Petra The Silent Witness of Bygone Civilization
The historic & archaeological city of ‘Petra’, nestled in the southern Jordanian terrain is considered as one of the major stepping stone in the world’s history that perfectly demonstrates the wisdom of human race & the prowess of a miraculous nature! The city which is surrounded by the huge mountains with many important passes & canyons, has gathered numerous accolades for its unique rock-carved architecture & excellent water harvesting system designed during the Nabataeans rule to tackle with the frequent droughts in this bone-dry region.
The city of ‘Petra’ houses abundant relics of various tombs, temples & other monuments built & carved over the long period of its existence– right from prehistoric times to the medieval time! The architecture at this place demonstrates the stunning blend of various architectural styles of several houses those ruled here.
Petra was the most important junction on the famous ‘Silk Route’ that linked Eastern Asiatic countries like India & china with European & North African countries like Greece, Rome, Syria & Egypt.
History in Brief:
- Petra was established around the 6th century BC by the nomadic tribe of Semitic people- the ‘Nabataean Arab’, who rooted in this area & laid the foundation of a trade powerhouse that reached up to Syria.
- The Seleucid monarch Antigonus, the Roman emperors ‘Pompey’ & ‘Herod the Great’ did successive attempts to seize Petra from Nabataeans. However, until 100 AD, Nabataean’s fierce reply kept them all at bay from Petra.
- In 106 AD, Roman emperor ‘Trajan’ invaded the Nabataen kingdom & successfully snatched it from Nabataeans to make it a part of the Arabian province of Roman dynasty.
- Petra was shaken by several deadly earthquakes which hampered the city’s commercial importance.
- The city was inhabited during the Byzantine era, but the frequent earthquakes in the region resulted in the gradual shift of Roman ruler’s attention from Petra to Constantinople which resulted in the sidelining of Petra.
- Arabs surmounted the city in 636 AD, but the city failed to regain its original luster.
- In the 12th century AD, the Crusaders brought Petra back in the action as they built a fortress in the city. But they left the city soon returning it back to the local people.
- The city came into limelight yet again in the 19th century when the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who reintroduced this city with the modern civilization in the year 1812.
Quick Tour Through the City:
- The archeological home town of the Nabataeans is endowed with the stupendous vicinity. The city is its half carved & half constructed in the gorgeous pink shaded rock mountains which give this city a unique setting.
- The city is studded in the terrain between the Red Sea & the Dead Sea & was renowned as a major caravan hub during Hellenistic & Roman period.
- As far as the major attractions of the city are concerned, the majestic entrance of the city itself steals the show. We enter into the city through a 1km long, narrow gorge called ‘Siq’, which is edged on both the sides by mammoth 80 m tall cliffs. ‘Siq’ is basically a natural geological marvel formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks. A walk through the lining of colorful giant rocks is beyond explanation.
- As the end of Petra’s iconic boulevard approaches, a rock carved, regal monument called ‘Al-Khazaneh’ (The Treasure) catches the eyes. The colossal façade of ‘Al- Khazaneh’ conjures you with its 30 m wide & 43 m high appearance which is carved astonishingly brilliantly in a pink-hued rock in the early 1st century. It was carved in the fond memories of an eminent Nabataen ruler.
- Nabataen built roman styled massive theater at the foot of the mountain named ‘en Nejr’ that can accommodate nearly 4000 people is another piece of gem that offers an excellent panoramic view of the maximum number of red stoned tombs.
- The city houses several tombs & monuments built on the memories of different rulers belonging to Nabataean, Byzantines as well as Roman dynasties.
- Several rock carved tombs have lost their glory due to strikes of massive earthquakes & other calamities. However, an impressive ‘Ad-Dier Monastery’ that looks over the valley & a 13th century shrine built by Mameluk Sultan- Al Nasir Mohammad to honor the death of Aaron, brother of Moses, are still in good shape.
- Visitors can enjoy buying the local artifacts such as pottery & Bedouin jewels in the market stalls set up here by craftsman from the town of Wadi Musa & Bedouin dwellers.
- The city exhibits the grandeur demonstration of amazing mausoleums & religious temples built in Hellenistic style of architecture blended finely with Eastern traditions. The remains of water tunnels, conduits & diversion dams that are effectively coupled with an extensive network of cisterns & reservoirs, in unison, depicts the cautious efforts taken in harvesting every drop of rain water falling on this parched land.
- Archeological excavations have revealed that the success of the Nabateans to control the flash floods by the means of cisterns & dams led the city to flourish for centuries even in the extreme living conditions.
- Motorized vehicles are not allowed in this prehistoric city. The ‘Siq’ can be covered by riding a horse or horse-carriage. The entire city can be explored by hiring a donkey or more enjoyable ride of ‘desert ship’- the camel, both handled by the trained handlers!
A word of Wisdom:
- Be armed with comfortable clothing, footwear & protect yourself from skin burning sun by using sunglasses & a hat. Carrying plenty of water is ‘must-do’ thing in this part of the world.
- Petra is definitely a photographer’s paradise. The best time to catch the various moods & shades of the adorable red monuments & rocks in Petra, try to capture the images when the sun is angled, i.e. either during early to mid morning or late afternoon!
- This picturesque ancient city was declared as ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ in 1985.
- Petra is also known as the ‘Rose City’ as it is carved in pink hued mountain rocks.
- The poet John William Burgon, in his ‘Newdigate Prize’ winning poem has rightly described this city as ‘A rose-red city half as old as time’!