Petra city in Jordan, photo and description

Petra – the mysterious ancient rock city of Jordan

Petra, the city in the rocks

Petra is an ancient rock city mentioned in the Bible. Here Moses extracted water from the rock, and the local river is called Wadi – Musa (Moses River). The city is in the south-west of Jordan in the Shahimite Kingdom, in the center of a desert surrounded by rocks, 100 km from the Arabian Gulf, on the road to the Dead Sea and stands 900 m above sea level and 660 m above the surrounding countryside.

Petra – the mysterious desert city

Petra lies at the center of a huge natural anomaly that measures 200 square kilometers. Earthquakes, winds and rain have created a fantastic landscape of soft sandstone, where mountains stand side by side with precipitous gorges and narrow gullets. The rocks and hills around are of strange shapes with splashes of red, pink, purple, blue and black.

Feature of the mysterious city – houses, temples, tombs, amphitheaters and monasteries are knocked out in the rocks, consisting of red sandstone. Depending on the light the rocks change their appearance – in the same place during the day the buildings look differently, changing shades of red. The buildings are beautiful and elegant.

Houses inside the rocks

The city was built by competent architects, the skill of the ancient engineers is admirable. The caves in the rocks were hollowed out so that they were not covered with sand and not washed away by water.

The emergence of the city

2500 years ago, the nomadic Nabateans, a Semitic people, settled in the remote, mountainous region of Jordan. Skilled architects, they built a beautiful city – the capital of the Nabataean kingdom – calling it Petra, which means “stone”.

The city was built and populated quickly. The heyday of the settlement was in the I century BC. The inhabitants of the kingdom were engaged in trade. Petra was well located for trade: here the caravan routes of the ancient world, connecting Europe, Asia and Africa converged.

Caravans with goods, crossing the sultry Arabian desert, stopped in Petra and found water, food, shelter, rest and trade here. The nomads, who settled in a comfortable place, prospered for 200 years, bathed in luxury. Twenty thousand people lived here and life was thriving.

Frankincense and myrrh, which they traded, were worth more than gold in those days. With the opening of the sea routes the overland trade stopped, Petra lost its trading advantages and the city gradually fell into decay, got lost in the sands and the inhabitants left their homes.

A city carved in the rocks

The city stretches along a winding valley formed among the rocks. A “secret path” leads to the city, the only road in the dark through the narrow Sin Gorge. The sun cannot get here.

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The gorge is a narrow, 2-5 m wide, winding canyon 1200 m long among the overhanging on both sides 90-meter cliffs of amazing shades of pink. Along the way is an ancient water chute that supplied water to the ancient city.

Sin Gorge

Architects of Petra, mastering the science of irrigation, created a complex system of water supply . The inhabitants of the city did not need water – the Arabian Desert bloomed with gardens only under the Nabataeans. To preserve rainwater, the inhabitants cut canals and reservoirs in the rocks, 200 filled reservoirs constantly standing “on guard”.

Steps carved in the rocks lead to stone structures: monuments, necropolises, reservoirs, monasteries. The inhabitants of Petra patiently carved luxurious dwellings in the rocks, created sculptures and temples, built theaters and stadiums, baths and sewers.

View of Petra

Petra, hidden from enemies by sheer cliffs, with a permanent water supply, buried in lush gardens, was an oasis in the middle of the desert. In the rocks they arranged places for prayers and hollowed out vaults. On one side there were hollows in the stones for more comfortable standing and opposite to them there were stone icons.

Sights of Petra

At the exit from the gorge, in the bright sunlight appears a beautiful building – the ancient 39-meter temple of Pharaoh’s treasury, built in the II century AD. In the rock – carefully carved two-storey facade, imprinted in the huge rocks. In the niches of the upper floor are figures of the ancient gods.

Pharaoh's Treasury Temple

Massive stone steps lead to the entrance to the dark interior. The interior decoration is without any decoration. The building is decorated with bas-relief figures of panther, lion, snake and sphinx. At the entrance there are six columns. Above the portico is a four-meter urn of stone, an ancient symbol of wealth.

