25 Best Sights in Petra, Jordan


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The Siq opens suddenly onto Petra's most famous monument, known locally as the Khazneh. This 130-foot-tall structure displays a splendid frontage graced by a number of mythological figures adopted by the Nabateans from Greek and Roman worship. Castor and Pollux (who after their deaths became the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini), Amazons, Gorgons, eagles, and other creatures march across the Khazneh's rosy facade. Between the columns of the tholos (the rounded section above the tympanum) are the remains of a female deity holding a cornucopia; she is believed to be al-Uzza, the patroness of Petra and the Nabatean version of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

The full Arabic name for this monument is Khazneh Fara'un, or Pharaoh's Treasury. It was assumed by archaeologists to be a royal tomb, and legends of treasures allegedly secreted within have drawn grave robbers to this place for centuries. The urn carved at the top of the tholos was thought to be the hiding place for the hoard. The Bedouin have been taking potshots at it for generations in the hopes of dislodging its contents, a practice whose results are still visible.

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Bab a-Siq

The Gate of the Cleft opens onto the Siq, the canyon-lined passageway leading to Petra's main sights. From here you can spot the remains of a Nabatean tunnel, built to divert flood waters from coursing through the narrow cleft and flooding the necropolis. A dam, constructed for the same purpose in the second half of the 1st century AD, was restored by the Jordanians in 1963 and again in 1991.

Broken Pediment Tomb

One of a series of facades carved into the western face of Jabal Madhbah, or the Mount of the Altar, this tomb is characterized by the broken-off gable of its roof, supported by four pilasters topped with Nabatean capitals.

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Byzantine Church

Richly decorated with mosaics in the characteristic style of the period, this church (discovered by the American archaeologist Kenneth Russell, and excavated in the 1990s) appears to have been destroyed by fire soon after its construction, perhaps in the severe earthquake of AD 551. The remains, including a spectacular mosaic floor, have undergone only partial conservation; 140 papyrus scrolls were found here.

Colonnaded Street

The Romans built the main street of Petra in the early 1st century BC. In typical Roman style, it became the city's major thoroughfare, suitable for both commerce and grand ceremonial processions. After the Roman annexation of the Nabatean kingdom, the street was restored, as noted in an inscription dated AD 114, and dedicated to Emperor Trajan. The original marble paving stones as well as remains of statues of deities still stand, including those depicting Hermes (messenger of the gods) and Tyche (goddess of fortune). In AD 363 an earthquake devastated Petra and the surrounding region, and the street never returned to its former glory.

Corinthian Tomb

Set among some of Petra's finest tombs is one named for its large number of Corinthian capitals, now badly deteriorated, that once decorated its facade.

Djinn Blocks

The function of these three large structures is unclear; they may have been connected to Nabatean worship, perhaps symbolizing one of their deities. In Arabic, djinn refers to malevolent spirits, a common theme in Arab folklore. You may recognize them by their anglicized name, "genies."

Great Temple

No one can say for sure which god was worshipped at this temple, or whether it was the seat of the city's government. But the dozens of columns that adorn its courtyards, beautifully restored by archaeologists from Brown University, attest to its ancient grandeur. The building even boasted its own theater, which some scholars believe may have been a meeting hall for Petra's rulers.

High Place of Sacrifice

An ancient flight of stairs cut into the rock—and restored by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities—leads to the summit of Jabal Madhbah, or the Mount of the Altar. Its peak, besides offering spectacular views of Petra below, contains a rectangular court surrounded on three sides by benches in the triclinium style of the Roman dining room. In the center of the court is a raised block of stone, upon which the priest may have stood. To the west are two altars accessed by steps, as well as a channel into which the blood of sacrificial animals drained.

Horse Square

Horses used to be the conveyance of choice for the approximately 1-km (½-mile) trip to Petra's main buildings. The admission price entitles you to a horseback ride along the first 800 yards of the path to the Siq. Offer a tip of about JD 5.

Lion Monument

Surface runoff fed this fountain along the path to the High Place of Sacrifice via a channel leading to the lion's mouth.


Dedicated to water nymphs, this fountain was used for both refreshment and worship. The fountains of the two-story structure were fed by a channel that continued along the city's main street.

