Petra: The rock-carved Oasis that stands the test of time

Posted on 8 August 2023 By Tsoku Maela

Petra, referred to as Raqmu by the Nabataeans and known as Al-Batrāʾ in Arabic, is an enchanting historical and archaeological city situated in the southern region of Jordan. This captivating city is renowned for its remarkable rock-carved architecture and ingenious water conduit system. It has earned the moniker “Rose City” due to the distinctive rose-hued stone from which its awe-inspiring structures emerge.

There is a person by the doorway to get a scale of the size.
A classic view of El Deir, The Monastery in Petra. Shown in the context of the mountain that the facade was carved out of by the Nabataeans in the 1st century. The facade measures 50 metres wide by approximately 45 meters high. Picture: Getty Images

The origins of Petra date back potentially as far as 312 BC, when it was established as the capital by the Arab Nabataeans. This city stands as an emblem of Jordan and stands as the country’s premier tourist attraction, drawing countless visitors. The Nabateans, a group of resourceful nomadic Arabs, capitalized on Petra’s strategic location along key trade routes, propelling it into a prominent trading hub and amassing substantial wealth. The Nabateans’ ingenuity in creating effective water collection methods within arid landscapes and their exceptional skill in sculpting solid rock into architectural marvels are also well-regarded.

Perched on the slopes of Jebel al-Madhbah, sometimes associated with the biblical Mount Hor, Petra is nestled within a basin among the mountains flanking the eastern side of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the expansive valley stretching from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Petra holds profound significance in the realm of human cultural heritage.

The allure of this site remained concealed from the Western world until 1812 when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt unveiled its splendors. It was eloquently described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a poem by John William Burgon that earned the Newdigate Prize. UNESCO has lauded Petra as a “priceless cultural asset of humanity’s heritage.” In 2007, Petra was honoured as one of the New7Wonders of the World, and it also secured a place on the Smithsonian Magazine’s list of “28 Places to Visit in Your Lifetime.”


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