Figures of ancient gods

This was where the pharaoh’s gold and jewels were kept, hence the name. The urn is ruined because the descendants of the Nabataeans thought that if a lucky shot hit the urn, it would rain gold and jewels on the lucky shooter. Scholars believe the valuables were gradually removed by the inhabitants of Petra leaving the dying city after the trade route shifted northwards.

On top of the rock is the huge Ad Deir Monastery, Petra’s largest structure. There are 50 m high orthodox crosses carved on the walls and it was the seat of the Christian church. Above the facade is a 10-meter urn.

The amphitheatre is similar to Greek and Roman theaters. There were 40 rows of seats going down in the stone. The semicircular theater could seat 8 thousand spectators. On the ridge above it was a rectangular courtyard with a stone altar. One can only guess what spectacles the Nabatians enjoyed in the theater.

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The palace of the Virgin is a sanctuary. According to legend, the king’s daughter who lived there declared that she would marry whoever led water to her dwelling. Canals to the drain show that the water was carried through.

Maiden's Palace

Nearby is the Palace Tomb, a 3-story Roman palace. A high rock staircase leads to an altar and an altar. What deity and what sacrifices were offered here is unknown. And then the city expands, there are the usual stone houses, markets, administrative and entertainment facilities, the central paved street and the triumphal arch. How the builders carved the buildings into the rocks remains a mystery.

City of Petra today.

500 thousand tourists come to Jordan every year to see Petra and immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the ancient rock architecture. The territory of Petra . The local Bedouin people live off trading souvenirs for tourists of no value. Their ancestors offered goods made of gold, silver and precious stones.


At night, Petra is lit with many candles and Bedouin music. Sitting on mats, tourists drink fragrant local tea. Can you imagine the face of the Nabataean king at this time when he saw the nomads sitting on mats in the treasury!

A city carved in rock: 12 mysteries of the amazing Petra

Petra is an ancient city carved into the rocks. It is located in Jordan, a country which is occupied by deserts for the most part. It is only possible to get to this unique site through a narrow canyon, and it is not easy to do. Still, this does not stop tourists.

Who and when built this city?

Petra has been abandoned for many hundreds of years, but thousands of years ago it flourished. It was a major trading hub, located right at the crossroads of silk, spices and incense carried from India to Arabia, Africa, Egypt and back. This allowed the locals to bathe in gold. It is not entirely clear when the city was built, but it is known to have been before our era. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. According to some estimates, in its best years there were about 20,000 people living there.

How is it even possible to carve a city in rock?

The facades of the buildings were carved right into the canyon walls, and they are striking. The exquisite carvings attest to the high level of development of this civilization and the skill of the builders. The main entrance to the city is called El Khazneh, or the Treasury. So it was nicknamed by the local Bedouins, who really believed that countless riches were kept there. The gate is carved out of beautiful pink sandstone, which is why Petra is also called the Pink City.

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The builders definitely had a hard time. To erect such structures, they had to have considerable knowledge and skills. The ancient craftsmen managed to create buildings that were not inferior to the Greek and Roman sites neither in decoration, nor in architecture.

How they managed to carve such a high building in the rock is not clear. There are absolutely no trees in the area that could be used for scaffolding. As scientists suggest, the construction began from above: on the raw rock you could stand, gradually descending, floor by floor. And, using only chisels and hammers, local engineers achieved a stunning result.

Did the rocks save them from their enemies?

Other nations were jealous of the Nabateans’ wealth, and the city had to fight off the Greeks. Petra won. But when the Roman conquerors came, she had to surrender. For many more years Petra flourished, but already under the rule of the Roman Empire. In the IV century AD an earthquake destroyed most of the city and caused irreparable damage to many areas. The Romans decided to leave the damaged city. It was later seized by the Byzantine Empire.

Why was Petra lost and where did people disappear to?

With the development of technology came the sea trade routes, and Petra lost its strategic importance and remained abandoned to its fate and hidden in the sands. Thus it became a lost city. But it should be noted that Petra was lost only to Western civilizations, because the locals knew about the hidden pearl of the desert. A tribe of Bedouin Bedouls lived in the caves of the city. They called themselves descendants of the Nabateans and did not want anyone else to know about Petra, for they feared that people would come there in search of treasure and destroy the remains of the structures. So they kept the location of the city in the strictest secrecy for many years.

