Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Petra

State Party = JOR
Type = Cultural
Criteria = i, iii, iv
ID = 326
Region = Arab States
Year = 1985
Session = 9th
Elevation_m = 810
Elevation_ft = 2,700
Link =

Petra (from "petra", "rock" in Greek; Arabic: البتراء, "Al-Batrāʾ") is an archaeological site in the Arabah, Ma'an Governorate, Jordan, lying on the slope of Mount HorMish, Frederick C., Editor in Chief. “Petra.” "Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary". 9th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1985. ISBN 0-87779-508-8, ISBN 0-87779-509-6 (indexed), and ISBN 0-87779-510-X (deluxe).] in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It is renowned for its rock-cut architecture. Petra is also one of the new wonders of the world.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was discovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was famously described as "a rose-red city half as old as time" in a Newdigate prize-winning sonnet by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage." [ UNESCO advisory body evaluation] ] In 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.


Rekem is an ancient name for Petra and appears in Dead Sea scrolls [4Q462] associated with Mount Seir. Additionally, Eusebius and Jerome [(Onom. sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94)] assert that Rekem was the native name of Petra, supposedly on the authority of Josephus. ["Antiquities iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7")] Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans, Aramaic-speaking Semites, and the centre of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf. The latitude is 30° 19' 43" N and the longitude is 35° 26' 31" E.

Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, in effect creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper from its sale. [ [ Petra: Water Works ] ] [ [ Geotimes — June 2004 — Petra: An Eroding Ancient City ] ]

Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south (via Saudi Arabia on a track leading around Jabal Haroun, "Aaron's Mountain," on across the plain of Petra), or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the ancient site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 metres wide) called the "Siq" ("the shaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh ("the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

A little further from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called "en-Nejr" is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheatre has actually been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-colored mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.


So far, no method has been found to determine when the history of Petra began. Evidence suggests that the city was founded relatively late, though a sanctuary may have existed there since very ancient times. This part of the country was traditionally assigned to the Horites, probably cave-dwellers, the predecessors of the Edomites. [Genesis xiv. 6, xxxvi. 20–30; Deut. ii. 12.] The habits of the original natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves. However, the fact that Petra is mentioned by name in the Old Testament cannot be verified. Although Petra is usually identified with Sela which also means a "rock," the Biblical references [Judges i. 36; Isaiah xvi. i, xlii. 11; Obad. 3.] are not clear. 2 Kings xiv. 7 seems to be more specific. In the parallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply "the rock" (2 Chr. xxv. 12, see LXX). As a result, many authorities doubt whether any town named Sela is mentioned in the Old Testament.

It is unclear exactly what Semitic inhabitants called their city. Apparently on the authority of Josephus ("Antiquities of the Jews" iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7), Eusebius and Jerome ("Onom. sacr." 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94), assert that Rekem was the native name and "Rekem" appears in the Dead Sea scrolls as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra. But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is the name of Kadesh, implying that Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form "Rekem-Geya" which recalls the name of the village El-ji, southeast of Petra. The capital, however, would hardly be defined by the name of a neighboring village. The Semitic name of the city, if not Sela, remains unknown. The passage in Diodorus Siculus (xix. 94–97) which describes the expeditions which Antigonus sent against the Nabataeans in 312 BC is understood to throw some light upon the history of Petra, but the "petra" referred to as a natural fortress and place of refuge cannot be a proper name and the description implies that the town was not yet in existence. Brünnow thinks that "the rock" in question was the sacred mountain en-Nejr (above). But Buhl suggests a conspicuous height about convert|16|mi|km north of Petra, Shobak, the Mont-royal of the Crusaders, aka Montreal.

More satisfactory evidence of the date of the earliest Nabataean settlement may be obtained from an examination of the tombs. Two types may be distinguished—the Nabataean and the Greco-Roman. The Nabataean type starts from the simple pylon-tomb with a door set in a tower crowned by a parapet ornament, in imitation of the front of a dwelling-house. Then, after passing through various stages, the full Nabataean type is reached, retaining all the native features and at the same time exhibiting characteristics which are partly Egyptian and partly Greek. Of this type there exist close parallels in the tomb-towers at el-I~ejr [?] in north Arabia, which bear long Nabataean inscriptions and supply a date for the corresponding monuments at Petra. Then comes a series of tombfronts which terminate in a semicircular arch, a feature derived from north Syria. Finally come the elaborate façades copied from the front of a Roman temple; however, all traces of native style have vanished. The exact dates of the stages in this development cannot be fixed. Strangely, few inscriptions of any length have been found at Petra, perhaps because they have perished with the stucco or cement which was used upon many of the buildings. The simple pylon-tombs which belong to the pre-Hellenic age serve as evidence for the earliest period. It is not known how far back in this stage the Nabataean settlement goes, but it does not go back farther than the 6th century BC.

