Originally known to the Nabataeans (the nomadic Arabs) as Raqmu, Petra is a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan, situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Possibly established as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Arab Nabataeans, Petra is regarded as a symbol of Jordan. It is also known as the Rose City due to the color of the stone, out of which it is carved. The word ‘Petra’ means rock, in Greek language. The city is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor, near the small town of Wadi Musa, and can easily be reached from Aqaba a town that borders Eilat, Israel. Petra is half-built and half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges.
The Nabataeans had the ability to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial Oasis. They constructed houses, temples, tombs and altars on the sandstone cliffs of Petras two thousand years ago. The city served as a caravan for ancient traders who travelled between the Mediterranean and Africa. Entrance to the city is through a narrow gorge, known as the Siq. The Siq is over one kilometer in length and is flanked on either side by soaring, 80m high mountains. It was created by tectonic forces which pulled the rocks apart, and was considered the grand entrance and was sacred to the Nabateans. At the end of the Siq, stands the massive façade of Al-Khazneh (Treasury), carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and announcing its monumental presence dwarfing everything around it. It was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean king and represents the engineering genius of those ancient people.
Apart from Al-Khazneh, there are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings, a massive Roman-style theatre, obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars, majestic colonnaded streets, and high above the city overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery with a flight of 800 rock cut steps.
Petra is world’s one of the most famous archaeological sites, where one can find a magnificent fusion of ancient Eastern traditions with the Hellenistic style of architecture. It remained hidden from the outer world until 1812 and rediscovered by a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
Today, Petra is regarded as one of the most popular places of tourist interest in Jordan. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and was selected by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 28 Places to See before You Die.