How did the Europeans learn about Peter?

It was discovered on August 12, 1812. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a young Swiss, heard talk of the mysterious city during his trip to Cairo. And then he even had to disguise himself as an Arab to convince his guide to take him to this mysterious place. Johann could not stay long in Petra, for he was not a local. He could not even declare with certainty that it was the city he was looking for, for there was no clear evidence of this around him. Nevertheless people in Europe knew about Peter, and after Johannes there followed other explorers who made accurate drawings. Yet the first excavations here began only in 1929, and it has been more than 100 years since the discovery of the lost city.

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Why the Treasure Trove?

Archaeologists do not fully understand what the Treasury was built for. Some believe it was the tomb of a Nabatean king. Others say it was a place of storage for documents or even a kind of temple. What is known about the Treasury is that it was one of the last to be built when the city was already rich and prosperous.

How did people survive in the desert and cliffs without water?

The people of Petra were experts in water-related technology. They built cisterns, dams, tunnels and reservoirs, and the city was a kind of oasis for weary travelers. Greatly developed technology allowed the locals to stay in the city even in a drought. At certain times there were floods in the area, but the Nabataeans coped with that as well. They built dams and aqueducts that redirected the flow of rainwater into the city so that the people could exist.

How did people even live in the rocks? And did they live inside?

Petra was a major religious center and presumably was home to clergy, merchants, sculptors, and service people. There are over 1,000 tombs in Petra, and many of them are designed for families or even entire tribes. It is likely that many of the townspeople were involved in the funeral business in one way or another. Interestingly, it is difficult to answer the question of whether all 20,000 people (and according to some reports, 30,000) lived inside Petra. Based on rough calculations, even if each household had an average of 10 people, there should have been 2,000 spacious dwellings in the city. But there are far fewer. Probably some of the inhabitants were housed in tents behind stone walls.

Who is buried in the tombs of Petra?

No researchers have not made any assumptions about this. We can say with certainty that the niches were carved in different historical periods, because they differ very much in appearance. The inhabitants of Petra, unlike the rest of the Nabataeans, did not make inscriptions on the tombs to understand who was buried in them. However, they believed that the deceased could eat and have a good time in the other world, since they left food and all sorts of household items with their bodies. It is interesting that at first, because of the incredible number of tombs, Petra was thought to be one huge necropolis. And only later scientists have found out that it was still a well-developed city.

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What is there in Petra besides the beautiful gates, against which everyone takes pictures?

One of the most impressive buildings in Petra is the amphitheater. It is located almost in the center of the city and can hold up to 8,500 people. Other striking sites in this city include the Street of Facades with its many tombs and the Ad Deir Monastery. It is a beautiful monumental structure, the purpose of which modern researchers can only guess.

In 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2007 – one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. An agreement was made with the Bdul tribe to move it some distance from the city, and now the Bedouins live in a specially built settlement for them. One of their main occupations is the tourist business.

There are monumental “cubes” scattered outside the gates of Petra. What are they for?

Many things in Petra are still a mystery. For example, it has huge stones – square monuments scattered behind the walls of the city. No one knows why they were put up and what they represent. According to the legend, there were genies inside them to guard the ancient capital.

Will we ever be able to solve all the mysteries of Petra?

Discoveries are still being made in Petra. In 2016, archaeologists discovered a ceremonial site of incredible size. And now researchers are still trying to figure out what it is. In 1993, scrolls dating back to the Byzantine period were found. Their contents are still a mystery. Archaeologists estimate that only 15% of the city is now discovered and the remaining 85 are underground and remain untouched for the time being. So we still have much to learn about this lost treasure.

The Middle East is not particularly popular with tourists. Despite this, however, more than 1,000,000 people visited Petra in 2019. It is one of the most visited excavation sites in the world. The movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was filmed here, iconic photo shoots were held, and people from all over the world want to get here.

Sometimes tourists are allowed into Petra at night, and then the road to it and the main entrance to the lost city is decorated with candles and lanterns.

Well, if you can not go to this ancient city, you can use the offer from Google – a tour with an audio guide.

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