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This article is about the Jordanian ancient city of Petra. For other uses, see Petra (disambiguation).

Petra (Greekπέτρα (petra), meaning 'stone'; Arabic:البتراء , Al-Batrāʾ) is an Arabian historical and archaeologicalcity in the Jordaniangovernorate of Ma'an, that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduitsystem.

Establishedpossibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans,it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction It lies on the slope of Mount Hor[3]in a basin among the mountains which form theeastern flank of Arabah(Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea tothe Gulfof Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The siteremained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swissexplorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was describedas "a rose-red city half as old as time" in a NewdigatePrize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as"one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage"See: UNESCO Intangible CulturalHeritage Lists. Petra was chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the"28 Places to See Before You Die.


Plinythe Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of theNabataeans, and the center of their caravantrade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennialstream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlledthe main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in thenorth, to Aqabaand Leuce Come on the Red Sea, andacross the desert to the Persian Gulf.

Excavationshave demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control thewater supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The area isvisited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstratesthe Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns andwater conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, andenabled the city to prosper from its sale.

Although inancient times Petra might have been approached from the south on a trackleading across the plain of Petra, around Jabal Haroun ("Aaron'sMountain"), where the Tomb of Aaron, said to be the burial-place of Aaron brother of Moses is located, orpossibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach thesite from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down througha dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m (9.8–13 ft) wide) called the Siq ("theshaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstonerocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa.At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh(popularly known as "the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

A little furtherfrom the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is amassive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. Atthe point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city isrevealed with striking effect. The amphitheatrehas been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during itsconstruction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almostenclosing it on three sides are rose-coloured mountain walls, divided intogroups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form oftowers.


Evidencesuggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550–1292BC)[citation needed]. It is listedin Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarnaletters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city wasfounded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times.Stations 19 through 26 of the stations list of Exodusare places associated with Petra.This partof the country was Biblicallyassigned to the Horites,the predecessors of the Edomites.The habitsof the original natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying thedead and offering worship in half-excavated caves. Although Petra is usuallyidentified with Sela which means a rock, the Biblical references[10] refer toit as "the cleft in the rock", referring to its entrance. The secondbook of Kings xiv. 7 seems to be more specific. In theparallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply "therock" (2 Chronicles xxv. 12, see LXX).

On theauthority of Josephus(Antiquities of the Jews iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7)Eusebius and Jerome (Onom.sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94) assert that Rekem was thenative name and Rekem appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra and associated with Mount Seir.But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is the name of Kadesh,implying that Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaicversions give the form Rekem-Geya which recalls the name of the villageEl-ji, southeast of Petra.[citation needed] The Semitic name ofthe city, if not Sela, remains unknown. The passage in DiodorusSiculus (xix. 94–97) which describes the expeditions which Antigonus sent against the Nabataeans in312 BC is understood to throw some light upon the history of Petra, but the"petra" referred to as a natural fortress and place of refuge cannotbe a proper name and the description implies that the town was not yet inexistence.

The name "Rekem"was inscribed in the rock wall of the Wadi Musa opposite the entrance to theSiq, but about twenty years ago the Jordanians built a bridge over the wadi andthis inscription was buried beneath tons of concrete.

Moresatisfactory evidence of the date of the earliest Nabataean settlement may beobtained from an examination of the tombs. Two types have been distinguished:the Nabataean and the Greco-Roman. The Nabataean type starts from thesimple pylon-tomb with a door set in a tower crownedby a parapetornament, in imitation of the front of a dwelling-house. Then, after passingthrough various stages, the full Nabataean type is reached, retaining all thenative features and at the same time exhibiting characteristics which arepartly Egyptianand partly Greek. Of this type there exist close parallels inthe tomb-towers at el-I~ejr in north Arabia, which bear long Nabataeaninscriptions and supply a date for the corresponding monuments at Petra. Thencomes a series of tombfronts which terminate in a semicircular arch, a featurederived from north Syria.Finally come the elaborate façades copied from the front of a Romantemple; however, all traces of native style have vanished. The exact datesof the stages in this development cannot be fixed. Few inscriptions of anylength have been found at Petra, perhaps because they have perished with the stucco or cementwhich was used upon many of the buildings. The simple pylon-tombs which belongto the pre-Hellenic age serve as evidence for the earliest period. It is notknown how far back in this stage the Nabataean settlement goes, but it does notgo back farther than the 6th century BC.

A periodfollows in which the dominant civilization combines Greek, Egyptian and Syrianelements, clearly pointing to the age of the Ptolemies.Towards the close of the 2nd century BC, when the Ptolemaic and Seleucidkingdoms were equally depressed, the Nabataean kingdom came to the front. UnderAretas IIIPhilhellene, (c.85–60 BC), the royal coins begin. The theatre was probablyexcavated at that time, and Petra must have assumed the aspect of a Hellenistic city. In the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris, (9 BC–40 AD), thetombs of the el-I~ejr [?] type may be dated, and perhaps also the High-place.

Roman rule

In 106 AD, whenCornelius Palma was governor ofSyria, that part of Arabia under the rule of Petra was absorbed intothe RomanEmpire as part of Arabia Petraea, becoming capital. The nativedynasty came to an end, but the city continued to flourish. It was around thistime that the Petra Roman Road was built. A century later, inthe time of Alexander Severus, when the city was at theheight of its splendor, the issue of coinage comes to an end. There is no morebuilding of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe, suchas an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the SassanidEmpire. Meanwhile, as Palmyra (fl. 130–270) grew in importance and attracted the Arabiantrade away from Petra, the latter declined. It seems, however, to have lingeredon as a religious centre. A Romanroad was constructed at the site. Epiphanius of Salamis (c.315–403) writes thatin his time a feast was held there on December 25 in honor of the virgin Khaabou (Chaabou)and her offspring Dushara(Haer. 51).[citation needed]


Petra declinedrapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based traderoutes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vitalwater management system.The ruinsof Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Agesand were visited by SultanBaibars ofEgypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe themwas Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Because thestructures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves,and many treasures were stolen. In 1929, a four-person team, consisting ofBritish archaeologists Agnes Conway and GeorgeHorsfield, Palestinian physician and folk-lore expert Dr TawfiqCanaan and Dr Ditlef Nielsen, a Danish scholar, excavated and surveyedPetra.

