Petra is one of the world’s largest archaeological site and it has a place on the list of the seven modern wonders. The ancient city was founded in 600 BC, when the Nabataeans, nomadic Arab people, settled here. Although not so well known as the Egyptians or Romans, the Nabataeans played an important role in the history of the time, because they managed to establish a big kingdom up to Syria with a thriving and rich capital: Petra.
An arid and unfriendly terrain forced the Nabateans to be inventive and to protect themselves from the harsh conditions here. First, water was the most precious. So they built hidden channels in the rock (so the water could not be poisoned by enemies) that had filters included. And the water was saved in tanks for the dry season. At that time, Petra was the only point in the area that had drinking water, so many commercials and pilgrims stopped here, which helped the Nabateans even more in trading goods.
They built “houses” and temples directly into the rock. As the rock is very sandy, it allowed them to mold the most beautiful shapes for the facades of the temples. Some of them can still be admired today, still resisting erosive environmental factors.
The road to Petra
Not far from Wadi Musa, a small tourist town, I’ve found the Petra Tourist Center. For a complete and interactive lesson of ancient history, I also asked for a private guide. As we crossed the gates, I saw an open canyon carved with various facades and an impressive obelisk. Then I saw the caves in which Nabateans used to live. Those places were taken by modern Bedouins. At the entrance to the site, it is an extremely colorful world due to the Bedouins who live only in tourism: they sell souvenirs, scarves, tea, and even offer carriage, horse, donkey or camel rides. The animals are well-groomed and decorated with blue and red fringes and saddles covered with local woven blankets. It contrasted well with the yellow-brown tones of the desert. A quarter of an hour later, we stopped in front of the big canyon named Bab as-Siq.
Siq, the only way
The canyon was dug in the stone by the water flowing there as a result of floods in the rainy season. So, it was not dug continuously, but over hundreds of thousands of years, when the flood torrents were strong. When the Nabateans came here, they built another channel to divert the torrents, because water flooded the city.
Once I entered the tall walls, on the narrow road, I could see a unique optical illusion: the layers of the rock are in different colors due to the minerals they contain. So there are white, red, blue and yellow lines that make you feel dizzy. Also, I discovered with the help of the guide, the remains of some sculptures of camels and Nabateans, the water pipes and the primitive filters.
The Treasure, astonishing
Immediately at the end of the Siq, I saw the famous Treasure of 43 meters high and 30 width. It was built in stone, in Greek-style, with Nabat elements. Archaeological studies concluded that it was built in the 1st century BC as a mausoleum of a Nabatean king. The treasure is impressive, flanked by the statues of Castor andPolluxx. It has been preserved almost entirely. A single column of the six was rebuilt. Unfortunately, most tourists stop here. But this is just the entrance to the ancient city of Petra, not the end! Through the right side of the Treasure, the road continues and leads to the ancient city!
The city of Petra
Petra means stone and was named so because half of the city is dug in stone, half is built of stone. We entered Facade Street and immediately saw the graves of Nabateans carved in stone. As they believed in life after death, they built the most beautiful masterpieces, especially for the kings. To the right, you will notice some of the most special ones.
In the central square, there is a theater. It was made in tiles, in the Roman style. It had a capacity of 7,000 people!
In front, I saw a fountain. Then I entered Columns Street until I reached Qasr al-Bint, the most important city building, with walls over 20 meters tall.
At the base of the mountain, the tourist route continues with 800 steps leading to the Monastery, one of the most important monuments of the Archaeological Park. On the stairs, the panorama is breathtaking!
What happened to Petra
In 106, Emperor Trajan conquered Petra and the Nabatean Kingdom, becoming part of the Roman Empire. Petra is partially destroyed by earthquakes in 300, and the city’s power is diminishing due to the rapid development of Palmira. In the sixth century, the Arabs conquered the territory. In the 12th century, Crusaders built a fort. Then the city was forgotten. In 1900, the Bedouins were already installed here. The area was further affected by several other battles, the most recent in 1917, between the Turkish-German forces and the Arab army.
In 1929 archaeological research began, and in 1980, Jordan decided to move the Bedouins to Wadi Musa. In 1985, the area was included in UNESCO’s patrimony as the Petra Archaeological Park, of 264square kilometers.
If you do not spend 3 nights in Jordan as recommended by the state, you will be fined with 70 JOD (100 USD) when leaving the country. If you prove you were at Petra or other important touristic place in Jordan, the fine drops at 50 JOD (70 USD).
You can read more about my experience at Petra in National Geographic Romania:
Petra in photos
* This article was published in Romanian in Ioana Magazine, May 2017 issue.