Petra, Jordan. ( Sam /Adobe Stock)
Features of the Rose-Red City
The city of Petra is comprised of hundreds of tombs, houses, a theatre that could fit more than 3000 people, temples, obelisks, and altars where animals were sacrificed to calm the angry gods or ask them for favors. Only 15% of the city has been uncovered to date, the other 85% remains untouched, underground.
The first thing you see when you enter the site is the carved Treasury (Al Khazneh). ( truba71 /Adobe Stock)
Another of the interesting features at Petra is the Ad Deir Monastery. During the winter solstice, the light of the setting sun enters through the gate of the Ad Deir Monastery and illuminates the sacred motab, a podium where some stone blocks representing divinities, such as the god Dushara, are placed.
Al-‘Uzza goddess – Her image has been found throughout Petra in carvings on slabs of stone called ‘betyls’. (Zcmetallica / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Who Built Petra?
Archaeological excavations in the area have shown that the area was first occupied more than 9000 years ago. This mysterious site was occupied by many different tribes over its history. Based on traditional stories, the first known tribe to occupy the area was the Edomites, of which very little is known. Later, at about 300 BC, an Arab polytheistic tribe named the Nabataeans (Nabateans) migrated to the area.
Soon after, Petra flourished and became the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. Although others may have been in the area before them, the Nabataeans are considered the real builders of Petra . They were a tribe that was so famous they were mentioned by many different civilizations at the time, and records containing references to them were found in ancient Greece, China, and the Roman Empire.
However, little is known about the Nabataeans and their society, and most of what we know comes from archaeological studies and the scholar Strabo, who was apparently fascinated by the “abundant springs of water both for domestic purposes and for watering gardens” (Geography, XVI.4.2 1), he saw when he visited the site in the 1st century AD.
Ancient writers and the archaeological record show that as well as their agricultural activities, the Nabateans developed political systems, arts, engineering, astronomy, stonemasonry, and, as noted by Strabo, they demonstrated astonishing hydraulic expertise , including the construction of wells, cisterns, and aqueducts in their settlements. They expanded their trading routes, creating more than 2,000 sites in total in the areas that today are Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
Corinthian and Palace tombs at Petra, Jordan. ( dudlajzov /Adobe Stock)
Myths and Legends About Petra
Petra is the city in which Indiana Jones hunted for the Holy Grail in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade . One of the myths concerning Petra originates from the Crusaders and states that it was somewhere in this area that Moses struck a rock to bring water to the Israelites when they fled Egypt. The Knights Templar also claimed that they found the Ark of the Covenant while they were stationed at the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
Another myth about Petra has to do with the belief that there are remarkable treasures hidden in the building known as the Treasury. Many treasure hunters have shot upon the façade in search of this supposed fortune, the scars of which can still be seen.Excavations are on-going , and more secrets of different phases in the history of Petra are being revealed. For example, one of the excavations in 2010 uncovered a 2000-year-old Hellenistic style artwork depicting a child with wings playing the flute.
In 2016, archaeologists found a residence with two “absolutely exquisite” statues of the goddess Aphrodite dating to the time Rome annexed Nabataea in 106 AD. During that excavation, another residence and three rock-cut shaft tombs were unearthed containing pottery, animal bones, ceramic oil lamps, an iron sword, and human remains that were buried with decorative items such as jewelry.
Speaking on these finds, bioarchaeologist and co-director of the dig Megan Perry said : “The human remains and mortuary artifacts from Petra provide perspectives not only on Nabataean concepts of death, but also their biological histories while alive.”
Another discovery, also made in 2016 , revealed a massive ceremonial platform measuring 184 ft. (56 meters) by 161 ft. (49 meters), which ‘has no parallels’ in the ancient city. It was discovered just half a mile from the city center using high-tech satellite scanners.
The theater in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. ( gatsi /Adobe Stock)