A period follows in which the dominant civilization combines Greek, Egyptian and Syrian elements, clearly pointing to the age of the Ptolemies. Towards the close of the 2nd century BC, when the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms were equally depressed, the Nabataean kingdom came to the front. Under Aretas III Philhellene, (c.85–60 BC), the royal coins begin. The theatre was probably excavated at that time, and Petra must have assumed the aspect of a Hellenistic city. In the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris, (9 BC–AD 40), the fine tombs of the el-I~ejr [?] type may be dated, and perhaps also the great High-place.

Roman rule

In 106, when Cornelius Palma was governor of Syria, that part of Arabia under the rule of Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire as part of Arabia Petraea, becoming capital. The native dynasty came to an end. But the city continued to flourish. A century later, in the time of Alexander Severus, when the city was at the height of its splendor, the issue of coinage comes to an end. There is no more building of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe, such as an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the Sassanid Empire. Meanwhile, as Palmyra (fl. 130–270) grew in importance and attracted the Arabian trade away from Petra, the latter declined. It seems, however, to have lingered on as a religious centre. Epiphanius of Salamis (c.315–403) writes that in his time a feast was held there on December 25 in honor of the virgin Chaabou and her offspring Dushara ("Haer." 51).Fact|date=December 2007


The Nabataeans worshipped the Arab gods and goddesses of the pre-Islamic times as well as few of their deified kings. The most famous of these was Obodas I who was deified after his death. Dushara was the main male god accompanied by his female trinity: Uzza, Allat and Manah. Many statues carved in the rock depict these gods and goddesses.

The Monastery, Petra's largest monument, dates from the first century BC. It was dedicated to Obodas I and is believed to be the symposium of Obodas the god. This information is inscribed on the ruins of the Monastery (the name is the translation of the Arabic "Ad-Deir").

Christianity found its way into Petra in the 4th century AD, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade center. Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra (Anhioch. 10) named Asterius. At least one of the tombs (the "tomb with the urn"?) was used as a church. An inscription in red paint records its consecration "in the time of the most holy bishop Jason" (447). The Christianity of Petra, as of north Arabia, was swept away by the Islamic conquest of 629–632. During the First Crusade Petra was occupied by Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and formed the second fief of the barony of Al Karak (in the lordship of Oultrejordain) with the title "Château de la Valée de Moyse" or Sela. It remained in the hands of the Franks until 1189. It is still a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church. [CathEncy|wstitle=Petra]

According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth, and where Moses' brother, Aaron, is buried, at Mount Hor, known today as Jabal Haroun or Mount Aaron. The Wadi Musa or "Wadi of Moses" is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petra is sited. A mountaintop shrine of Moses' sister Miriam was still shown to pilgrims at the time of Jerome in the fourth century, but its location has not been identified since. [ [ Sacred Sites: Petra] ]


Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part due to the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. [ [ ART REVIEW; Rose-Red City Carved From the Rock - New York Times ] ] The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by the Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the close of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Because the structures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves, and many treasures were stolen and remain unknown.

Petra today

On December 6, 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.

In 2006 a team of architects began designing a "Visitor Centre," and Jordan's tourist revenue is expected to increase dramatically with the attraction of visitors on package holidays. The "Jordan Times" reported in December 2006 that 59,000 people visited in the two months October and November 2006, 25% fewer than the same period in the previous year, which may suggest that the flow of visitors may be affected by perception of political instability or travel safety considerations. [ [ 31,926 tourists visit Petra last month ] ]

On July 7 2007, Petra was named one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World. [ [ The Official New 7 Wonders of the Modern World] ]

Media appearances

The picturesque site is a popular sight and featured in various works of art such as the movies "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Passion in the Desert", "", "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger", and the Sisters of Mercy music video "Dominion". It was recreated for the video game "Spy Hunter" and appeared in the novels "Left Behind", "Appointment with Death", "The Eagle in the Sand" and "The Red Sea Sharks", in The Adventures of Tintin.

Photo gallery


ee also

*Al Khazneh
*Rock cut architecture
*Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade



*cite book|last=Bedal|first=Leigh-Ann|title=The Petra Pool-Complex: A Hellenistic Paradeisos in the Nabataean Capital|publisher=Gorgias Press|location=Piscataway, NJ|date=2004|isbn=1593331207
*cite web|url=|title=The Bedouin Tribes of Petra Photographs: 1986–2003|last=Harty|first=Rosemary|accessdate=2008-07-17
*cite book|last=Hill|first=John E.|title=The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢 : A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE|date=2004|quote=Draft annotated English translation where Petra is referred to as the Kingdom of Sifu.|url=
*cite book|last=Reid|first=Sara Karz|title=The Small Temple|publisher=Gorgias Press|location=Piscataway, NJ|date=2006|isbn=1593333390|quote=Reid explores the nature of the small temple at Petra and concludes it is from the Roman era.
*Nelson Glueck(1959). Rivers in the Desert. HUC

External links

* [ Information on Petra on the Jordan Tourism Board]
* [ Guide to the city]
* [ Historic film of Petra, circa 1966]
* [ Interactive map of Old Petra]
* [ Petra the ancient magic of the lost city]
* [ Petra Pictures]

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