After Petra, Al Beidha or Little Petra is the next most important site for the casual visitor in Wadi Musa. This site is only a few kilometers (around a 10-minute drive) north of Petra and easily accessible by taxi or rented car. We jumped in a taxi and hired a guide at the site.
There were less visitors in 1996 than probably visit today and a welcome respite from all the crowds inside the City of Petra. Little Petra is literally hidden away in the center of a mountain with a classical temple standing guard outside the mini-siq. Little Petra appears to have been an important suburb of the city of Petra and is at the point where several ancient caravan routes met. The routes linked Wadi Araba with Gaza, Egypt and the Mediterranean coast.
The narrow defile is only about 350m/1,148′ long but crammed to the brim with tombs, temples, houses, water channels and cisterns (various dining halls had cisterns and basins to wash), and that is why it is called a “Little Petra.” There are remains of painted frescoes on plaster dating from the 1st century AD, and was much easier to visit.
Beidha (Little Petra) Neolithic area has been inhabited from as early as 7,000 to 6,500 BC. Next, came the Edomites during the Iron Age, 1,200 to 539 BC, and most of what is seen today was built by the Nabateans, nomadic Arab people from Arabia who began to arrive at the end of the 6th century BC. With a plentiful water supply, and defensive canyon walls, this was a perfect place for the Nabateans to settle and eventually make the capital of their kingdom.
In hindsight, I would stay a minimum of four days at Petra. Visit the main Petra site for an entire day, Little Petra perhaps two days later, fit in a few other excursions and possibly walk back into Petra for another perspective and to tie it all together.
Some excursion examples that interest me are:
- A visit to the Byzantine church – later an Islamic shrine/tomb- on the summit of the Jabal Harun, Mount Aaron/Mount Hor. Aaron, brother of Moses and Miriam, died in Jordan and was buried in Petra on Mount Hor. It is a 2-3 hour climb up to the shrine at 1,350m/4,429′ and we weren’t prepared to do this in either 1989 or 1996. Didn’t have the time (2-3 hours in each direction) or the proper hiking boots. The views are supposed to be spectacular from the top and has the added religious aspect of joining the many pilgrims who venture up to Aaron’s tomb. If you go, take plenty of water; and
- Another excursion that sounds like fun is spending a night at the Ammarin Bedouin Camp situated in front of Little Petra. The Ammarin are a local tribe that settled near Petra, in Beidha, during the early 19th century. This camp tries to raise awareness of Bedouin culture and environment. You sleep in Bedouin tents furnished with Bedouin style mattresses and rugs and are entertained by authentic Bedouin music, dance, and delicious local cuisine.
Whatever you decide to do, Petra is a must no matter how great the crowds. Forget the movies, photographs, travel programs…nothing can possibly prepare you for the first sight of Petra and the colors changing by the minute from every shade of rose, pink, orange and brown in the entire spectrum. A vision you’ll never forget. I know we haven’t…