Petra by Night: A Dance of Fire and Magic
Petra, Jordan is an ancient lost city, a remarkable site you really have to put on your bucket list if you’re visiting the Middle East. Ancient, impressive, and incredibly beautiful, hued out of rock that changes color according to the position of the sun, it’s the kind of place people visit and never forget.
But this place also holds hidden splendor, revealed only after the sun sets - a dance of light and darkness, known by locals as Petra By Night.
The famous Petra Treasury, Jordan at night
Inside Petra, Jordan: Why is it so special?
The name ‘Petra’ can be traced back to the Greek ‘Petros’ - rocks. Historically, it was a very important center for trade, since it was situated at a crossroads between the Orient/Far East and the West.
No wonder then that trade flourished here, making Petra a place where great wealth was concentrated. In fact, not just luxury goods but even medicine was traded here. Historians and archaeologists think it was established around 312 so by any standards it is one of the world’s oldest cities.
The Petra Monastery (By David Roberts, the Cleaveland Museum of Art)
Around 2,300 years ago, the Nabtateans (a tribe who came from the southeast of the Arabian peninsula) built this famous ‘Rose City’ (so named because of the color of the rocks from which it was carved).
They were master builders and engineers and, as a result, the city had temples, halls, caves, tombs, and marketplaces. These were beautifully carved and sculpted.
The city prospered until 363 CE when an earthquake destroyed much of the area. Consequently, Petra was abandoned and traders began looking for other routes. The city, which even had its artificial oasis (also thought up by the Nabtaeans, to ensure that Petra prospered) was soon abandoned.
The Petra Treasury by day
For centuries afterward, the only people who lived there were Bedouins (nomadic tribes, who can actually trace their heritage back to the Spice Route). It was not until 1812, that an explorer named Johann Burkhardt, born in Switzerland, rediscovered it. His journals, which are housed at Cambridge University, describe in detail what he found.
Needless to say, the world was stunned.
Visiting Petra, Jordan Today
Petra is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World (chosen for this honor in 2007 by a vote of 100 million people). Half-built and half-carved into the rock, it is an extraordinary archaeological site and, even today, only about 20% of it has been excavated.
From the Siq, a long narrow passageway, with towering rocks lining both sides of it, to the magnificent Treasury (an elaborate temple carved out of a sandstone rock face) and from the Royal Tombs (a very elaborate burial place) to the Monastery (a legendary monument but with over 800 steps to climb!) Petra is truly a place you have to see before you die.
Even better, unlike many other attractions around the world which shut at dusk, it is a site that offers special nighttime admission in the form of a Petra by Night event.
What is Petra by Night?
Petra by Night is a light show that is held several times a week in the lost city, beginning at 20:30 (occasionally an hour earlier in the winter) and lasting for two hours.
You'll start from the main path, all the way to the narrow Siq
It allows a limited number of visitors to walk the fabled Siq passageway, all the way to the Treasury, with candles lit along the pathway to guide them.
Once visitors arrive at the Treasury, the entire area in front of the entrance is also lit with candles - more than one thousand! The evening continues with a short cultural show, and musicians playing traditional instruments.
Because of the extraordinary topography (enormous cliffs on both sides, wonderful sculptures, a narrow passageway through which you have to walk), the feeling of being here at night is very different from coming in the day.
The Siq gorge is glowing in the light of candles and stars
In the day, there’s a great deal of hustle and bustle, not to mention the clip-clop of horses transporting people back and forth along the Siq.
At night, it’s a far quieter experience and many people say that walking along this passageway, silently, with the vast rock formations and emptiness of the desert surrounding them gives them goosebumps.
It’s also an excellent opportunity for anyone who loves taking photographs to come here - you really will get some remarkable shots.
The lights near the treasury in Petra
Do I need a ticket for Petra by Night?
Yes, it is not free to visit Petra at night. Regular tickets for entrance from 07:00 to dusk range in price, depending on whether you want a one/two/three-day pass. These tickets will set you back 50/55/60 JOD respectively (between $70 and $85).
Nor is a visit to Petra by night including in the Jordan Pass. Entrance to the night shows is 17 JOD (about $24) and has to be purchased separately from a day ticket. If you have a child that is aged ten or below, they can enter for free.
The easiest way to buy a ticket is either with the help of your guide if you are on an organized trip to Petra, or from the Visitors Centre, which is located at the entrance to the site.
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The photos you'll take will be unmatched. Petra by Night
When can I visit Petra at night?
Petra by Night is open to the public three days a week - on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You can enter the site from 20:00 onwards and stay until 22.30.
The only thing to bear in mind is that you cannot take transportation from the Visitors Centre to the Treasury - you will need to walk 1.2km there and back, so be sure to wear comfortable and sturdy shoes and stay on the path.
Hot tea is served at the Treasury but you may want to bring a bottle of water for yourself too. And remember, whether it’s winter or summer, the desert can be pretty chilly at night so don’t forget to bring a sweater!
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Is it Safe to travel to Petra in Jordan?
Yes, it Is. The Kingdom of Jordan makes great efforts to expand inbound tourism: There's a notable police presence in most areas of Jordan; Citizens feel safe, and you should as well.
Jordanian policemen are very competent and happy to serve and protect. Check out this recent analysis of tourist public safety in Jordan, made by our field operatives.
The Obelisk Tomb, Petra
What else can I do in Petra?
The Petra Archeological Park is filled with ancient shrines, sacred sacrificial grounds, huge temples - and the Petra Royal Tombs will make you feel like Indiana Johns (minus the snakes). Some attractions, such as the enchanting Petra Monastery, require hiking and the views are worth each and every step. The photos you'll take will make everybody jealous, and the sights will leave you with amazing stories to tell.
If you’re interested in taking a worry-free trip to this lost city, there are many organized tours on offer, giving you the chance to see this magnificent site. Moreover, you can also combine Petra with a trip to Wadi Rum - a desert oasis made famous by the movie, ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’
Jeep Safari in Wadi Rum, Jordan
And because Jordan shares a border with Israel, it’s also very easy to visit Petra from Eilat, traveling overland, or taking a day trip to Petra from Tel Aviv (flying down to Eilat early in the morning and then continuing with a minibus and a guide).
If you're interested, check out these Israel and Jordan Tours; We’re one of Israel’s oldest and most well-established travel companies and offer organized packages, day trips, and privately-guided tours all around Israel, as well as to Jordan.