Petra, the Mysterious Jewel of Jordan

12391716060?profile=RESIZE_930xAhmad Qaisieh

In southern Jordan, just under three hours from capital Amman, one of the most recognisable ancient sites in the MIddle East - and indeed, the world - was rediscovered by archaeologists in 1812. But it dates back to at least the 2nd century BCE and probably earlier, settled by an ancient Bedouin Arab tribe called the Nabataeans, who spoke Aramaic rather than Arabic and grew into a wealthy, powerful kingdom which at its height - and until it was absorbed by the Roman Empire in the 2nd century CE - controlled territory and trade - and especially the frankincese trade - from what is today the west coast of Saudi Arabia up to Damascus

12393120261?profile=RESIZE_930xDiego Delso

Its named derived from the Greek for stone (the original Nabataean name is lost to history), this city remained undiscovered by outsiders for so many years because the Bdoul Bedouin kept it a secret, using it as a place to live during the winter for centuries - even up until 1984, the year Petra was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.The beautiful nature of life in Petra, along with the Bedouin culture, attracted many travellers to stay and live in Petra - some even married Bedouins and raised families here (one of the most best known examples is the Dutch-born New Zealander Marguerite van Geldermalsen, who beginning in 1978 lived here in a cave with her Bedouin husband Mohammad Abdullah and later wrote a book about it, called Married to a Bedouin).

12393120861?profile=RESIZE_930xJorge Láskar

The excavated portion of Petra spreads over 264 square kilometres (102 sq. miles) - yet even this represents just 20 percent of its total area, with the rest yet to be discovered, Serious excavation has only been done since the early 1990s, its pace purposefully slow to maintain the site´s integrity; some of the more recently unearthed sites are the tombs under the Treasury, and in some spots they´ve gotten all the way down to the original ground level, around seven metres (23 feet) down. From what archaeologists now know,  Petra in its heyday as a trading capital and entrepôt was a amazing place of gardens (like the ones above), fountains, huge temples (most notably the Great Temple, last photo), opulent villas, and rich farm fields irrigated by an innovative water-supply system, with tanks carved in stone and channels start from Wadi Mousa (also known as Moses Springs 10km (nearly seven mles) away.

12393121293?profile=RESIZE_930xBernard Gagnon

The most iconic structure of Petra´s Hellenistic architecture is of course the Treasury (top), the first site you see after the end of the Siq the narrow gorge stretching from an outside valley more than a kilomter (3/4 of a mile) through the sandstone. It got its name from the Bedouins (al-Khazneh in Arabic), as it was believed that there was a treasure hidden in a jar near its top, and many of archaeologists theorise that it was a temple as well as a royal tomb for King Aretas VI, who ruled from aroud 9 BCE to 40 CE. Other notable landmarks include the Hadrian (Temenos) Gate, the royal tombs such as the Palace Tomb (above), and the amphitheatre (second photo).

12393122254?profile=RESIZE_930xBernard Gagnon

Fun fact: when it rains, most of the city doesn´t get wet, in part because its builders carved façades into the cliffs, leaving rocky overhangs to shield them against the elements, and in other cases carving channels to act as gutters, sluicing rainwater away.

For more information, check out the websites of Visit Jordan and Jordan Tours.



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  • An unforgettable experience!

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