My dear travellers and lovers of unique journeys, I hope you are doing great and ready to continue our Jordanian adventure! Today we continue our adventure and together we visit one of the most mysterious ancient cities in the world that still keeps its secrets in stone – Petra.
If by any chance you didn’t get to read the first travelogue from Jordan on the Mr.M blog or you want to remember some details from magical Amman and Jerash, take a few minutes of your time and visit the post on the following link.
Today I will share with you my impressions of ancient Petra and I would like to thank the Jordan Tourism Board – Visit Jordan for the invitation and the amazing experience to get to know Jordanian culture and customs better.
Petra, originally known to its inhabitants as Raqmu, is located near the mountains of Jabal Al-Madbah, in a basin surrounded by mountains that form the eastern part of the Arabah Valley that stretches from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Scientists have come to some knowledge that the area around today’s Petra has been inhabited since 7000 BC, and the Nabateans may have settled in what would become the capital of their kingdom as early as the 4th century BC. Archaeological work has revealed only evidence of the presence of the Nabateans dating back to the second century BC, when Petra became their capital.
Who were the Nabateans? The Nabateans were nomadic Arabs who contributed to the development of Peter through their investments. The convenient geographical location and proximity to the incense trade routes allowed Petra to become a major regional trade center.
The trading business provided the Nabataeans with an extraordinary income and Petra became the center of their wealth. The Nabateans were accustomed to living in barren deserts, unlike their enemies, and were able to repel attacks by taking advantage of the area’s mountainous terrain. They were especially skilled in rainwater harvesting, agriculture and stone-cutting. Petra saw its heyday in the 1st century AD, when its famous Al-Khazneh building – believed to be the mausoleum of the Nabataean king Areta IV – was built, a time when the population of Petra reached an incredible 20,000 inhabitants for that time.
Although the Nabatean Kingdom became a state under the administration of the Roman Empire in the first century BC, it did not lose its independence until 106 AD. Petra fell into the hands of the Romans, who annexed Nabatea and renamed it Arabia Petraea. The importance of Petra declined as sea trade routes appeared, and after an earthquake in 363 it destroyed many buildings. In the Byzantine era, several Christian churches were built, but the city continued to decline, and by the early Islamic era it was abandoned, but a small number of nomads were present. Petra was forgotten and unknown to the public until it was rediscovered by Johann Ludwig Burkhard in 1812.
To approach the Petra city, one must pass through a 1.2 kilometer long gorge called the Siq, which leads directly to Khazneh. Known for its stone-carved architecture and plumbing system, Petra is also called the “City of Roses” because of the color of the stone from which the entire city is carved. UNESCO described this world heritage in 1985 as “one of the most precious cultural assets of human cultural heritage”. At the beginning of the 21st century, more precisely in 2007, Al-Khazneh was declared one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Petra is a symbol of Jordan, as well as the most visited tourist attraction of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Statistics maintained by the Ministry of Tourism show that the number of tourists who visited Petra peaked in 2019, when there were over a million tourists. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the number of tourists dropped, but again in 2021, Petra had almost 300,000 visitors, which is an impressive figure if we consider the problems in tourism caused by the pandemic itself.
As you walk to Petra, stop by the souvenir shop where you will have the opportunity to learn more about Petra from the locals and get to know the history and culture of this ancient city. Souvenirs are very interesting, so take a few minutes of your time when visiting Petra and experience this city in a completely different way. There is only one souvenir shop, so you are sure to find this interesting place!
One of the interesting things Petra is known for is its Hellenistic architecture. The facades of the tombs at Petra show this type of architecture and also provide information on the different types of cultures with which the Nabataeans traded. Most of them contain information about the type of burials in niches carved into the stone.
Perhaps the most significant resemblance to the Hellenistic style comes with its treasury, which is 24 meters wide and 37 meters high and recalls the architecture of Alexandria. The facade of the Treasury has a broken pediment with a central tholos inside, and two obelisks appear to be forming in the rock at the top. Near the bottom of the Treasury are the twin Greek gods Castor and Pollux, who protect travelers on their journeys. Near the top of the Treasury, symbols of two victories can be seen in the form of a female figure on a tholos. This female figure is believed to be Isis-Tyche, Isis being an Egyptian goddess and Tyche the Greek goddess of fortune.
Al-Khazneh means “Treasury” in Arabic, the name derives from the legend of an ornamental stone urn high up on the second level, which is in reality solid sandstone.