Obelisk Tomb

This upper story of a two-story tomb is named for the four freestanding obelisks that decorate its facade. The lower story, the Triclinium Tomb, was so named because three walls of the empty room are lined with triclinia, a Latin word for this kind of bench. Sacred memorial feasts to honor the dead were held here.


On a terrace stand two obelisks hewed from the bedrock, examples of a common method of representing deities in the ancient Near East. Some scholars believe them to be representations of Dushara and al-Uzza; others believe they are simply the remains of quarries.

Palace Tomb

This unfinished tomb is one of the few in Petra not carved entirely out of solid rock. Many of the tomb's constructed segments have fallen away, so it's hard to ascertain its original dimensions. At the base of the Palace Tomb are the remains of the northern city wall, built after the 1st century BC.

Qasr al-Bint

This structure's full name, which translates as the "Palace of the Daughter of Pharaoh," derives from a legend that the pharaoh's daughter promised she would marry the man who could channel water to the city where she lived. When she had to choose between two winners, she asked each how he had managed his appointed task. The one whose answer she preferred won her hand. In fact, the structure was the most important temple in Petra, built in the early 1st century AD. As in the Temple of the Winged Lions, the identity of the deity worshipped here isn't known, but a statue depicting him or her—perhaps Dushara, the greatest deity of the Nabatean pantheon—stood in the temple's inner sanctum. A giant marble hand, part of a colossal statue, was discovered here in 1959.

Renaissance Tomb

This tomb, bearing a pediment with three urns, bears a close resemblance to the Tomb of Sextius Florentinus in the main part of the city. It may have been created around the same time, the first third of the 1st century AD.

Roman Soldier's Tomb

The headless figure in the niche of this unusual tomb's facade is dressed in typical Roman military garb, while the friezes and floral capitals appear more typical of Nabatean architecture before the Roman annexation. Directly opposite the Roman Soldier's Tomb is a triclinium; the rubble in between was probably once a colonnaded courtyard connecting the two edifices.

Silk Tomb

The striations of natural color in the Silk Tomb's rock make it one of Petra's finest (and certainly one of the easiest to spot). The ribbons of rock flow across the facade like a multicolored silk scarf blowing in the wind.


The main entrance to Petra, in ancient times as well as today, winds through the Siq (meaning "cleft"), a long, narrow canyon between towering walls of astonishing red and purple-hued stone. Bands of Nabatean paving stones are still visible along the way. Votive niches, some of which contain inscriptions dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, show that this road served as much as a ceremonial path as a passageway. Your first glimpse of the magnificent Treasury, after you've walked a hundred meters or so through the Siq, will take your breath away. Film buffs may recall Harrison Ford galloping through this area in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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Snake Tomb

No outward decoration marks this tomb, but 12 burial niches are carved into the floor inside. The name comes from a rough wall relief that shows two snakes attacking what may be a dog. Notice also the horse-and-rider relief above it.

Temple of the Winged Lions

This impressive building overlooking the Colonnaded Street takes its name from the sculptures that serve as capitals for its columns. The identity of the deity worshipped within is unknown, but votive figurines suggest that it may have been Isis, Egyptian goddess of the heavens and patroness of fertility. An inscription dates the construction of the temple to around AD 27, during the reign of Aretas IV.


This semicircular amphitheater is a clear sign of the extent to which the Nabateans, like most other peoples of this region, had adopted Roman culture. The Nabateans apparently had no qualms about building a theater in a cemetery; their stonemasons even cut into some of the existing tombs (the remains of which you can see at the back of the rock-cut theater) to do so. The capacity of the theater has been estimated at 7,000.

Tomb of Sextius Florentinus

This is one of the few Petra monuments that can be dated with certainty: the name of this Roman governor of Arabia who died in office in AD 128 appears in the Latin inscription over the tomb's doorway.

Urn Tomb

Named for the vaselike decoration at the top of its pediment, this is the largest of Petra's royal tombs. It is supported by a series of vaults at its lower level, dubbed al makhamah (the law court) by the locals for some long-lost reason; the upper level was called a-sijn (the prison). Although originally carved around AD 70, according to an inscription within, Petra's Byzantine Christians turned the Urn Tomb into a church in AD 446.