Petra is a historical and archaeological city in the southern Jordanian Government of Ma’an, that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Another name for Petra is the ROSE CITY, due to the colour of the stone out of which it is carved.
Established, possibly, as early as 312 BC, as the capital city of the NABATAEANS, it is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of Jebel al-Madh Bah (identified by some as the Biblical Mount Hor) in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gul of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The site remained unknown to the Western World until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time,” in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.” Petra was chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the “28 places to see before you die.” Petra is identified as the capital of Nabataeans and the centre of their caravan trade. It not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Basra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come of the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.
Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply, that led to the rise of the desert city creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by “flash floods” and archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper from its sale.
Some of the earliest recorded farmers settled in Beidha, a pre-pottery settlement, just north of Petra, 7,000 BC. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary has existed there since very ancient times.
Stations 19 through 26 of the “stations list” of EXODUS are places associated with Petra. This part of the country was Biblically assigned to the Horites, the predecessors of the Edomites. The habits of the natural natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves.
Petra is usually identified with Sela, which means a rock, the Biblical references refer to Petra as “the cleft in the rock” referring to its entrance. In the parallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply “the rock.” —- Christianity found its way to Petra in the 4th century AD, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade centre. According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses (Musa) struck a rod with his staff and water came 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 of Moses is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petra is sited.
The site suffers from a host of threats, including collapse of ancient structures, erosion due to flooding, and improper rainwater drainage and unsustainable tourism. In order to reduce the impact of these threats, Petra National Trust (PNT) was established in 1989. UNESCO & ICOMOS recently collaborated to publish their 1st book on human and natural threats to this World Heritage Site. They chose Petra as its most important example of threatened landscapes.
John William Burgon’s Sonnet
It seems no work of Man’s creative hand
by labour 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 plain
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
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago
match we such marvel save in eastern clime
a rose-red city half as old as time.
The Site is featured in films : Indiana jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights, Passion in the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Mummy Returns and Transformers ; Revenge of the Fallen.