Ancient Wonders of Jordan: Petra

Petra is an ancient city in Jordan, and it was lost to the modern civilization up until 1812. The beautiful city of Petra has been entirely carved from the rock that due to its special color bathes it in the lovely hues of red and pink – also adorning it with the name: Rose City.

John William Burgon’s awarded sonnet described it as a “rose-red city half a sold as time”, and we will now describe its wonders. So, without further ado, let’s go meet Petra!

Nabataeans

Nabataeans

Nabataeans. Source: Atlas Tours

First thing on the list are Petra’s people. The Nabataeans, the Arabian nomads were pretty advanced at the time. The evidence shows that they had control over water supply. It’s amazing that they had a system of water conduits, dams and cisterns and that is probably why they prospered so much in the first place – they sold water during the drought.

Before Nabataeans were conquered by Romans, they took Petra to unimaginable trading heights, since it was on main camel caravan routes. Being on the main crossroads, everybody stopped at Petra, so the city which became a gathering site, flourished steadily.

But Nabateans had a strong entrepreneurial sense even then – they offered safety in strategically placed shelters and sold water to traders – all for a certain fee.

 

The Siq

The Siq, Petra, Jordan

The Siq. Source: The Culture Map

The Siq is a narrow, mile-long passage through the mountain. Petra had two main entrances through the mountains leading into the city. What’s impressive is that Nabataeans had clay pipes that distributed water to the entire Petra, that passed through these Siqs. There is the cobblestone road taking you into the city which is more than 2000 years old. If you look closely and focus on the stones, you can literally see the very skid marks of chariots that left their trace and passed here centuries ago. As you come to the end of Siq, we reach…

 

The Treasury

The Treasury. Source: travel4teens.com

The Treasury. Source: travel4teens.com

Al-Khazneh, or the Treasury, first began as a mausoleum. The legend says its name comes from a large urn on the temple’s second floor, which was allegedly filled with bandits’ and pirates’ loot. That theory was proved wrong over the course of years, since bullet damage confirmed that the urn is indeed made of rock. Bedouins probably tried opening it with open fire, hoping that they will find immense riches, but all they had gotten was dust.

The Treasury is astoundingly spectacular when bathed in the morning sunlight, so if you are there, don’t miss the mesmerizing photo op.

Built: Around 5th century BC

 

Petra Theatre

Theatre. Source: Mygola

Theatre. Source: Mygola

Theatre is originally built in Hellenistic style, but when the Romans took over Petra in 106 AD, they did some remodeling.  Perhaps as a building, it isn’t impressive as one would imagine a theatre to be, but the entire venue was carved out of the mountainside. That makes it pretty nifty, wouldn’t you agree?
That and the fact that cities at that time had couple of hundreds of citizens, while Petra had more than 20.000, and its theatre could seat anywhere between 5.000 to 8.000 people. Today, it is in very deteriorated state, due to the flash floods that often affect this area.

Fun fact: There are caves at the back of Petra’s Theatre that are probably remnants of the old tombs, which were ultimately removed in order to allow for carving the theatre seats.

Built: 1st century AD

 

The Petra Monastery

Monastery. Source: Wiki

Monastery. Source: Wiki

The Monastery, Ad-Deir is located on the farthest side of Petra, from the main gate. It is built in the Nabataean classical style, and it stands 45 meters tall, and 50 meters wide. The road to the top is long and there are around 800 steps between you and the Monastery, but it is worth the walk. Or the donkey ride, advertised as “air-condition taxi” by the locals. Try negotiating the prices since they are often several times higher than the actual worth.
In a cave across the Monastery there is a café where you can rest and enjoy the view.

Pro tip: start your journey in the afternoon, the road up will mostly be in the covers of natural shade, and a cherry on top (of the Monastery), the sun will bathe the façade in an amazing manner. But don’t stay after the sunset, since the road by night is too rocky and unlit.

Built: 1st century AD

 

The Great Temple of Petra

Great Temple. Source: Hawke Backpacking

Great Temple. Source: Hawke Backpacking

Alexandria’s best craftsmen came together to carve this masterpiece. The name, Great Temple, was first used by an archeologist Bachman in 1921. Ever since, the name remained, while we still don’t know what was the original purpose of the building. It’s quite possible that the Great Temple was actually the seat of Nabataean government. If you visit Petra and its temple/not-temple, don’t miss the plaster that displays vivid colors even 2000 years later.

The most recent excavations, with the help of the ground penetrating radar, discovered an immense pool complex and gardens next to the Great Temple.

Built: 1st century AD

 

Petra by night. Source: Colby Photo

Petra by night. Source: Colby Photo

Petra Fun Facts:

  • Only 15% of the city is uncovered, and 85% still remains underground.
  • Petra is one old lady! Being established in the 312 BC makes it one of the oldest cities in the world, while the first “buildings” were built around 5th century BC
  • Petra is where Moses struck his staff and water came bursting forth. Also, today it is known as the Habal Haroun – Mount Hor, the place where his brother Aaron is buried.
  • Petra starred in several Hollywood blockbusters like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, the Mummy Returns and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
  • They had tapered ends of clay pipes, which is something a modern man learnt to do only 200 hundred years ago, while Nabataeans did that 2200 years prior.
  • In order to produce the sufficient water pressure in the city center, they elevated their pipes in the last kilometer of the piping, and then they had let it drop gradually. Smart!
  • The Smithsonian numbered Petra amongst the „28 Places to See Before You Die“.
  • Bedouins used Petra’s ornate carvings as a target practice.
  • Petra has more than 800 carved tombs and more than 800 individual monuments. If you visit Petra, there is certainly a lot to see!

 

Sources:
Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, Jordan Tourism Board, National Geographic.

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