Photo Of The Day: The Treasury At Petra

“Indiana Jones would be proud,” wrote Instagram user shuotography in the caption for today’s Photo of the Day. Yes, we think he would. Taken at the Treasury in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, this photo was enhanced with Instagram’s “Lo-Fi” filter, which adds shadows and makes colors richer. While no one knows for certain, the Treasury, known in Arabic as al-Khazneh, is believed to have been a temple or royal tomb. Definitely Indiana-esque.Do you have any great adventure travel photos? You now have two options to enter your snapshots into the running for Gadling’s Photo of the Day. Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool, or mention @GadlingTravel and use hashtag #gadling in the caption or comments for your post on Instagram. Don’t forget to give us a follow too!

[Photo Credit: Instagram user shuotography]

Archaeologists Discover Key To An Ancient City’s Wealth

A couple of months ago we reported on how archaeologists discovered how the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria thrived in the desert. A complex system of canals and cisterns trapped the sparse but regular rainfall.

Residents of another ancient city, Petra in Jordan, appear to have taken advantage of desert water to support their civilization too. Jordanian and Dutch archaeologists have discovered that an area 15 kilometers east of the city used to be a large oasis. The ancients tapped into it with an extensive network of aqueducts, reservoirs and underground canals cut out of the rock to water their fields.

Petra, capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, was a major trading center in the deserts of what is now Jordan and grew rich off of trading luxury items such as frankincense and myrrh.

The Udhruh Archaeological Project, named after the site, has found evidence that the irrigation system dates back at least 2,000 years. The area was in use for several centuries and the team has also found what may be the best-preserved Roman fort in the world. You can take a virtual tour of that fort here. The tour will show you not only the fort, but also a Byzantine church and a satellite view of the entire site.

[Photo of Petra courtesy Chris Yunker]

Petra: Beyond The Treasury

Without a doubt the most famous destination in the entire country of Jordan is Petra. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, Petra is well known for its impressively detailed structures that are carved directly into the sandstone rock faces that are so prevalent throughout the area. The most famous of those structures is a building known as the Treasury, which has become very well known to travelers across the globe. Photos of the Treasury have become so iconic in fact that many people now mistakenly believe that it is Petra. But in reality the site is a vast complex of tombs, temples and other structures that make up an ancient city, of which the Treasury simply marks the entrance.

The origins of Petra can be traced back to the 6th century B.C., when a formerly nomadic tribe known as the Nabataeans decided to occupy the site and make it their capital. The narrow canyons that lead into the place made it easy to defend and its relatively central location was important to their plans of establishing a trade-empire. Several large and important caravan routes passed through the region and over the centuries the Nabataeans managed to leverage their geographical position into becoming major players in the silk and spice trade. As their wealth grew, so too did Petra.

Visitors to the site today must still navigate a long and twisting canyon, known as the Siq, just to arrive at the entrance to Petra. Walking that narrow gorge offers few clues to what awaits ahead, although several basic structures can still be spotted carved into the rock. Perhaps most noticeable are the two stone channels that run along portions of the canyon walls. Those channels were originally used to collect fresh water and deliver it to the city, helping to provide a steady supply for its citizens.Running about a kilometer in length, the Siq unexpectedly ends in dramatic fashion. The narrow gorge suddenly gives way to a much larger canyon with the Treasury prominently on display in the middle. Visitors are immediately struck by that structure’s impressive features, which include a massive open doorway, multiple columns and intricate stonework. Those carvings reveal the influence of a number of cultures, including the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians, each of which were important trading partners of the Nabataeans.

As you can imagine, this is indeed an amazing and humbling sight that seldom fails to leave visitors in awe of what the Nabataeans have built. If those visitors were to linger in that spot for a time and then simply turn around and hike back through the Siq, I have no doubt that they would leave Petra completely satisfied with their visit. If they were to do that, however, they would also miss out on dozens of other wonders that are contained within the city, most of which are unknown to travelers before they arrive.

