The secret entrance to Petra
The Khazneh (Treasury)

We live in a world blessed with sights that are beautiful beyond words. Every human being dreams of and possesses a desire to visit those places in their lifetime. Living in modern cities with high-rise buildings, we tend to miss out on what mother-nature has to offer and some of the man-made structures par excellence. Look at these places and you will see beauty that fills the eye and warms the heart. It is not only inappropriate to just pick a few places from the huge expanse of the world but also humanly impossible. They say that ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,’ and there are perhaps other places that have touched your heart.
(HELEN LEE: fashion, Life and Learning at
Lost City of Stone tells the story of a once-thriving metropolis located, improbably, in the forbidding desert canyons of southern Jordan. The ancient city of Petra was a true wonder of international commerce, stone-carved architecture, and waterworks engineering in the midst of the desert. Two thousand years later, Petra is one of the most significant sites of antiquity. Its founders — the Nabataeans — are still hailed for their business acumen, artistic talents, and technical innovations.
From the first century B.C. to the third century A.D., Petra was one of the most influential and prosperous commercial centres in antiquity. This metropolis was literally carved from the red sandstone cliffs in the harsh desert of southern Jordan, yet amazingly, the city of 3,000 temples, tombs and dwellings was lost to Western knowledge for almost 600 years.
For much of its history, the city was governed by the Nabataeans, renowned for their great skills in trade, agriculture, engineering and architectural stone-carving. At its height, Petra was the centre of the Nabataeans’ commercial empire, which covers the lands of modern-day Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Petra , in translation ‘the rock’ , is a historical and archaeological city and the greatest tourist attraction in Jordan . Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, Petra is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Araba (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The spectacular rose-stone city was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabateans, an Arab people who inhabited what is now southern Jordan. They carved palaces, temples, tombs, storerooms and stables from the rocky cliffs of sandstone, tinted many shades of rose, salmon and pink by the mineral content of the rock. From Petra they commanded the trade route from Damascus to Arabia, and through here the great spice, silk and slave caravans passed. In a short time the Nabataeans made great advances – they mastered hydraulic engineering, iron production, copper refining, sculpture, stone carving – all probably because of their great success in commerce. Archaeologists believe that several earthquakes, including a massive one in 555 AD, forced the inhabitants to abandon Petra.
(Patti at
Petra is approached through a narrow 1.2 km defile known as the Siq. This is not a canyon (a gorge carved out by water) but rather one huge block of stone that was rent apart by tectonic forces. Just as you start to think there is no end to the Siq, you catch your first tantalizing glimpses ahead of the most impressive of sights, the Khazneh, the so-called Treasury. Carved out of solid iron-laden sandstone to serve as a tomb, the Treasury gets its name from the story that pirates hid their treasure here. The interior is merely an unadorned square hall with a smaller, similarly empty room at the back.
(Patti at
Nabataeans,the builders of this ancient wonder , were an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning Petra into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Despite successive attempts by the Seleucid king Antigonus, the Roman emperor Pompey and Herod the Great to bring Petra under the control of their respective empires, Petra remained largely in Nabataean hands until around 100AD, when the Romans took over. It was still inhabited during the Byzantine period, when the former Roman Empire moved its focus east to Constantinople, but declined in importance thereafter.
Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. Because the structures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves, and many treasures were stolen.
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.” Petra was also chosen as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die”.
The number of tourists who visited Jordan’s ancient city of Petra in 2008 stood at 800,000 compared with 500,000 in 2007, the Petra Archaeological Park said.
According to the park, Among the 800,000 tourists in 2008, around 711,000 were from Europe and other foreign countries while the others were Jordanian visitors including school and university students.
The entry fees collected from both foreign and national visitors in 2008 exceeded 15 million Jordanian dinars (21.2 million U.S. dollars).
(XINHUANET.COM | JAN 11, 2009)


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