Exploring Petra, the Rose Red City

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So often, iconic sites don't quite live up to the stunning images touted by the guidebooks and tourist boards. Thankfully, after hiking through the narrow canyon approach, seeing Petra's Treasury reveal itself didn't disappoint.

It was an amazing highlight of my short Jordan tour, which also included the capital Amman and the port city of Aqaba. The whole trip was building up to our visit to the amazing archaeological site of Petra.

Petra, Jordan

Exploring the vast complex was extraordinary. I was there for just half a day, having spent the previous night at the comfortable but slightly unloved Movenpick Petra, superbly located right next to the site's entrance plaza. From here a path slopes gently downhill towards the beginning of the Siq, the canyon made famous from the final scenes of 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. Stretching for a little under a mile, the sheer sides echo the sound of the horse-drawn carts and donkeys that ferry people to the Treasury, helping to transport you back in time. Eventually you have your first glimpse of the stunning facade, the colour of which magically changes as the narrow path opens onto the larger canyon.

Canyon in Petra, Jordan

As if this wasn't impressive enough, it is just the first of many wonders. From here the canyon opens up and the city's Nabataean and Roman history is on view. Walking down to The Colonnaded Street, the centre of the ancient city, you pass the Theatre and the Royal Tombs, each chiselled out of the rock. Both are as impressive as the Treasury in their scale and the skill of construction but lack the dramatic approach. The pillars that mark The Colonnaded Street tell of the Roman influence, as does Qasr Al Bint, one of the few free standing structures. Further on is the Petra Church, also known as the Byzantine Church, which is home to some of the most exquisite Byzantine floor mosaics in the region.

Exploring this central area is enough for many, but there are numerous paths which snake their way up the steep cliffs. One such route takes you to the High Place of Sacrifice, and those who brave the difficult and in places precarious path are rewarded with stunning views over a huge number of temples and the remarkable valley in which they are set.

The Monastery at Petra, Jordan

One of the most impressive buildings is the Monastery, hidden high in the hills about 50 minutes' walk from the centre of the complex. Best seen in the afternoon, when the heat of the day makes the climb of 800 or so steps - the old processional route - a little easier to manage, the Monastery is similar in design to the Treasury, but far bigger.

The best time to visit Petra is in the cooler months of October to November and March to May, and it can be easily reached from Aqaba, a popular port of call just two hours' drive away. Petra is incorporated into many itineraries, including those of Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Crystal and Seabourn, and a cruise allows you to discover this extraordinary Wonder of the World as part of a fascinating voyage of antiquity, perhaps combined with Egypt or the Holy Land.

Alex Loizou
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