A famous archaeological site in Jordan’s southwestern desert, the “Lost City” of Petra dates back to around 300 BC and was once the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom.
The Nabateans, nomadic desert people whose incredible wealth grew from the lucrative incense trade they commanded, were a community of master builders skilled in hydraulic engineering, ironmongery, and copper forgery who constructed the Ancient City. The area is accessed from Wadi Musa, the closest town, and can be reached by way of a long narrow canyon called the Siq that opens onto the tombs, temples, and hand-hewn caves carved from the kaleidoscopic sandstone that ranges in colour from dark brown to rich red, earning Petra the nickname Rose City.
The canyon, with its tall vertical walls, is itself a highlight of Petra and some of the most important rituals of Petra’s spiritual life began as a procession here. It also represented the endpoint for Nabataean pilgrims. The walk through the shadowed and narrowing corridor toward the hidden city is one full of anticipation for the sight that lies ahead. The moment when the Siq ends to reveal the Treasury, one of the defining Petra experiences.
Perhaps Petra’s most famous structure, the Treasury is a temple with an ornate, Hellenistic-style facade and one of the most elaborate temples in Petra, standing two storeys high and once a king’s tomb. Hidden further up the hill is the Monastery.
Similar in design to the Treasury but far larger, it was built in the 3rd century BC as a Nabataean tomb. The elegant Silk Tomb, which swirls with streaks of red, blue, and ochre, and the vivid mosaics that still pave the floors of a Byzantine-era church are unforgettable.
Petra is enormous, extending for at least 60 square km through canyons, up mountains, and along river beds. Hidden by time and shifting sand, Petra tells of a lost civilization that was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt in 1812. Ever since archaeologists have been uncovering hidden aspects of its sprawling wonder.
Yet it’s the raw beauty of the city, a work of art painted on a natural stone backdrop that changes colour every hour, that makes Petra Jordan’s top attraction, one of the most revered of the World Heritage Sites and a place frozen in time.
Petra is a brilliant display of man’s artistry in turning barren rock into a majestic wonder. ― Edward Dawson.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.
** Pics sourced on Pixabay.