There are several legends associated with the Treasury, but one legend says that an Egyptian pharaoh and part of his army escaped the closing of the Red Sea, magically created Al-Khazneh as a safe place for their treasury, and continued their search for Moses. This led to the name Khazneh el-Far’oun, “Treasury of the Pharaoh”.
Swiss researcher Johann Ludwig Burkhardt wrote about another local legend that “ancient pharaonic treasures” were hidden in the urn. The urn shows significant bullet damage, which the Jordanian government attributes to the Bedouins who believed in the legend.
Al-Khazneh was originally built as a mausoleum and crypt in the early 1st century AD during the reign of Areta IV Philopatris. Many of the building’s architectural details have eroded over the two thousand years since it was carved and sculpted from the cliff. The sculptures are believed to be of various mythological figures associated with the afterlife. At the top are the figures of four eagles that would take away souls. The figures on the upper level are dancing Amazons with double axes. The entrance is surrounded by statues of the twins Castor and Pollux who lived partly on Olympus and partly in the underworld.
Another excellent example of Hellenistic architecture presented in Petra is the monastery, which is the largest monument of Petra and another building carved into the rocks of Petra. The monastery shows more Nabataean touches while at the same time incorporating elements of Greek architecture. Its only source of light is the entrance, which is 8 meters high. Outside the monastery is a large area, which was specially leveled for religious purposes. Earlier, in the Byzantine period, this was a place for Christian worship, but now it is a holy place for pilgrims.
At the end of a narrow gorge, the Siq, is the most complex ruin of Petra, popularly known as Al-Khazneh (“the treasury”), carved into the sandstone cliff. Although it remains in a remarkably well-preserved state, the face of the structure is pockmarked with hundreds of bullet holes made by local Bedouin tribes who hoped to dislodge the riches rumored to have once been hidden within. Not far from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called En-Nair, is a huge theatre, placed so that the greatest number of tombs can be seen. At the point where the valley opens into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect.
During construction, the theater was cut into the hillside and into several tombs. The rectangular gaps in the seats are still visible. It is surrounded on almost three sides by pink mountain walls, divided into groups by deep cracks and covered with mounds cut into the rock in the form of towers. It is believed that the theater can host around 8,500 people. Performances that the audience could attend here were poetry and drama readings. Gladiator fights were also held here and are thought to have attracted the largest crowds, although no gladiator was able to gain momentum or fame due to the high death rate that came with it. The theater was one of many buildings in Petra that suffered significant damage in the Galilee earthquake of 363 AD.
The Petra swimming pool and garden complex is a series of buildings in the city center. It was originally said to be a market area, but detailed excavations at the site have allowed scientists to come to the conclusion that it was actually a complex Nabatean garden, which included a large pool, an island pavilion and a complex hydraulic system.
In front of the Petra pool and garden complex is a colonnaded street, which is among the few artifacts of Petra that are constructed rather than natural. This street once held a semicircular nymphaeum, now in ruins due to flash floods, and once held a single Petra tree. This was meant to be a symbol of the peaceful atmosphere that the Nabateans were able to build in Petra. When the Romans took control of the city, the colonnaded street was narrowed to make a side walk.
Petra is a place at the crossroads of natural and cultural heritage that forms a unique cultural landscape. Since the rediscovery of Petra by Johann Ludwig Burkhard aka Sheikh Ibrahim in 1812, the cultural heritage has attracted a large number of interested people who share an interest in the ancient history and culture of the Nabataeans, such as travelers, pilgrims, painters and scientists.
However, it was not until the end of the 19th century that archaeological researchers systematically approached the ruins. Since then, regular archaeological excavations and research into the Nabatean culture are part of today’s UNESCO world cultural heritage. Through excavations in the Archaeological Park of Petra, an increasing number of Nabataean cultural heritage is exposed to environmental impact. The large number of discoveries and the exposure of structures require numerous conservation measures respecting the interrelationship between the natural landscape and the cultural heritage, as this connection in particular is a central challenge at the UNECSO World Heritage Site.
My dear travellers, we have come to the end of this second special travelogue about the ancient city of Petra, which would not have been possible without the help of the Jordan Tourism Board – Visit Jordan in cooperation with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of Jordanian culture and traditions. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions of this unusual experience from Jordan.
Time always flies when a person is having a good time! A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way during this global health crisis of COVID-19.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank them for this incredible adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual country in Western Asia in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about an ancient Petra? Have you had the chance to visit Jordan so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT ME page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
With love from Petra,
This post is sponsored by the Visit Jordan, as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.