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Petra Monastery is a magnificent sight, standing atop the stone city of Petra, one of the greatest must-see’s of the Middle East and, in fact, the world.
What fascinates me most about this ancient city carved into the mountains of central Jordan is not the fact that it was built in the first place. It is the fact that it was forgotten about for hundreds of years. Fortunately, Petra and its awesome Monastery were rediscovered many years ago. I got to see Petra and the Monastery while freelancing and traveling through the Middle East, and you can too. Here is what you need to know about visiting the Monastery at Petra.
Brief History of Petra, Jordan
An ancient people called the Nabateans built Petra, around the first Century, B.C. Soon the city began to prosper in its trade of frankincense, myrr and various spices. By the 4th Century B.C., Petra had become the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom.
The kingdom thrived for more than a thousand years until a massive earthquake destroyed much of it in 363 A.D. This devastation, along with a change in trade routes, caused the Nabateans to abandon Petra. Over time, the once-mighty city faded from memory. Eventually, everyone forgot about it. Then a Swiss explorer by the name of Johannes Burckhardt set out to re-discover this long-lost city. Fortunately, on August 22, 1812, he was able to find it. He also discovered that much of it still existed in very good condition.
When you visit Petra, you walk for at least 15 minutes along a narrow path that winds its way through a beautiful stone gorge called the Siq. At the end of the Siq is the first of Petra’s stone buildings, the Treasury. I cannot begin to imagine what this explorer must have thought and felt the first time he caught sight of the Treasury as he began to emerge from the Siq. The sight of it is definitely awe inspiring.
Visiting the Petra Monastery
As awesome as the Treasury is, though, it wasn’t my favorite spot in Petra. After all, Petra is vast, covering about 264,000 square miles. Most of the sights popular with tourists, though, are contained in a much smaller area. At least ten sandy trails wind around these sights so you can explore to your heart’s content. Along these trails you’ll find a temple, a theater, lots of crumbling ancient structures and, finally, on a mountaintop towering over it all, the magnificent Monastery.
Although it is not nearly as famous as the Treasury, I personally found the Monastery to be just as stunning. So why is the Petra Monastery less popular than the Treasury? Because of the 800 steps you must climb to see it.
Yes, you have to climb approximately 800 naturally formed rock steps in order to see the Monastery at Petra. Majdi, my guide, told me about the steps and asked if I wanted to climb them. Of course, I said. After all, this past summer I had climbed Mt. Sinai in the middle of the night while I was living in Egypt. That journey 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 in this ancient Nabatean city is a just little more challenging than walking up the entire face of a mountain in the Sinai. After all, these are not normal steps that we’re all used to. These are uneven steps built into the side of a mountain. The steps are all kinds of different heights and widths and shapes. Because of this, the approximately 45-minute climb up to the Petra Monastery was very difficult. I even had to stop a couple of times to rest. When I heard a woman atop a donkey being led by a Bedouin exclaiming I had no idea it was this hard, I knew I wasn’t alone.
It may have been far harder than I’d anticipated, but I made it to the top of the 800 steps. If you’re interested in climbing these steps and seeing the Monastery too, these 8 tips can help you make the hike.
Petra Monastery – 8 Tips for Climbing the 800 Steps
- 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 enough water to last you at least two hours. It takes about 45 minutes to climb to the Monastery and then 30 or 45 minutes to get back down. Once at the top, you’ll probably want to spend a minimum of 30 minutes looking around the Monastery and surrounding area.
- Bring a snack. This is a strenuous hike. You may need something to replenish your energy.
- Wear comfortable shoes with good tread. The rocks can be slippery, especially coming down.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses. There is very little shade along the way. You will need the shade offered by the hat as well as sunglasses to see as well as possible while you’re climbing.
- Make sure to fully charge your phone and/or camera, or bring a battery charger with you. While the climb up to the Monastery is worth it, this may not be something you ever want to do again. So make sure you have enough battery and storage to take all the photos and videos you want since you probably won’t get another chance.
- Give yourself enough time to thoroughly enjoy yourself and also to rest once you reach the top. Plan on a minimum of half an hour. This is one of the great ancient wonders of the world. You don’t want to feel rushed once you finally get there.
Petra is one of the Middle East’s most popular tourism destinations. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. If you travel to Jordan, you’re undoubtedly going to visit Petra. While you’re there, if you’re up to climbing 800 stone steps, do it. You’ll find that the effort you made to see the Monastery was well worth it.
(This updated post was originally published on February 25, 2019.)
Sabina Lohr is a lifelong freelancer turned entrepreneur who created World of Freelancers to help others discover how to work for themselves online and live the freelance lifestyle. She’s always really enjoyed the freedom that freelancing brings, including several years on and off of working online while traveling and living abroad.