Petra in Arabah

Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
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Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
Photo of Petra in Arabah, Muhafazat Ma`an
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Petra

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This ancient city is remarkable both for its location and its construction. Hewn out of solid rock, the city's churches, tombs, galleries, and other buildings seem improbable in scale and origin. Petra is clearly influenced by classical architecture. Its columns, pediments and arches would be at home in any ancient Mediterranean port city. In fact, Petra (which means "Rock" in Greek) was the center of a great Arabian trading kingdom during the time of ancient Greece and Rome. It had trade routes linking it with cities as close as Rome and lands as far away as China and India. The earliest settlers in this area arrived about 1200bc. They were Edomites who found the gorge ("Wadi as-Sik") carved through this plain to be a welcome sanctuary from enemies and the elements. This sheltering valley is the Wadi Musa, or Valley of Moses. The legend goes that Moses struck a rock with his staff and water poured out, eventually carving out the valley. The ruins we see today were built inside this gorge by the Nabataeans: an enigmatic people who left their mark on this region, but are of an uncertain origin. Their language indicates an Arabian heritage. Some suspect they are from modern-day Yemen. But their written script is very different. Another theory puts them in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. This is somewhat more likely as the cultures share some gods. But there is a third theory which also has some weight. Around 800bc there are two separate Assyrian kings who speak of a tribe called "Nabatu." These people supposedly came from Mesopotamia and settled in the area near Jordan. One reason for the mystery is the fact that Nabataean society was founded on and preserved by stealth. They were experts at disappearing into the desert when threatened and could conceal themselves and some of their buildings if necessary. The Nabataeans were prolific builders. From the cliffs they carved great churches, sacrificial altars, tombs, monuments, and even an entire water collection and distribution system. When Petra came under Roman rule in 106 it continued to serve as a trading hub for another 400 years. But by 551 a severe earthquake combined with new economic realities led people to gradually seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Quick Facts
Timeline
  • ~1200bc: Edomites settle the area.
  • ~400bc: Nabataeans begin building the city.
  • 312bc: Macedonian general Antigonous the One-Eyed fails to conquer the Nabataeans.
  • 106: Petra conquered by Rome. Becomes part of the Roman province of Arabia.
  • 551: Petra rocked by a severe earthquake. The city is abandoned.
  • ~1100: Petra is briefly rediscovered by the knights of the Crusades. They establish a temporary outpost.
  • 1812: Petra is discovered by Western archaeologist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
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