Over the next two days we get the opportunity to discover Petra and to soak up this mysterious city. Our entrance fee for both days is included, giving us the chance to truly do justice to this jewel with an in depth visit. Our hotel, a good three star accommodation in the centre of town, is very conveniently located, just a few minutes walk away from the action, so we can visit the town or come back to and from the archaeological site as we wish.
Defined by John Burgon with the illustrious words 'A Rose Red City half as old as time', Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the new wonders of the world. Often named as one of the places that you should see before you die, this ancient city carved in the rocks has retained its grandeur throughout the centuries and although much has been written about it, nothing really prepares you for the impact of this unique site.
After a guided orientation tour which will take us to some of the key areas, we have the rest of the day to explore in our own time. Most of what can be seen today was built by the Nabataeans - an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2,500 years ago, growing wealthy on tax proceeds from passing silk and spice trade.
Petra's spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge adds to its majesty. The site is accessed by walking through a kilometre-long chasm (known as the Siq), the walls of which soar to a height of 200m. Petra's most famous monument, the Treasury, appears dramatically at the end of the Siq, carved out of the sheer, dusky-pink rock face. Miraculously well preserved, this massive 43 metre-high façade dwarfs everything around it and perfectly represents the engineering genius of these people.
The existence of this site had been kept secret for centuries by the local Beduins and only revealed to the West by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. After the decline of the City, due to shifting trading routes and a series of earthquakes, the Bedouins had continued to use the sophisticated water system created by the Nabateans to make the most of the water coming from the perennial stream and the flash floods; a precious oasis in the middle of an inhospitable desert. It's easy to imagine how overwhelming the rediscovery of the site must have been for him!
While you wander through literally hundreds of tombs, temples and colonnaded streets, your mind finds it easy to picture caravans loaded with frankincense, spices and textiles travelling through the Siq. The site is excellent for photography and the best time to take pictures is either early to mid-morning or late afternoon, as this is when the angled sun highlights and enhances the natural red, pink and orange colours of the rocks.