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Petra, Jordan: Stories in Stone

Where in the bible?

Petra is mentioned in Isaiah 16:1 and 2 Kings 14:7 by its ancient name, Sela, which translates to “rock.” Petra is in the land of the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, and is also frequently mentioned in the Old Testament.

Petra’s Stories in Stone

A short walk through a narrow desert canyon brings visitors to one of the most stunning sites in all of Jordan: the Treasury, a towering Roman facade carved into the cliffs in the ancient city of Petra.

Known as the Rose City, Petra was carved from the pink rocks of the south Jordanian landscape by the Nabataeans around 300 B.C. Though many of the carvings were created to mark elaborate entrances to tombs, collectively they resemble the buildings of a living city, and many of the carvings have been given nicknames that reflect the civic buildings they depict.

Petra flourished until it was conquered first by the Israelites and then by the Romans, who eventually reduced the site. The city was lost to the greater world until it was “rediscovered” by Westerners in the early 1800s, adding to the lore and mysterious feel of the site for foreigners.

During this “lost period,” mainly Bedouin peoples inhabited the city and the surrounding area until Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Many Bedouin still live in the area and travelers are able to connect with this regional culture through time spent with local families, often by sharing a traditional meal.

Near modern day Wadi Musa, the city is easy to reach for travelers and filled with modern restaurants and posh hotels. Groups will likely want to stay in Wadi Rum, since there are no overnight accommodations and no motorized vehicles are allowed in Petra. The visitor center there is the main departure point for tours.

Top Attractions for Church Groups

The Monastery — Some 900 stone steps lead to the striking carving known as the Monastery, but the climb is well worth the effort. The spectacular facade is like that of the Treasury but was carved on a larger scale, reaching nearly 55 square yards.

The Royal Tombs  — The Nabataeans carved over 800 tombs in Petra, but the Royal Tombs are the crown jewel of the archaeological collection. Make sure to check out the Urn Tomb, thought to be the final resting place of a Nabataean king, as well as the Silk Tomb and the Palace Tomb.

The High Place of Sacrifice  — A 30-minute hike brings visitors to a spectacular overlook that showcases the High Place, a unique rock coloring and carved facades found in the gorge.

Little Petra — An important “suburb” of Petra, Little Petra includes some smaller monuments like those at the main site.

Must Have Experiences in Petra

Must-Do: To experience Jordanian culture in more depth, groups love to meet with one of the Bedouin families that live near the site and enjoy a meal with them.

Must-Taste: Maqlooba, translated as “upside down,” is named for the unusual way the dish is prepared. Cooks layer rice, meat and vegetables in a clay pot before turning it out upside down onto a platter to be served alongside yogurt or salad.

Bring it Home: A popular souvenir is bottled sand art that features a camel or another image reminiscent of Jordan. Other ideas include the hatta scarves worn by many Jordanians or handmade painted plates and jars.

Photo Op: Groups love to take photos in front of the Treasury, which has also appeared on the silver screen in well-known movies like “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Arabian Nights.”