The drive from Aqaba to Petra (2.5 hours) included views of Wadi Rum with mountains as a backdrop and then a gradual climb to about 4,000 feet. Along the way the valleys which look quite barren are ploughed and fertile. Farmers were selling tomatoes and other crops from the back of their pickup trucks.
It is not known when Petra was built, but the city prospered as the capital of the Nabatean Empire from the 1st century BC. The Nabateans became rich in their trading of frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was annexed by the Romans and an earthquake in the 4th century caused major damage. Trade routes changed and the Nabateans lost much of their wealth and moved away.
Petra was discovered by Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhard in 1812 when he dressed as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.
The intricately designed portals are tomb entrances cut into the sandstone mountainside by the Nabateans. In its time it was a vibrant city with carved theatre, Byzantine churches, and temples. There was a sophisticated system of drainage and it had beautiful colonnaded streets.
We opted to walk in and out via a rough and sometimes uneven path about 2 miles each way, but it is also possible to take a horse or donkey or one of the horse drawn carts that careen and bounce their way to the site!
The Petra guards looked very handsome in their winter uniforms.