It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned,
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
That crowns the hill and consecrates the plane;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn
That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
Your Contributions which deemed old two thousand years ago,
Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.
The giant red mountains and vast mausoleums of a departed race have nothing in common with modern civilization, and ask nothing of it except to be appreciated at their true value – as one of the greatest wonders ever wrought by Nature and Man.
Although much has been written about Petra, nothing really prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed.
Petra, the world wonder, is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Petra is considered the most famous and gorgeous site in Jordan located about 262 km south of Amman and 133 km north of Aqaba. It is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in southern Jordan more than 2000 years ago.
Admired then for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a UNESCO world heritage site and one of The New 7 Wonders of the World that enchants visitors from all corners of the globe.
Walls of Petra The approach through a kilometer long, cool, and gloom chasm (or Siq) a long narrow gorge whose steeply rising sides all but obliterate the sun, provides a dramatic contrast with the magic to come.
Suddenly the gorge opens into a natural square dominated by Petra’s most famous monument, The Treasury (El-Khazneh), whose intricately carved facade glows in the dazzling sun.
The Nabataeans, an Arab tribe, first appeared in the sixth century BC in the desert located to the east of Jordan, and came from the south-east of the Arabian Peninsula. They settled first in Petra and subsequently expanded their territory to the Horan and Levant and finally announced Bosra as their capital.
According to historical records, they are descendants of (Bnayut) the son of Ismail bin Ibrahim. Ismail had twelve boys who formed a tribe, most of whom were located in Najad. The father of the Nabataeans remained at Mount Shammar but was forced to run from the Ashurbanipal to Wadi Araba between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.
During the fourth century BC the Nabataeans lived as nomads in tents, spoke Arabic, loathed wine and did not have any interest in agriculture, but by the second century, they developed into an organized society.
The Greek historian Herodotus referred to Nabataean history in his writing, where the Nabataeans fist appeared in 312 BC and prayed to Oratol.
As the Nabataeans grew in power and wealth, they attracted the attention of their neighbors to the north.
The Seleucid King Antigonus, who had come to power when Alexander’s empire was divided, attacked Petra in 312 BC. His army met with relatively little resistance, and was able to sack the city.
The quantity of booty was so great, however, that it slowed their return journey north and the Nabataeans were able to annihilate them in the desert. Records indicate that the Nabataeans were eager to remain on good terms with the Seleucids in order to perpetuate their trading ambitions.
Throughout much of the third century BC, the Ptolemies and Seleucids warred over control of Jordan, with the Seleucids emerging victorious in 198 BC. The Nabataeans remained essentially untouched and independent throughout this period.
Although the Nabataeans resisted military conquest, the Hellenistic culture of their neighbors influenced them greatly. Hellenistic influences can be seen in Nabataean art and architecture, especially at the time that their empire was expanding northward into Syria, around 150 BC. However, the growing economic and political power of the Nabataeans began to worry the Romans. In 65 BC, the Romans arrived in Damascus and ordered the Nabataeans to withdraw their forces. Two years later, Pompey dispatched a force to cripple Petra. The Nabataean King Aretas III either defeated the Roman legions or paid a tribute to keep peace with them.
The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC augured a period of relative anarchy for the Romans in Jordan, and the Parthian kings of Persia and Mesopotamia took advantage of the chaotic situation to attack. The Nabataeans made a mistake by siding with the Parthians in their war with the Romans, and after the Parthians’ defeat, Petra had to pay tribute to Rome. When they fell behind in paying this tribute, they were invaded twice by the Roman vassal King Herod the Great. The second attack, in 31 BCE, saw him take control of a large swath of Nabataean territory, including the lucrative northern trading routes into Syria
Nonetheless, the Nabataeans continued to prosper for a while. King Aretas IV, who ruled from 9 BCE to 40 CE, built a chain of settlements along the caravan routes to develop the prosperous incense trade. The Nabataeans realized the power of Rome, and subsequently allied themselves with the Romans to quell the Jewish uprising of 70 CE. However, it was only a matter of time before Nabataea would fall under direct Roman rule. The last Nabataean monarch, Rabbel II, struck a deal with the Romans that as long as they did not attack during his lifetime, they would be allowed to move in after he died. Upon his death in 106 CE, the Romans claimed the Nabataean Kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea. The city of Petra was redesigned according to traditional Roman architectural designs, and a period of relative prosperity ensued under the Pax Romana.
The Nabataeans profited for a while from their incorporation into the trade routes of the Roman Near East, and Petra may have grown to house 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday. However, commerce became less profitable to the Nabataeans with the shift of trade routes to Palmyra in Syria and the expansion of seaborne trade around the Arabian Peninsula. Sometime probably during the fourth century CE, the Nabataeans left their capital at Petra. No one really knows why. It seems that the withdrawal was an unhurried and organized process, as very few silver coins or valuable possessions have been unearthed at Petra.
In 1977, the Lebanese Rahbani brothers wrote the musical “Petra” as a response to the 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, Sonic Unleashed and Civilization V.
Petra appeared in the novels Left Behind, Appointment with Death, The Eagle in the Sand and The Red Sea Sharks, the nineteenth book in The Adventures of Tintin series. It featured prominently in the Marcus Didius Falco mystery novel Last Act in Palmyra. In Blue Balliett’s novel, Chasing Vermeer, the character Petra Andalee is named after the site.
The Sisters of Mercy filmed their music video for “Dominion/Mother Russia” in and around Al Khazneh (“The Treasury”) in February 1988.
Petra was featured in episode 3 of the 2010 series An Idiot Abroad.