PETRA – The Lost City?
If you don’t know much about Petra – well, don’t feel alone. Most people have never heard of it. I was one of those historically and geographically challenged individuals – that is until I saw the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” back in 1989. If you’ve seen the movie you may recall the site where Jones went to discover The Holy Grail. Well, those scenes were actually filmed in the ancient site of Petra.
Petra has been on my personal travel bucket for a long time – ever since I first saw The Last Crusade. Recently, and at long last, I finally had the opportunity to visit Petra (Readers may have read about my planned journey in a previous article – “On The Road Again.”) Petra did not disappoint. I’ll be sharing lots of photos and videos of my travels through Petra in future articles. But first, for those who don’t know much about Petra, a bit of background. You will appreciate all that Petra has to offer if you understand it’s history. And to put you “in the proper mood”, you can click on the audio file below.
PETRA – Where Is It?
Petra is located in Southern Jordan near the city of Wadi Musa. It is 230 km south of Amman, Jordan and approximately 107 km from the southern most end of the Dead Sea. Most travelers to Jordan arrive at Queen Alia International Airport which serves Amman and is a 30 minute drive south of the capital city. If you head directly to Petra from the airport you have about a 3 hour drive to the south. The port city of Aqaba lies at the southern tip of Jordan on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern extension of the Red Sea. Aqaba is 125 km south of Petra and it’s airport – King Hussein International Airport – is the nearest airport to Petra. Jordan’s road system is somewhat limited. Travelers have almost a 2 hour drive from Aqaba to reach Petra.
Consider a side trip to the desert area of Wadi Rum.
As An Aside – If you travel to or through Aqaba you should also seriously consider visiting nearby Wadi Rum. You can read about Wadi Rum in the article “Exploring Wadi Rum – Jordan’s Southern Desert.” Wadi Rum is an interesting place to experience the Bedouin desert area. It’s about a one hour drive from Aqaba, right on the way to Petra, and well worth the visit.
PETRA – What Is It?
From ancient times Petra was a cultural and trading center originally established by the Nabateans, an Arab Bedouin tribe. Strategically located on silk and spice caravan trade routes which criss-crossed the area connecting Arabia, India, Africa and Egypt, Petra’s wealth and prosperity grew quickly. The city was an oasis with water engineering features which allowed it to flourish in an otherwise arid desert area. At it’s height, the Nabatean city of Petra boasted a population ranging between 20,000 and 30,000. Over the centuries Petra was ruled by various empires and regions, each of which left it’s distinctive imprint on the city’s architectural and archeological features. The city streets were lined with enormous monumental buildings and structures literally carved out of, and into the distinctive rose colored sandstone of city’s enveloping cliffs and mountainsides.
The early Nabateans in Petra left no written record of their culture or city. Petra first entered the era of recorded history In 312 B.C when it was attacked by Greece in an attempt to add the city and it’s wealth to Greece’s expanding area of influence.
Petra successfully defended itself against the Greeks, aided in no small part by the city’s strategic location protected by mountainous terrain and canyons which limited avenues of attack. Having successfully repulsed the Greek attack, Petra continued it’s growth and prosperity until it was again attacked, this time by the legions of Rome.
Rome advanced upon Petra, eventually subduing the city in 106 A.D. Rome took control of Petra, adding the region to the Roman Empire and renaming the city “Arabia Petraea.” The city thrived and continued to grow and prosper under Roman rule into the 4th century.
TRAVEL SECURITY – LOCK IT UP
Eventually Petra’s importance declined as overland caravan trade routes diminished and sea trade routes emerged and became prominent. In 363 A.D. many of the major buildings and monuments of the City of Petra were destroyed by devastating earthquakes which further diminished the prominence of Petra and essentially marked the end of Roman interest in the city.
For nearly 300 years following the end of Roman rule, Petra was part of the Byzantine Empire. But it’s best years were behind it. It’s population declined as it’s power and wealth dwindled. Once a center of culture and trade and prosperity, it was eventually reduced to an abandoned ghost of a city in the southern desert. Wandering Bedouin tribes moved into the city, living in the remains of temples, tombs and city buildings. Petra became a “Lost City,” for ages remaining unknown to people beyond the local Bedouin tribes who enjoyed the isolation of their space and kept the location to themselves.
In the early 19th century Swiss Explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt was a traveler in the area of what is now Southern Jordan. Having heard tales of a mystical lost city in the desert, he disguised himself as an Arab traveler and eventually convinced local Bedouin to show him the way to the area around Petra. In August of 1812 Burckhardt found his was to the ruins of Petra, “rediscovereding” the ancient site and returning Petra – The Lost City to the pages of Western History.
Interest in Petra has grown rapidly in modern times. With increasing tourist traffic the country of Jordan stepped in, establishing control of the area and initiating the establishment of appropriate plans to administer, preserve and monitor the area. In 1985 the government removed the B’doul Bedouin Tribe that had resided in the ruins of the city, relocating them to the nearby and newly built city of Umm Sayhoun. The tribe was also granted exclusive rights to tourism activities in the Petra site.
Petra was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Increasingly an area of interest to tourists, over 800,000 travelers visited Petra in 2018. It’s a fascinating place with a fascinating history. Be sure to check back when Travel And Photo Today.com publishes new articles on Petra – The Lost City: PLANNING A VISIT TO PETRA, WALKING THE SIQ, EXPLORING PETRA and PETRA AT NIGHT.
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