Who built this city and when?
Petra has been abandoned for hundreds of years, but thousands of years ago, it was a fully functioning city. It was a huge trade center located right on the intersection of paths. Silk, spices, and herbs were transported from India to Arabia, Africa, Egypt, and back. It allowed local people to become very rich.
It’s not entirely clear when this city was built, but we know that Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom. According to some estimations, in its best years, around 20,000 people lived in Petra.
How is it even possible to carve a city into rock?
The façades of the buildings were carved right into the walls of a canyon and they are mind-blowing. The elegant carving shows the high level of development of this civilization and the craftsmanship of the builders.
The main entrance is called Al-Khazneh (The Treasury). It was named this by the local Bedouins who believed that all the riches were inside. The gate is carved out of rose stone which is why Petra is also called Rose City.
It was obviously a very hard job for the builders. In order to build something like this, they had to be very skilled. These builders managed to create something that was on par with Greek and Roman buildings.
Experts believe builders had to create giant steps in order to safely create this building. There were no trees around to be used to build scaffolding. Scientists think that the construction started from the top: people somehow stood on the rock, and gradually moved down. And, by using hammers and chisels, they achieved amazing results.
Did the rocks protect the city from enemies?
Other people were jealous of the treasures of Petra and the city had to defend itself against the Greeks. Petra won that battle, but when the Roman conquerors arrived, the city had to give up. Petra still thrived for many years, but it asunder the rule of the Roman Empire.
In the 4th century, an earthquake destroyed most of the town and the Romans decided to leave the city. Later, it was taken over by the Byzantine Empire.
Why is Petra a lost city and where did all the people go?
With the development of technology, maritime trade started developing and Petra lost its strategic purpose. At this point it was abandoned and hidden in the sands. This is how it became the lost city.
But Petra was only lost when it came to people from the western civilizations, the locals knew about this gem in the desert. The Bedouin tribe, B’doul, lived in the caves of the city. They called themselves the descendants of the Nabataeans and they didn’t want anyone else to know about Petra because they were worried that people would come there looking for treasure and destroy what remained of the city. This is why they kept the location of the city a secret for many years.
How did people from Europe find out about Petra?
It was discovered on August 12, 1812. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a young Swiss man, heard the legend about this mysterious city when he was traveling to Cairo. And even then, he had to disguise himself as someone of Arab descent during his journey and had to lie to his guide that he wanted to make an offering at the tomb to enter the City directly.
Using the alias, Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah, Johann couldn’t spend a lot of time in Petra because he wasn’t a local. He couldn’t even say it was the city that he was looking for because there was no proof of that. But this is how people in Europe found out about Petra, and other researchers followed in his footsteps. They made a lot of drawings, but the first archaeological research didn’t start there until 1929.
Why did they have a treasury?
Archaeologists don’t really know why The Treasury was made. Some people think it’s the tomb of a Nabataean king, and others believe it was for keeping documents or maybe used as some sort of a temple. All that we can surely say is that The Treasury was built later, when the city was already established and rich.
How did people survive in the desert and among the rocks without water?
The people of Petra were experts in terms of the technology connected to water. They built cisterns, dams, tunnels, and reservoirs, and the city was an oasis for tired travelers. These amazing technologies allowed the locals to remain in the city, even during droughts.
During certain periods, there were times of ample water, so the locals built dams and aqueducts that changed the direction of the rainwater into the city so that people could live in comfort.
How did they live in the rocks? And did they live inside?
Petra was a big religious center, and it was probably a gathering place for clergy, sculptors, merchants, and other people. In Petra, there are more than 1,000 tombs, many of which were for families and even entire tribes. Many of the people there were probably in the funeral business.
It is hard to answer the question regarding whether all of the 20,000 (or maybe even 30,000) residents of the city lived inside of Petra. It is very likely that some of the people lived in tents outside the walls.
Who is buried in the Petra tombs?
Researchers have no ideas about this. It is definitely known that the tombs were made in different historical periods because they look very different. The people of Petra didn’t make any inscriptions on the tombs that would’ve helped us understand who is buried there. But they believed that the dead could eat and spend time in the other world, because they left food and different objects with their bodies.
Interestingly, in the beginning, Petra was believed to be one giant necropolis, because of the huge number of tombs. Only later did scientists find out that it was a very well-developed city.
What else is there in Petra, aside from the beautiful gate in all of the photos?
One of the most impressive buildings in Petra is the theater. It is almost right in the middle of the city and up to 8,500 people could’ve been seated there at the same time.
Among other amazing objects is the Street of the Façades that has many tombs, and the Ad Deir monastery. It is a monumental building whose purpose is still a mystery.
In 1985, Petra made it on the UNESCO list, and in 2007, it became one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Now, the Bedouins live in a special settlement built for them that is not far from the city and tourism is their main business.
There are huge cubes outside the gate of Petra. What are they for?
Many things in Petra remain a mystery. For example, there are giant rocks — in the form of square-shaped monuments scattered outside the city walls. Nobody knows why they are there and what their purpose is. There’s a legend that says there are genies inside that protect the ancient capital.
Will we ever be able to solve all the mysteries of Petra?
We are still making discoveries in Petra. In 2016, archaeologists found a huge unknown structure that probably had a ceremonial function. And experts are still trying to understand exactly what it is. In 1993, scrolls were found dating back to the Byzantine period, this information that is inside them is still a secret.
Archaeologists believe that right now, we only know about 15% of the city and the other 85% is still underground and hasn’t been found yet. So, we’ve still got a lot to find out about this lost treasure.
The Middle East is not very popular among tourists. But still, in 2019, more than 1 million people visited Petra. It is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade was filmed there, iconic photoshoots have taken place there, and people from all around the world come to see this amazing place regularly.
Sometimes, tourists are allowed in Petra at night and the path to the entrance is decorated with lanterns and candles.