The ‘lost’city of Petra

The city of Petra, capital of the Nabataea Arabs, is one of the most popular archaeological sites in the world.  Located 262 km south of Amman, Petra is the most significant site and tourism attraction in Jordan and it is visited by scores of tourists from all over the world. Petra is one of the new seven wonders because of the uniqueness of its structure. Petra is an outstanding example of the superiority of ancient civilization. It was carved into the mountain by the Nabataea’s 2000 years ago.

Petra was first established around the 6th century BC by the Nabataean Arabs, a Semitic people who laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into Syria. In AD 106 Trajan annexed the Nabataean Kingdom as part of the province of Arabia. It is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture.

The Crusaders constructed a fort there in the 12th century and Petra returned to its ancient splendour, but soon they withdrew, leaving Petra to the natives until the early 19th century, when it was visited by the Swiss explorer Johan Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 during his expedition, which was funded by the British Royal Geographical Society, in the Levant, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.

Due to the century long lapse in time before its rediscovery, Petra was named the ‘lost city’. It was also described by the English poet Bergen as the unique astonishing eastern city. The many earthquakes that hit Petra triggered a slow decline for the city, which was not halted by its designation as an Archiepiscopal See.

Engraved in Nature

Situated between the red sea and the Dead Sea, this Nabataean caravan-city was an important crossroad between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. The mountains surrounding it are riddled with passages and gorges. An ingenious water management system allowed extensive settlement of an essentially arid area during the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods. It is one of the world’s richest and largest archaeological sites set in a dominating red sandstone landscape.

An exceptional uniqueness in the ‘lost city’ resides in the vast extent of elaborate tomb and temple architecture; religious high places; the remnant channels, tunnels and diversion dams that combined with a vast network of cisterns and reservoirs which controlled and conserved seasonal rains, and the extensive archaeological remains including of copper mining, temples, churches and other public buildings.

The synergy of Hellenistic architectural facades with traditional Nabataean rock-cut temple/tombs including the Khasneh, the Urn Tomb, the Palace Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Deir (“monastery”) showcases an outstanding artistic achievement and an outstanding architectural ensemble of the first centuries BC to AD. The varied archaeological remains and architectural monuments from prehistoric times to the medieval periods bear significant testimony to the now lost civilisations which succeeded each other at the site.

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