For over a thousand years the ancient stone city of Petra in Jordan remained unknown to the western world, until intrepid Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the colossal ruins in 1812. A steady stream of visitors have braved the desert heat ever since to catch a glimpse of this remarkable sight. Once home to the ancient Nabataeans, the jewel in the so-called Rose City is Al-Khazneh or 'The Treasury' – an elaborate temple carved deep into the sandstone rock.
Part of Petra's inherent charm is the dramatic entrance it affords to all those who visit. Known as al-Siq – or 'The Shaft' – visitors enter the city through a narrow 1.2-kilometre gorge which winds its way between towering, dimly-lit cliff faces. You can catch a glimpse of Al-Khazneh along the way, but it's not until you step out into the open valley that you get a sense of the sheer scale of Petra. Though a monumental archway collapsed during an 1896 earthquake, the remnants of its two mighty buttresses are still visible in the rock-hewn valley walls.
Like the equally colossal Al-Khazneh, soaring Al-Deir – or 'The Cathedral' – is carved deep into a sandstone cliff-face. Located about an hour's trek from the centre of the Petra ruins, this impressive structure was almost certainly an ancient Nabataean temple, making its official name somewhat of a misnomer. While not as ornately carved as Al-Khazneh, what impresses about Al-Deir is its sheer size. This monumental structure looms out of the desert hills in such a striking manner that it's a must-see stop on any trip to Petra.
The jewel in Petra's crown and one of the most photographed sights in the Middle East is undoubtedly magnificent Al-Khazneh. Rising up out of the desert in jaw-dropping fashion, this spectacular classical Greek-influenced stone structure is the most famous in Petra. Designed to function as a mausoleum and crypt, legend has it that it was soon called 'The Treasury' for the stolen loot hidden deep within its ornately carved walls. Though much of the building's details have weathered away over time, Al-Khazneh remains the most awe-inspiring of Petra's numerous ancient sites.