Just to the right of the Treasury lies another passage that turns downward into a widening valley below. Broader than the Siq, this canyon was a more prominent road that was once used by the citizens of Petra as they went about their daily lives. Walking that road gradually reveals the true breadth of the place, with dozens of tombs, residences, a Roman temple and amphitheater and numerous other structures being revealed. Those buildings are all carved out of sandstone and vary widely in their condition. None are nearly as well preserved as the Treasury, but most have the added benefit of allowing visitors to actually enter the buildings and explore the interiors as well.

Surprisingly enough, most of Petra is open for visitors to walk through, with ancient staircases providing access to structures that were carved out of rock on some of the higher plateaus. On busy days you’ll find that those areas are teeming with visitors who meander in and out of the buildings as they admire the architecture and engineering that has allowed most of them to stand for more than 2000 years. For history buffs in particular, it is a real treat to be able to get so close to these monuments.

Exploring those places is definitely interesting and can absorb the better part of your day, but the two most impressive locations are not found amongst those ruins and require a bit more effort to reach. The first of these sites is known as the High Place of Sacrifice and as the name implies, you’ll have to do a bit of climbing (not to mention sacrificing!) just to get to it. Accessing the sacred place requires a hike up the more than 700 steps but those who make the effort are rewarded with a fantastic view of the entire city. From the High Place of Sacrifice visitors will get a true sense of the size and scope of Petra and gain an even deeper appreciation of what the Nabataeans accomplished there.

Even more impressive, however, is the Monastery, a building that more than rivals the Treasury in size and grandeur. Built upon a high plateau, visitors to this wonder must first negotiate a climb of more than 900 steps. Those that survive the hike will be treated not only to an amazingly large and well-preserved structure, but some of the most spectacular views in all of Jordan. There are several scenic overlooks near the Monastery itself and they are worth the effort alone. The fact that Petra has saved its most impressive secret for last is simply icing on the cake.

Petra is one of those destinations that many people feel they know long before they ever arrive. It has served as the backdrop for countless films, television shows and books, and has even been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But even knowing all of that I was unprepared for what I found when I visited the place. It was far larger, and grander, than I had ever imagined and it is one of those rare places that exceeds expectations.

If you plan to visit Jordan, then without question Petra has to be on your itinerary. If you have the time and flexibility in your schedule, then I would recommend purchasing the two-day pass. It costs just $5 more and allows you to explore at a more leisurely pace. I’d also recommend that you plan on arriving to the site as soon as it opens at 6 a.m. The solitude that it provides makes for an even more magical experience.

How To Go Couch Surfing In a Cave

As the popularity of the Couch Surfing movement grows exponentially across the budget travel community, it’s widely understood that often times you won’t actually be sleeping on a couch. Sometimes you will have your own bedroom. Other times it could be the floor.

Or, as this recent article from CNN points out, it doesn’t even mean that you’re going to be staying inside of a house. In the case of one couch surfer outside of Petra, Jordan, you could opt to spend the night couch surfing inside of a cave.

Listed on the site by Ghassab Al-Bedoul, this 42-year-old Bedouin invites travelers to stay in the same cave he was born in just minutes from the ruins at Petra. Although there is no bathroom, his cave can accommodate up to ten guests who all sleep on thin mats on the desert ground.

A traveler himself who reportedly received ample free lodging while bouncing around Europe, Al-Bedoul has no qualms about opening up his cave to visitors coming to pay a visit to his hometown. As of publication, Al-Bedoul estimates he’s welcomed over 1,200 travelers into his humble abode.

Renowned for being a site where travelers are able to have unique experiences unavailable to those staying in traditional accommodations, Couch Surfing yet again offers up a tale such as this one, which can only stir the wanderlust of scores of adventurous travelers.

[Image courtesy of Jack Zalium on Flickr]

The ‘Wonders of the World’ Votes are in!

Following up on an earlier post, the voting is now complete, and the winner has been announced. And here are the “New Seven Wonders of the World”: Mexico’s Chichen Itza, Brazil’s statue of Christ Redeemer, The Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Jordan’s Petra, the Colosseum in Rome, and India’s Taj Mahal.

The organizers say that they got about 100 million votes in what they’re calling the world’s first global vote.

The Egyptian pyramids at Giza retain their place in the “original” list of the Seven Wonders of the World, and that site is the only site which still exists from the original Seven.

The organizers are now busying themselves with the next world-vote: the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Vote online at