Ruins of the Rose City

The Lost City of Petra - June 2003

Relatively little is known about the history of Petra. It was founded around the first century BC by the Nabateans (an Arab tribe that became wealthy by controlling the trade routes between Asia and the Mediterranean Sea). The Nabatean culture and its city began to decline after the Romans annexed the area in the Second century AD. By the time the Crusaders arrived, the city was already in ruins. The exact location of the city was largely forgotten by Europeans until it was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Burckhardt in 1812.

On the way to Petra: Landscapes of the Wadi Rum
The Wadi Rum ('Moon Valley') is a vast desert region of pinkish sand broken by towering mesas and spires of wind-eroded rock that reminds me of the Monument Valley area in Arizona. During the First World War, British Lieutenant Oliver Lawrence (aka 'Lawrence of Arabia') convinced the local Bedouin tribes here to rise up against the Turks who controlled the area.

The Obelisk Tomb
Several older tombs were carved into the cliffs before the entrance of the main city. The most impressive of these is the Obelisk Tomb (named for the four pointed obelisks on top). The upper chamber housed the bodies, while the lower room (called a 'triclinium') was a dining hall used by family members and descendants during feasts and other celebrations to honor the dead.

The Siq: Gateway to the City of Petra
The main city is reached by walking through a long narrow slot canyon called 'The Siq'. Originally the canyon floor was paved with stone cobbles and had an aquaduct carved into the wall which brought water from outside of the canyon. The walls are lined with many altars and carved statues including one of two merchants leading camels (upper right). Note how the aquaduct ran behind the legs of the men and camels (now partially eroded away).

An Amazing Sight at the End of the Siq
Near the end of the Siq, the canyon takes a sharp turn and then suddenly opens out into a larger canyon whose opposite wall contains the fantastic ruin known as Al-Khazneh Farun ('The Treasury'). Local Bedouins had long believed this to be a secret treasury of the Egyptian pharos (and badly damaged some of the building looking for treasure). It is now believed to have been a tomb built for an early King of Petra around 80 BC. This dramatic ruin was used as the Temple of the Holy Grail in the final scenes of 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'.

Bedouin Police Officer
The Treasury is a popular spot for both tourists and local Bedouin merchants who sell everything from camel rides to fake Roman coins. The site is always guarded by several Bedouin Police in their bright red uniforms. Each carries a revolver and the traditional dagger.

Tombs and Camels
Most of the famous ruins in Petra are now believed to be tombs. In addition to the large and ornate tombs, there are many smaller ones throughout the area such as these four whose entrances are now submerged beneath the sand and debris of the canyon floor. Note: It is a little known fact that camels love to drink Coca Cola.

The Theater
This theater was originally carved out of the cliff wall by the Nabateans in the 1st century AD. It was later enlarged by the Romans who were forced to cut into some of the smaller tombs that had been built in the cliff walls above (the occupants ended up getting the world's first 'box seats' :) ).

The Royal Tombs
This row of impressive tombs is believed to have been the burial spot for members of the royal families and other prominent members of the city. I especially liked the Urn Tomb (named for the carved vase at the top) which featured a large front platform (like a porch) supported by rows of arched columns.

The Temenos Gate and Qsar Al-Bint Temple
Below the Royal Tombs, the canyon opens up into a wide valley that once held the homes and shops of the city's living inhabitants (which ironically did not survive as well as the portions dedicated to the dead). The road on the right was the city's main street and passed through the arches of the Temenos Gate (only the pillars survive). Further on is the partial wall of a large building that was thought to be either a temple or a palace.

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