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  • Writer's pictureClaudia Grobe

All about Petra

This article focuses on Petra in Jordan. We give you an insight into the long history and of course you will also learn facts that not everyone knows. So before you go to Jordan, you should definitely read this blog.

The beginning

Petra, the city carved into the sandstone, is more than 2000 years old. It was built by the Nabataeans. They were a nomadic people who initially lived off their sheep, goats and camels and the surrounding land, moving from place to place. Over time, they attained a degree of wealth and became successful traders, even dominating the trade routes from Egypt to Arabia and the Mediterranean Sea. Apparently, with wealth came the desire to settle down, and so the Nabataeans exchanged their small tents for a permanent location: Petra.

The Nabataeans had always lived in the desert and were more than familiar with this harsh environment. They used their knowledge very cleverly and created a kind of oasis in the middle of the desert. With miles of waterways and underground cisterns, they made phenomenal use of both permanent and seasonal water sources. These water channels can still be admired today when walking along the Siq. Petra became an important stop on the Incense Route. Traders had to pay tolls for the roads and paid for water and shelter. As the trade routes grew, the Nabataeans became richer. The Nabataeans seemed to enjoy their newfound wealth, and they were happy to show it off. The monuments in Petra were carved by hand in the sandstone and colorfully decorated by specially hired master builders. By the way, the Siq, which leaves everyone gasping for breath at the very beginning, is a natural wonder and was not built by the Nabataeans.

The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire grew steadily during this period and around 106 AD they took control of Petra. The takeover seems to have gone peacefully. Petra grew further. New buildings, roads and monuments were built; now in the Roman style.

The Romans lived in Petra for about the next 300 years. The city was transformed and later also received Christian monuments, such as a church. Over time, however, trade routes shifted north and seaward. And after the great earthquake in 363 AD, most of the inhabitants left Petra. The city fell into oblivion...

Only in 1812 – more than 500 years later – the ancient city of Petra was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer, Johannes Burckhardt. Since then it is widely known as The Lost City.

So much for the history, now let's uncover some cool facts.

1. Petra is known as the “Rose City”

To get behind this nickname, you need to visit Petra at sunrise or sunset. The first/last rays of the sun then bathe the red sandstone in a rose-pink hue.

2. Why did Petra get its name?

Now one expects a wonderful and extraordinary explanation. Unfortunately, no. Petra most likely comes from the Greek (petros) and simply means "stone". Petra, the city of stone.

3. The famous treasury is no treasury at all

The ornate building, which is by far the most famous in all of Petra today, was most likely used as a mausoleum. Many decorations depict scenes from the afterlife. Incidentally, it is also said to be the tomb of the Nabataean king Aretas IV.

Much later, after the city's glory era, local Bedouin probably found the city again hoping for wealth in this ornate building and dubbed it "Treasury" from then on.

4. The afterlife

Speaking of tombs, there are more than 1000 tombs in Petra. This makes the site 'one of the largest royal tomb complexes in the world'. The Nabataeans believed in life after death and therefore took great care of the tombs.

5. Petra is a movie star

Almost three decades ago, George Lucas decided to use the monumental Treasury as the exterior of The Temple of the Sun in his movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


Petra is also used as a backdrop in more recent films, such as Aladdin (2019) and Transformers: revenge of the Fallen (2009).

6. Petra is so much bigger

What we can admire today is only about 15% of the original city of Petra. Another 85% are still hidden.

7. Visit Petra by car. That works?

Camels and horse-drawn carriages feature in many of Petra's photographs. Looks nice, but animal welfare is often not taken care of very well, which is why we always advise against it. So far, however, there was only this possibility of locomotion apart from one's own feet. However, motorized vehicles have also been allowed since 2021. Do we like that? Hmm, we think it's great for the animals. For the sight itself we would probably not wish for cars.

8. Want to visit all 7 New Wonders of the World? Make one cross here

Since 6 of the seven ancient wonders of the world no longer exist today, a worldwide online survey was conducted in 2000 to identify the modern wonders of the world. The winners were announced from the list in 2007. Petra is one of them.

Certainly there are many more aspects surrounding Petra. The most breathtaking thing, however, is the visit itself. Wander through the Siq and admire the filigree, centuries-old architecture at the Treasury...

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