T. E. Lawrence(Lawrence of Arabia)

In October1917, Lawrence, as part of a general effort to divert Turkish militaryresources away from the British advance before the Third Battle of Gaza, led a small force ofSyrians and Arabians in defending Petra against a much larger combined force ofTurks and Germans. The Bedouin women living in the vicinity of Petra and underthe leadership of Sheik Khallil's wife were recruited to fight in the defenseof the city. The defenders were able to completely devastate the Turkish/Germanforces.


The Nabataeansworshipped the Arab gods and goddesses of the pre-Islamic times as well as a few of their deifiedkings. One, ObodasI, was deified after his death. Dushara was themain male god accompanied by his female trinity: Al-‘Uzzá,Allat and Manāt. Manystatues carved in the rock depict these gods and goddesses.

The Monastery,Petra's largest monument, dates from the 1st century BC. It was dedicated toObodas I and is believed to be the symposium of Obodas the god. Thisinformation is inscribed on the ruins of the Monastery (the name is thetranslation of the Arabic "Ad Deir").

Christianityfound its way to Petra in the 4th century AD, nearly 500 years after theestablishment of Petra as a trade center. Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra(Anhioch. 10) named Asterius. At least one of the tombs (the"tomb with the urn"?) was used as a church. An inscription in redpaint records its consecration "in the time of the most holy bishopJason" (447). After the Islamic conquest of 629–632 Christianity in Petra, as of mostof Arabia, gave way to Islam. During the FirstCrusade Petra was occupied by Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and formed the second fief of the barony of Al Karak (inthe lordship of Oultrejordain) with the title Château de la Valée deMoyse or Sela. It remained in the hands of the Franks until 1189.It is still a titular see of the CatholicChurch.

TwoCrusader-period castles are known in and around Petra. The first is al-Wu'ayraand is situated just north of Wadi Musa. It can be viewed from the road to"Little Petra". It is the castle of Valle Moise which was seized by aband of Turks with the help of local Muslims and only recovered by theCrusaders after they began to destroy the olive trees of Wadi Musa. Thepotential loss of livelihood led the locals to negotiate surrender. The secondis on the summit of el-Habis in the heart of Petra and can be accessed via aflight of steps that begins near the tomb complex known as "theMonastery".

According toArab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses (Musa) struck a rock with his staff and watercame forth, and where Moses' brother, Aaron (Harun), is buried,at Mount Hor,known today as Jabal Haroun or Mount Aaron. The Wadi Musa or "Wadi ofMoses" is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petrais sited. A mountaintop shrine of Moses' sister Miriam was stillshown to pilgrims at the time of Jerome in the 4th century, but its location has not beenidentified since.

Threats toPetra

The sitesuffers from a host of threats, including collapse of ancient structures,erosion due to flooding and improper rainwater drainage, weathering from saltupwelling, improper restoration of ancient structures, and unsustainabletourism.The latter has increased substantially, especially since the site receivedwidespread media coverage in 2007 during the controversial New Seven Wonders of the WorldInternet and cell phone campaign.

In an attemptto reduce the impact of these threats, Petra National Trust (PNT) wasestablished in 1989. Over this time, it has worked together with numerous localand international organizations on projects that promote the protection,conservation and preservation of the Petra site.Moreover,UNESCO and ICOMOS recently collaborated to publish their first book on humanand natural threats to these sensitive World Heritage sites. They chose Petraas its first, and most important example of threatened landscapes. A bookreleased in 2012, Tourism and Archaeological Heritage Management at Petra:Driver to Development or Destruction?, represents the first in a series ofimportant books to address the very nature of these deteriorating buildings,cites, sites, and regions. The next books in the series of deteriorating UNESCOWorld Heritage Sites will include Macchu Picchu,Angkor Wat,and Pompeii.(25).

Petra today

On December 6,1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.

In 2006 thedesign of a Visitor Centre began. The Jordan Times reported in December 2006 that 59,000 people visited inthe two months October and November 2006, 25% fewer than the same period in theprevious year.

In popularculture

Petra was themain topic in John William Burgon's Poem Petra. Referring to it as theinaccessible city which he had heard described but had never seen. The Poem wasawarded the Newdigate Prize in 1845:


In 1977, theLebanese Rahbani brothers wrote the musical "Petra" as a response tothe Lebanese Civil War

The site is featured in films such as: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,Arabian Nights, Passion in the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

It was recreated for the video games Spy Hunter (2001), King's Quest V,Lego Indiana Jones, SonicUnleashed and Civilization V.

Petra appearedin the novels Left Behind, Appointment with Death, The Eaglein the Sand and The Red Sea Sharks, the nineteenth book in The Adventures of Tintin series. Itfeatured prominently in the Marcus Didius Falco mystery novel Last Act in Palmyra. In BlueBalliett's novel, Chasing Vermeer, the character Petra Andalee isnamed after the site.

The Sisters of Mercy filmed their music video for"Dominion/Mother Russia" in and around Al Khazneh ("TheTreasury") in February 1988.

Petra was featured in episode 3 of the 2010 series AnIdiot Abroad.

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