Petra is one of the greatest must-see’s of the Middle East and, in fact, the world. What fascinates me the most about this ancient Nabatean city carved into the mountains of central Jordan is not the fact that it was built in the first place, but that it was forgotten about for hundreds of years before being rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. I cannot begin to imagine what this man must have thought and felt after traveling the long distance through narrow rocky cliffs and seeing the awesome sight of the enormous building called the Treasury carved into the mountain facing him.
But as awesome as the Treasury is, it wasn’t my favorite spot in Petra. Just as beautiful, although not nearly as well known, is Petra’s Monastery. Why is this structure less popular than the Treasury? Largely because it stands at the top of a mountain made of 800 naturally formed rock steps.
Yes, you must climb 800 naturally formed rock steps in order to see Petra’s Monastery. Majdi, my guide in Jordan, told me about the steps and asked if I wanted to climb them. Of course, I chirped. After all, this past summer I had climbed Mt. Sinai in the middle of the night, a journey which took over two nearly non-stop hours. I could handle 800 steps easily, I thought.
I found out the hard way that climbing 800 rock steps is a just little more challenging than walking up the entire face of a mountain. The approximately 45-minute climb up to the Monastery was very difficult, and I even had to stop a couple of times to rest. When I heard a woman climbing atop a Bedouin-led donkey partway up the mountain exclaiming I had no idea it was this hard, I knew I wasn’t alone.
Tips for Ascending the 800 Steps to Petra’s Monastery
- Realize that your only three options for getting to the top are climbing, riding a Bedouin-led donkey or a combination of the two
- Get a good night’s sleep beforehand. This is a serious climb and requires adequate rest.
- Bring a minimum of one bottle of water, whatever the temperature outside.
- Bring a snack. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the top and 30 or 45 minutes to get back down, and then you’ll probably want to spend a minimum of 30 minutes looking around the Monastery and surrounding area. You might need something to replenish your energy.
- Wear comfortable shoes with good tread. The rocks can be slippery, especially coming down.
- Wear a hat. There is very little shade along the way and you will need to see as well as possible while you’re climbing.
- Give yourself time to spend a minimum of half an hour once you reach the top. This is one of the ancient wonders of the world, it is very photogenic as well as quite large, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy it!
Treasury photo by: Simon Goetz