The Lost City of Petra

Wednesday, 7 November 2012 - 01:16 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  4 minutes

The Monastery Al Dier © Tom Neys

The Monastery Al Dier © Tom Neys

Petra is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma’an that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Established possibly 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 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 Gulf 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 at night © Susanahajer/cc-by-sa-3.0 Al Khazneh © Bernard Gagnon The Corinthian Tomb © Bernard Gagnon The Monastery Al Dier © Tom Neys Urn Tomb © Bernard Gagnon Path to Petra © Carlalexanderlukas Petra location map © Eric Gaba/CC-BY-SA-3.0
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Petra location map © Eric Gaba/CC-BY-SA-3.0
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 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. Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south on a track leading across the plain of Petra, around Jabal Haroun (“Aaron’s Mountain”), where the Tomb of Aaron, said to be the burial-place of Aaron brother of Moses is located, or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3-4 m (9.8-13 ft) wide) called the Siq (“the shaft”), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks 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 further from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheatre has been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-coloured mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.

Read more on VisitPetra.jo and Wikipedia Stadt Petra. Photos by Wikipedia Commons.




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