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that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;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 me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
(Poem by John William Burgon, ca 1845)
Petra isn’t exactly ideally located. To come to its gates you first have to travel mile after mile through the Jordanian desert. There are different ways to get into the town, but most nowaday tourists will choose the spectacular road through Wadi as-Sik, a narrow and kilometer-long gorge, where you are surrounded by cliffs that reaches 80 meters straight up to the sky.
The bedrock is in itself remarkable—vibrant red, white, pink, and sandstone cliff faces.. But it’s not until the visitor has reached the end of the gorge, that Petra appears in all its glory.
The first the visitor sees is a fantastic facade, carved directly out of the mountain. It’s the so called Treasury, al-Khaznah, 40 meters high. In spite of its name it has probably never harboured any treasures. More likely it has been a tomb of a king from the first century AD. Nobody knows for sure, Petra is a town, that still protects many mysteries.
Petra was built by the Nabateans, a Semitic people, when isn’t entirely clear, but people have lived in the valley since stone age. They developed an ingenious system to collect the rain water that irregularly falls in the area.
Thanks to the city’s inaccessible location and the fact that the inhabitants became self-sufficient with water, Petra came to function as a fortress that could be conquered only with difficulty. Thus Petra could offer caravans passing the city fresh drinking water and protection against robbers, for a price of course!
Petra, or Rekem as the city originally was called (”Petra” is Greek for cliff) became a center for commerce in the region. Silk, spices and other valuable goods from China, India and south Arabia passsed on their way to Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. At the time of the birth of Christ as many as 20.000 people may have lived in the city. But in 106 AD the city became a part of the Roman empire. After the Romans had taken over the control of the city, it lost its importance. Trade was transferred to Palmyra in what is today Syria, and Petra became more and more isolated.
A devastating earth quake hit Petra in the 300’s, and when muslim arabs conquered the area the city was thorougly sacked. Thereafter Petra was ”lost”. The city sat empty and in near ruin for centuries. Only in 1812 did a European traveler, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguise himself in Bedouin costume and manage to infiltrate the mysterious place. The city was at that time closely guarded by the inhabitants of the region, who looked upon it as a holy place.
In 1985, the Petra Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world.
But maybe Petra is mostly known as a place where a small part of the movie Indiana Jones and the last crusade was shot…
This small clip shows Indiana Jones riding into Petra: