The Monastery in Petra, Jordan. Photo: Klara Bakalarova/Shutterstock

This 2,000-Year-Old City Whose Name Translates as "Rock" Is Full of Elaborate Tombs

Jordan Insider Guides Archaeology
by Morgane Croissant Jun 23, 2023

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985 and one of the new seven wonders of the world, Petra is among the most famous archaeological sites in the world alongside Athens’ Acropolis and England’s Stonehenge. While it now has competition from Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s own extraordinary rock-hewn site, travelers to the Middle East would be remiss to pass on this ancient city and Jordan’s most popular attraction.

What is Petra?

Petra is an ancient city and archaeological site famous for its tall and beautifully preserved rock-hewn architecture, including many tombs. Carved and built out of red sandstone, Petra is often nicknamed the “rose-red city.”

Where is Petra?

Petra is located in the Middle East, in the country of Jordan. More precisely, the ancient city is in southwest Jordan, close to the Israeli border.

If you want a map of Petra to see where every monument of the ancient city is located, just zoom out on the map above.

How far is Petra from Amman?

Petra is around 145 miles from Amman, the capital of Jordan, and it takes around three hours to drive from one to the other. The closest modern town to Petra is Wadi Mūsā, whose name translates as “the Valley of Moses.”

How to get to Petra?

Petra is only accessible by road, so all the transportation options require a few hours, whether you’re starting in Amman or the closer city of Aqaba (less than 80 miles from Petra).

Private taxis, airport taxis, and ride-sharing services like Uber and Careem are the most expensive ways to get to Petra. JETT Buses are more affordable, and are comfortable and reliable.

What is the closest airport to Petra?

The closest airport to Petra is the King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba. Aqaba is less than 8O miles and two hours from Petra. King Hussein International Airport receives international flights from Europe (Spain, Germany, Slovakia), Turkey, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, and domestic flights from Amman.

When was Petra built and by whom?

While the site was occupied in the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, as well as by Edomites, it was the Nabataeans, an ancient Arabic people, who developed it into a city in the third century BCE and made it the capital of their prosperous kingdom. Under the Nabataeans, Petra became the center of the spice, silk, and incense trade between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. In 106 CE, the Romans took over Petra and influenced its architecture and the overall design of the city. When Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the ancient tombs became churches. The ancient city was initially known as Sela and renamed Petra (meaning “rock” in Greek) later on.

Why was Petra abandoned?

While prosperous for hundreds of years, the change in trade routes triggered the city’s decline. Then, in the year 363, it is believed that nearly half of Petra, including the water-supply system, was destroyed in an earthquake. Despite these obstacles, archeologists believe that Petra, then much smaller, remained inhabited until after the Crusades (13th century), when it seemed to have been abandoned.

Who “discovered” Petra?

While Petra was never forgotten by the people of the region, the first European to see the ancient site in hundreds of years was Swiss traveler and scholar of the Arab world Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. Disguised, Burckhardt lied his way to Petra guided by a generous and credulous bedouin, pretending to be a student of the Koran. It is believed that until then, local bedouins kept the location of the ancient city secret for centuries.

What’s inside the Treasury and the Monastery in Petra, Jordan?

The Monastery in Petra, Jordan

The Monastery in Petra, Jordan. Photo: Klara Bakalarova/Shutterstock

The Treasury (also known as Al Khazneh, sometimes spelled Al Khazna) is probably the most famous of all the monuments in the ancient city of Petra. Despite its name, the Treasury does not house any treasure but a funerary chamber. Archeologists believe that the 130-foot-tall ornate structure was the tomb of a first-century Nabataean king.

The Monastery (known as Al-Dayr), whose architectural details resemble that of the Treasury, was also a tomb but was used as a church under the Byzantine Empire. Inside the Monastery are benches and an altar.

When does Petra, Jordan, open and close?

Petra is open from 6 AM to 6 PM in the summer and from 6 AM to 4 PM during the winter. Visitors must leave the site before sunset.

Tickets to visit the ancient city must be purchased at the Visitors Center only.

When can I see Petra by candlelight?

Tours of the area around the Treasury by candlelight are from 8:30 PM to 10 PM every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tickets for the candlelight tours are sold at the Visitors Center only.

Was Petra really featured in one of the Indiana Jones movies?

Yes, the ancient city of Petra was featured in the 1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The best hotels in and near Petra, Jordan

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Mövenpick Resort Petra

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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The Mövenpick Resort Petra is a five-star resort that’s just a three-minute walk from the Petra Visitor Center where you can purchase your ticket to see the ancient city. The property has 183 rooms and suites of every variety, allowing for every budget and group size. There is a luxurious spa on site, as well as a seasonal outdoor pool with sun loungers, a rooftop terrace with panoramic views over the desert landscape, and several opulent dining options.

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Old Village Resort

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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The Old Village Resort is a highly rated five-star property that’s a seven-minute walk to the Petra Visitor Center, but the hotel offers a shuttle to the Visitor Center if you don’t wish to walk. There is an outdoor and an indoor pool on site as well as a hot tub and a sauna, and you can book spa treatments like massages. All 136 rooms are fitted with air conditioning and free WiFi. There are several dining options on site.

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Petra Bubble Luxotel

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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The Petra Bubble Luxotel is located seven miles, or 19 minutes by car, from the Petra Visitor Center. While it’s a little further away from the ancient city than other properties, the Petra Bubble Luxotel is a unique offering that’s worth trying out. Like its name indicates, the rooms are big, round, transparent bubbles so you can see the starry sky while laying in your bed at night. There are only 20 bubbles on site and they are all fitted with air conditioning, bathrooms with hydromassage showers and designer toiletries, and sitting areas. Breakfast is included.

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