Facts about Petra Jordan

Petra Jordan at night

Here are some important and interesting facts about the city of Petra:

Basic Facts about Petra

  • The word “Petra” is Greek for “rock”, this refers to the sandstone from which the city was created.
  • Petra is located in the Kingdom of Jordan, 170 miles south of the capital Amman in the Wadi Araba desert between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Arabah Valley on the slope of Mountain Hor.
  • In the Bible it was in Petra that King Aretas ordered the Apostle Paul to be arrested. Arab tradition states that Petra was the site where Moses struck a rock with his staff and drew water.
  • In 1989 Petra was featured in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusader.
  • At the entrance to Petra lies the town of Wadi Masa.
  • Entrance to the city of Petra is through the Siq a narrow gorge cut through the high mountains of sandstone by years of rain and wind. As you emerge from the Siq the breathtaking Petra treasury rises in front of you, a monument carved out of the red-rose rock face.
  • The City of Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the Beginning…The Nabataean Empire 

  • Petra was first established by the Nabataean culture, who were a nomadic Arabic tribe. The Nabataean began settling in Petra some time during 3BC and the city came into its own in the 6th century.
  • The Nabataean Empire grew to include a large section of the Middle East and Petra was the seat of power and main hub of this empire.
  • Petra was carved out of the sandstone cliffs in the area to create the buildings including temples, houses and tombs.
  • Petra originally was a stop along the spice and incense routes from east to west and the trading routes north thus it became a commercial center, an oasis in the long desert journey traders would take. This strategic position gave the Nabataeans their commercial and thus financial strength, the city was one of the wealthiest cities in its day collecting fees and getting business from the large caravans passing through.
  • The desert city survived the dry terrain during the Nabataean era due to the system of waterways the Nabataean constructs. The aqueduct system brought fresh spring water to the city gathering and storing the water in cisterns and pools.
  • The Nabataean’s unique and eclectic pagan religion included worship of the stars as can be seen in several of the architectural motifs. Their main male God was Dushara and Uzza was their main female deity.
  • At its most populated the Nabataean city was home to 20,000 residents

The Roman Era in Petra and beyond…

  • The Roman era in Petra lasted 3 centuries starting in AD106 and began when the Roman Empire peacefully took over the entire Nabataean Empire. Once they had taken Petra the trade routes where gradually diverted and so began Petra’s commercial fall.
  • Petra suffered several earth quakes between 1BC and 8AD, as well as the most shattering in AD363.
  • The Byzantine era in Petra reinforced the Christian faith in Petra and the city became an important Christian site hence the three churches. The Blue Chapel.
  • The crusaders arrived in Petra around the 12th century and built two forts in the area they eventually abandoned the city leaving it to the locals.
  • Petra was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Petra Today…

  • Today archeological exploration continues and constant efforts are made to better preserve the city of Petra.
  • Although well preserved the city has suffered both natural disasters and erosion from the elements (floods, salt erosion, earthquakes) as well as destruction caused by man over the years – raiding and theft of artifacts from the site.
  • The entire city of Petra and the surrounding area is an Archeological Park covering 265 square meters.
  • Motorized vehicles are forbidden within the city but horse drawn carriages, donkeys and camels are available.