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  • Writer's pictureEryn

Petra - The Nabataeans & Their Ancient Capital City In Jordan

Eryn is dwarfed by the Monastery as she walks toward the structure that is carved into a cliff face in Petra

The intense sunlight illuminated our surroundings as we followed the footsteps of ancient traders, explorers, and travelers that shared the same hope of reaching the rose-red city of Petra. Large manmade holes - the entrances to tombs - peeked out of the hills of rock that surrounded us, as if they were eyes watching our every move. Eight-meter-high blocks of sandstone representing the mountain god, Dushara, stood firmly in the midst of the desert, guarding the entrance of the main passageway to the city of Petra.

We continued hiking along the sandy path until we experienced a change in the environment. The path began to slant downwards leading us deeper and deeper into the shadows of the Siq, a seemingly endless canyon that leads to the heart of the ancient city. The remains of dams and tombs continued to urge us along, encouraging us onwards until the sandstone walls that flanked us broke off, revealing the world-famous Khazneh, or Treasury. The 40-meter-high structure soared above our heads, our eyes widening as we gasped. The monument was carved directly into the sandstone rock face with great skill, and its pillars and facades are polished smooth as if it wasn't 2,000 years old! It isn't known for certain what the Treasury was actually used for, but it is now one of the most recognizable icons of Petra.

A portion of the Treasury carved into a cliff face that is visible from behind the walls of the surrounding canyons in Jordan
The iconic Treasury of Petra

The Nabataeans were nomadic desert people that traveled throughout the Middle East and grew wealthy from successful incense and spice trades. They filled their capital city with unimaginable temples, tombs, and riches which are still being discovered by modern archaeologists today. The Nabataeans are now known for their skill to hand carve the grandest of structures and for their sophisticated water system which was key in sustaining a city of approximately 30,000 people that flourished in the middle of the desert.

Eryn walks along a path beside a canyon wall in bright sunlight and shadows of the rock in Petra, Jordan
The shapes of the canyon walls create dynamic light and shadows in Petra, Jordan

We continued our hike through the desert city, passing more tombs and a theatre that could seat almost 8,000 spectators! We then reached the Colonnaded Street - the main street of Petra. It would have been the best place to trade goods and get supplies, and I can just imagine how this street would have been filled with locals and merchants from ancient times rather than the visiting tourists today.

We trekked onwards past Petra's Great Temple - a massive structure likely to have been a government building - and Qasr al-Bint - a magnificent holy site to worship the Nabataean god, Dushara. We then left the city center of Petra and began to climb. Up and up slippery steps of rock, we hiked along the sandstone mountains. Soon enough, I craned my neck forward as we reached a clearing, staring in awe of al-Dier, the Monastery. It has many similarities with the Treasury, but it is much larger, less elaborate, and is well away from the bustling center of Petra.

Eryn stands before a face of rock in Petra, Jordan where the eroded remains of carvings of people and camels can be seen
Can you see the remains of camels and people that were carved into the rock in Petra?

Petra must have been a very vibrant city, but with the arrival of the Romans in A.D. 106, devastating earthquakes, and changes in trade routes, the brilliant era of Petra was over. The very memory of the capital city was almost lost over the course of the centuries, but since its rediscovery by a disguised Swiss traveler in 1812, Petra slowly grew to flourish once more.

The archaeological site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and four years later it was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie, making it even more well-known to the rest of the world. Later in 2007, it was also named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World! It is hard to believe that only fifteen percent of Petra, Jordan's most visited tourist attraction, has been excavated, while the remaining eighty-five percent is still waiting to be unearthed and discovered.


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