The Mysterious History Of Petra, The Rose City, In 13 Photographs

Petra is an ancient city, unlike any other, carved in the cliffs of the Jordanian desert.

Imagine you’re wandering in the desert, feeling the hot scorching rays of the Jordanian sun draining your energy. You barely have any water left. You know the camel you’re riding has to rest too. You thought you would make it to the closest city, but the heat is just too much. You need shelter, shade, an oasis, anything to recover your energy and continue your journey. Then, you find a huge cluster of gigantic rocks, all creating a mind-bending, rose colored natural maze where you decide to shelter. As you approach, and find some shadows, you feel the freshness of the shadow, but before you even decide to stop your journey, you hear a soft, whisper-like noise echoing across the rocks… It might be people.

You know you won’t lose anything if you move a bit further if it means finding water or even some company. You keep advancing, and as you start approaching, you start listening to other noises, voices, music, the huffing of camels, donkeys, and other animals. Most likely it’s a caravan. As you keep advancing, the trail becomes narrower, darker, fresher, and the sounds increase. Now it doesn’t sound just like a caravan, but like a whole town, a lot of life. As you turn to the left, you grasp an unbelievable sight. Indeed, there are people, caravans, noise, but that’s not what captured your attention. Behind them, amid the rock, you catch a glimpse of columns, shining with golden hues under a ray of sunlight that strikes right on them. You get closer and closer, and you find out that these aren’t just columns, but an imposing door, maybe not as gigantic but as sublime as the huge rocks in which it was carved. And this is just the entrance to a whole city that is as beautiful and awe-inspiring. You can’t help but wonder, how did the founders of this fantastical place manage to create an oasis amid rocks, sand, and cliffs?  

Although abandoned hundreds of years ago, the magical city of Petra in Jordan keeps amazing visitors from all over the world with its mind-bending architecture and the fact that its founders created a whole city in desert mountains and used them as a sort of fortress that protected its inhabitants during its golden age. The mystic quality of this city is such that it has been used as a set for Hollywood blockbusters such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Mummy Returns, and it’s no wonder. It seems that Petra belongs to another world.

There’s an aura of mystery behind the history of the city itself. While the fact that it’s concealed by nature enhances this quality, researchers keep finding new evidence about the city’s history, making it a tale that hasn’t stopped being written*. While the name Petra was given by the ancient Greeks, this city belonging to the Nabataean culture was originally known as Raqmu or Rekem, and its first inhabitants can be traced back to prehistoric times. However, it is believed that the founders of the city were Bedouin nomadic tribes that frequented that zone, until they eventually used it as a place where they could settle and be safe if the conditions in the desert were particularly harsh. During the Hellenistic (323-31 BC) period and until the end of the Nabataean empire, this city became a major trading center and resting place for caravans, especially because of its strategic location between Egypt, Syria, and Arabia.

Of course, this important location caught the attention of the Roman empire, who conquered the city in 106 AD, ending with the flourishing Nabataean empire. Sadly, the splendor of Petra started waning under Roman rule, especially because the traders that used the city as a passage to other countries would have to submit to Roman commerce rules that were implemented in their trading routes. However, one key moment that would define the demise of the city was a terrible earthquake that destroyed part of the city and forced many to flee in the year 363 because it destroyed part of the water system that kept the city thriving. Although the Byzantine empire took hold of the city around the seventh century and built many churches whose artsy works still prevail, the city was finally abandoned in the eight century. However, the memory of this magical city, once a jewel shining amid the desert, wasn’t completely forgotten.

For centuries, stories about Petra were told as if it were a real life Atlantis in the sandstone cliffs of Jordan. Many people searched for the city, until the Swiss traveler and orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhards described visiting the city in one of his letters. He decided to search for the ruins after he heard vague stories about it during his journey to Cairo. After finding the remains of the city, he caught the attention of archaeologists and artists from his time that helped unveil the history of the city. Although nowadays we have an idea of the culture that flourished there, the mysteries around it and the magical buildings that prevail keep making Petra a destination you can’t miss in your life.


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