Petra - Rock-cut architecture in the Arabian desert (28 May)
Interesting Facts about Petra
FOUNDED SOME 2,000 YEARS ago by the Nabataeans, the red-rock city of Petra in southern Jordan reached a dazzling peak during the Roman Empire. It was an important center of the spice trade under the Nabataeans, but became a hub of Roman political influence, military and commercial might, and cultural reach in the Arabian Peninsula in the second century A.D. Changing trade routes and earthquakes led to Petra’s eventual decline, and by the seventh century, the city was largely abandoned.
Chiseled into a warren of desert canyons between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, Petra started life as a caravan city on the busy overland routes between Arabia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia. Its eclectic architecture reflects this crossroads quality, a blend of Hellenistic and Middle Eastern influences.
The Nabataeans transformed their harsh environment into a boon rather than a bane. Tucked into rugged desert mountains and reachable only via narrow gorges like the Siq (a sandstone shaft canyon), the site was easily defendable. Their greatest enemy was the arid climate, but the inhabitants created an ingenious irrigation system that diverted water into Petra through channels and tunnels carved into the stone.
Little remains of their domestic or commercial architecture, but the tombs of Nabataean rulers and nobles have stood the test of time; massive stone-cut structures with elaborate facades and deep, temple-like interiors.
Although the incomparable Treasury (Al Khazneh) is easily the city’s most photographed structure, there are scores of other Nabataean tombs carved into the canyon walls. Some accounts say that rather than leave them to the dead, the Romans converted many of the rock-hewn tombs into aristocratic mansions.
Outgrowing its red-rock canyons, Petra spilled out onto the adjacent wadi during the first century A.D., just before the Roman conquest. Roman influence was already rife by then, reflected in structures like the amphitheater and Great Temple. The immense Hadrian Gate and elegant Cardo Maximus attest to the long and prosperous Roman era.
Archaeologists are still combing Petra for undiscovered artifacts and buildings. One of their most recent finds was a monumental rectangular structure—discovered via drones and satellite imagery—hidden beneath the sand and stones of the wadi about a half mile (800 m) south of the Great Temple.
The terrain itself is a swirl of red, pink, and orange stone reminiscent of the slot canyons of southern Utah. It can be explored by horseback, carriage, camel rides, or day-long treks to the rock-cut monuments of the Monastery or High Place of Sacrifice.