The Lost City of Petra in Jordan

The magnificent ancient city of Petra, Jordan


The lost city of Petra in Jordan - named as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World - is a majestic place thousands of years old that still holds hidden secrets waiting to be unveiled.

In 1812 the site was re-discovered by the first European, Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt , who had spent many years studying Arabic and the history of Islam. Archaeological excavations in the area have shown that the area was first occupied more than 9000 years ago.

The name of the site is called ‘Petra’, a Greek word meaning ‘Rock’, because the city was carved inside red-rose sandstone rock. The city of Petra is comprised of hundreds of tombs, houses, a theatre that could fit more than 3000 people, temples, obelisks, and altars where animals were sacrificed to calm the angry gods or ask them for favours. The entrance to the city is through a very narrow path about 1km wide with a cliff on each side, and the first thing you see when you enter is the carved Treasury (Al Khazneh). Scholars disagree with the title pointing out that the Treasury is a ceremonial tomb. Only 15% of the city has yet been uncovered, the other 85% remaining untouched underground.

This mysterious site was occupied by many different tribes over its history. Based on traditional stories, the first known tribe to occupy the area was the Edomites, of which very little is known. Later, at about 300 BCE, an Arab polytheistic tribe named the Nabateans migrated to the area. It was after that time that Petra flourished and became the capital of their kingdom. Nabateans are considered the builders of Petra, a tribe that was so famous they were mentioned by many different civilizations at the time, and records containing references to them were found in ancient Greece, China and the Roman Empire. Yet little is known about the Nabateans and their society, and most of what we know comes from the scholar Strabon.

Petra is the city in which Indiana Jones hunted for the Holy Grail in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade . One of the Myths concerning Petra originates from the Crusaders and states that it was somewhere in this area that Moses struck a rock to bring water to the Israelites when they fled Egypt. Another myth has to do with treasures hidden in the Treasury. Many treasure hunters have shot upon the façade in search of them, the scars of which can still be seen.

Excavations are on-going, and more secrets are being revealed. One of the latest excavations to puzzle archaeologists brought to light Hellenistic style artwork more than 2000 years old depicting a child with wings playing the flute.

Is it possible for such a magnificent, famous city to have been built by the ‘primitive’ Nabataean tribe more than 2000 years ago without some kind of help? Hopefully the unexcavated 85% of the city will someday answer that question.

By April Holloway

Related Links

The Lost City of Petra - National Geographic

Petra - Brown University

The Ancient City of Petra

A Rose Red City

Petra - Myth and Reality

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