Little Petra, also known as Siq al-Barid is an archaeological site located north of Petra and the town of Wadi Musa in the Ma’an Governorate of Jordan. Like Petra, it is a Nabataean site, with buildings carved into the walls of the sandstone canyons. As its name suggests, it is much smaller, consisting of three wider open areas connected by a 450-metre (1,480 ft) canyon. It is part of the Petra Archeological Park, though accessed separately, and included in Petra’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is often visited by tourists in conjunction with Petra itself, since it is free and usually less crowded.
Like Petra, it was probably built during the height of Nabataean influence during the 1st century C.E. While the purpose of some of the buildings is not clear, archaeologists believe that the whole complex was a suburb of Petra, the Nabatean capital, meant to house visiting traders on the Silk Road. After the decline of the Nabataeans, it fell vacant, used only by Bedouin nomads, for centuries. Along with neighboring Beidha, Little Petra was excavated in the later 20th century.
In 2010, a biclinium, or dining room, in one of the caves was discovered to have surviving interior art depicting grapes, vines and putti in great detail with a varied palette, probably in homage to the Greek god Dionysus and the consumption of wine. The 2,000-year-old ceiling frescoes in the Hellenistic style have since been restored. While they are not only the only known example of interior Nabataean figurative painting in situ, they are a very rare large-scale example of Hellenistic painting, considered superior even to similar later Roman paintings at Herculaneum.
Little Petra is in an arid, mountainous desert region 1,040 metres (3,410 ft) above sea level. To the east the Arabian Desert opens up. On the west the rugged terrain soon descends into the Jordan Rift Valley, with lands around the Dead Sea as low as 400 metres (1,300 ft) below sea level.
Archaeologists believe that Little Petra was established in the 1st century C.E., when the Nabataean culture was at its peak in the region. It was probably a suburb of the larger city to the south, perhaps where its more successful merchants lived, and entertained their visiting counterparts. The location may have been chosen because of the nearby older settlement of Beidha, inhabited since the earlier Neolithic era. Since investigations of the site have generally focused on the Nabataean and earlier periods, it is not known whether it was still inhabited around the same time Petra itself was ultimately abandoned, in the 7th century.
Like Petra, Little Petra is open to the public during the daytime. It is, however, operated separately, and does not require an admission ticket and fee as Petra does. Many visitors to Petra have increasingly been including Little Petra on their itineraries. Guidebooks recommend it as less crowded and more relaxed than Petra itself. The Painted House, which has no counterpart at Petra, has also added to the attraction.
It is also possible to hike via the 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) trail from the end of the canyon to Ad-Deyr at Petra. Those who make the journey are advised to do so with a guide as the trail, while obvious in many places, is not formally marked. Hikers are also cautioned against attempting the trail alone, or late in the day, as nights in the region are often cold. It is also forbidden to enter Petra without having paid the larger site’s admission.