If you have seen the Indiana Jones action movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, you have glimpsed ancient Petra.
But it’s much more than a movie set, as Larry and I discovered when we visited Petra, Jordan. Centuries of historical significance and impressive architectural engineering are the reasons this ancient city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
|Petra is an ancient city of buildings carved into the mountains.|
When did Petra come into existence?
Built by the semi-nomadic Nabatean tribe, Petra is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Located in southwest Jordan, it was the capital of the Nabatean kingdom around the first century B.C.
|Walking tall walls of the Siq is an amazing and|
It was considered an important strategic location linking the Arabian Peninsula to the south and the Levant in the north to faraway China and Europe. As such, Petra grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. It thrived until a large earthquake in the fourth century A.D. destroyed much of the city.
By the middle of the seventh century Petra was largely deserted. Only local Bedouins inhabited the area. After Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt rediscovered Petra in 1812, people began to recognize its beauty. Today it is Jordan’s most visited landmark.
|Horse-drawn carts take mobility-challenged|
visitors to the Treasury.
Petra is called the Rose City because of the colorful mountain rock from which its structures were carved. Wandering through its dirt streets, we could easily see why Petra was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and why Smithsonian Magazine named Petra as one of the 28 places in the world you should see before you die. There’s simply no other place that it can be compared to.
An engineering wonder
|The Siq is a fascinating lead-in to Petra.|
The ancient city is built on a terrace divided from east to west by the Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses, where the Israelite leader struck a rock and water gushed out). Today visitors see the remains of its massive buildings carved directly into brilliantly colored sandstone cliffs.
These amazing carvings are accessed through a narrow canyon called The Siq. Visitors must walk about a mile on this gateway road to enter Petra, but the views through the gorge are so dramatic that it doesn’t seem long at all. Cliffs in shades of red, purple, yellow, and tan are reminiscent of the thriving spice trades which helped Petra to prosper eons ago. These cliffs also hold many carvings and relics from ancient times.
|Experts aren't really sure of the purpose|
of the Treasury, but it is an imposing
structure and a marvel of engineering.
One thing we learned quickly when walking on the Siq was to watch out for carts pulled by anxious horses. Intended to help mobility-challenged visitors get to the Treasury, the horses trotted at a rapid pace through the narrow passages—and they could easily run you over if you didn’t move out of the way!
Arriving at the end of the Siq we truly gasped as a sliver of the intricately carved Treasury came into view between tall rock walls. Called Al Khazna, this two story masterpiece is carved into the side of the mountain. Topped by a beautiful urn, which legend says conceals a pharaoh’s treasure, the Treasury is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures, and more.
Consisting of three chambers, the elaborate façade represents engineering genius. The Nabateans were very skillful builders who devised a plan to work from the top down, slicing off huge slabs of stone as sections were finished. This formed scaffolding for the masons to stand on as they proceeded to carve out the lower levels.
|Camel rides are possible around the main carved buildings.|
Other magnificent structures in the ancient city include a theater, Royal tombs, sacrificial sites, a church, the Colonnaded Street (main shopping area of ancient Petra), the Lion Triclinium, a Monastery (an additional three-mile walk), and more.
|The Colonnade is a section of buildings with large columns.|
Larry and I spent several hours dodging camels and exploring many of the intricate facades that are sculpted into the sandstone cliffs. We walked about six miles that morning in an attempt to cover as much of the incredible site as possible before our late lunch. The memories made a lasting impression of this unique destination.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier