Petra’s northern suburb of Siq al-Barid, 9km north of Wadi Musa town, is often touted to tourists as “Little Petra” – which, with its short, high gorge and familiar carved facades, isn’t far wrong. However, although it sees its share of tour buses, the place retains an atmosphere and a stillness that have largely disappeared from the central areas of Petra. Adding in its location in gorgeous countryside and its proximity to Beidha (a rather less inspiring Neolithic village), it’s well worth half a day of your time.
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The route to Little Petra follows the road north from the Mövenpick hotel. A short way along, where the road curves left, you can park on the shoulder for one of Petra’s best views, a breathtaking sweep over the central valley of the ancient city, with many of the monuments in view, dwarfed by the mountains.
Further on, past the Bdul village Umm Sayhoun, the road heads on across rolling, cultivated uplands that are breathtakingly beautiful after Petra’s barren rockscapes. About 8km from the Mövenpick, at a T-junction, head left for 800m to the end of the road. You are now beyond Bdul territory in the lands of the Ammareen tribe; a signpost points off the road to the Ammareen campsite. In the small car park you’ll likely be approached by Ammareen kids hawking trinkets and guides offering their services.
This whole area was a thriving community in Nabatean times, and there’s evidence in almost every cranny of Nabatean occupation. Just before you reach the Siq entrance, there’s a particularly striking facade on the right, with a strange, narrow passage for an interior.
As you enter, you’ll realize why this was dubbed Siq al-Barid (the “Cold Siq”): almost no sun can reach inside to warm the place. It’s only about 350m long, with alternating narrow and open sections, and differs from most areas of Petra, firstly in the density of carved houses, temples and triclinia – there are very few blank areas – and secondly in the endearingly quaint rock-cut stairs which lead off on all sides, turning it into a multistorey alleyway that must once have hummed with life. Feel free to explore. In the first open area is what was probably a temple, fronted by a portico, below which is a little rock-cut house. The second open area has four large triclinia, which could have been used to wine and dine merchants and traders on their stopover in Petra. A little further on the left, stairs climb up to the Painted House, a biclinium featuring one of the very few Nabatean painted interiors to have survived the centuries: on the ceiling at the back is a winged cupid with a bow and arrow; just above is a bird, to the left of which is a Pan figure playing a flute. The third open area culminates in rock-cut stairs which lead through a narrow gap out onto a wide flat ledge; the path drops down into the wadi (Petra is to the left), but you can scramble up to the right for some excellent views.