal Tombs were tombs. That makes it easy to assume that all of Petra was a city of the dead. But the opposite is true! Petra was much more a city of the living. And you can see that for yourself. During your visit to Petra, you will see remnants of this ancient city in the form of for example the ancient temples and the main street.
# 2 It was a green oasis
If you now walk through the hot Petra in the summer months, it’s hard to imagine. The Nabateans have put down the unique achievement to create a green oasis in the middle of the desert. Including ponds! If you walk through the Siq, you can clearly see how they did it. On both sides, you can still see the slots where the centuries-old water pipes were. You can learn more about this in this documentary on YouTube, one of our tips for your visit to Petra!
# 3 The city was damaged by flash floods
Floods in the middle of the desert? Hell yes. Petra has suffered a lot from the flash floods that occur here. In the 1960s, French tourists even drowned during such a flood. But the solution turned out to be fairly simple. The Nabataeans had already laid the foundation for this: dams. The old dams were restored after the 1960s to divert the water from the monuments. Do you want to see it yourself? Then pay attention when walking through the Siq. You can see them on both sides.
# 4 Petra was only rediscovered 200 years ago
Because the monuments are so well hidden in the mountains in the desert, they have remained undiscovered for centuries. And by undiscovered I mean for the outside world. The nomads in the desert of course knew all too well where these treasures could be found. Only in 1812 did the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscover the old desert city. After that, the city of course got a lot of attention from all over the world, so it grew into the tourist attraction it is now.
# 5 The Treasury is not a treasury
According to legends, the famous monument at the end of the Siq would be the place where an Egyptian pharaoh would have hidden his treasures. Not true at all of course. The monument is a tomb, like most remaining monuments in Petra. That does not mean that no effort has been made to find the ‘secret treasure’ anyways. The treasure was supposed to be hidden in the ‘urn’ on top of the Treasury. The bullet holes in the urn show how people have tried to shoot. Unfortunately, the urn was not hollow. And so no home for a mysterious treasure.
# 6 And the Monastery is not a monastery
The monument at the top of the 900 steps is called Ad-Deir (translated: Monastery), but it is not. Because of the crosses in the central hall – I peeked in, but couldn’t see them – the monument was called a monastery. In reality, it was once used as a church, like many other monuments around the are. But not as a monastery.
# 7 Bedouins still live in and around Petra
The area around Petra has been the home of Bedouins for centuries. Even after the rediscovery by Burckhardt, the tribes were not driven away. Over the centuries they have merged with the city and the ancient monuments. You will see that local Bedouins still live in the smaller tombs. Other monuments are blackened at the inside by the fires that were lit there. And if you go a little further into the desert and the mountains, you will come across herds of goats and nomad huts. That also explains the goat drops that you will find in many smaller temples.
Tip: do you want to know more about local life? Then read the book Married to a Bedouin by the Dutch Marguerite van Geldermalsen. During a trip around the world, she visited Petra and fell in love with a local Bedouin whom she married in 1978.
# 8 The monuments of Petra are not built, but carved into the rocks
The ancient ruins of the Greeks and Romans have been built with an impressive knowledge of engineering and architecture. Petra is completely different. The monuments are not built at all, but carved into the rocks. That must have been an immense achievement! Recent archaeological research indicates that they did this from top to bottom. The carved stones of the upper parts thus ultimately formed a ramp on which the workmen could stand for the rest of the work.
Many tombs and monuments have hollow spaces which are thus carved into the rocks as well. The Urn Tomb is particularly impressive. This is the highest of the Royal Tombs and it has the largest interior of all tombs in Petra. Take a moment to stop there and try to imagine how this was immense space was carved out by hand. Can you notice the slots of the chisels in the walls and ceiling? Pay attention not only to these details but also to the stone type. The colours of this interior are beautiful.
# 9 Little Petra is an old suburb of Petra
Little Petra is a suburb of the old city and is not far from Wadi Musa and Petra. We recommend you to first have a look here to get a preview of what’s waiting for you in Petra. It is called Little Petra because you also have a small (very small) Siq that leads to the monuments as well.
Tip: sleep nearby Little Petra in the magical Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp. In this tent camp, you sleep in atmospheric tents, get endless cups of traditional tea to drink and sit around a large campfire in the evening. The camp gets a magical atmosphere around that time by the lights that are lit in the mountain next to the camp.
# 10 The monuments were once colorfully painted
There are indications that at least the interior of the Petra monuments was once richly painted. As a visitor, you can see this in two places. One of the monuments in Little Petra has a detailed ceiling painting. Also, you can find a small monument with paintings in Petra itself, but almost no visitors go here. You can find the monument by taking the path approximately opposite restaurant Basin. There you see many tombs, but you are looking for the one where a stone staircase is built. That staircase leads you exactly to the painted room.