Petra is known as the "rose-red city" because of the rose red colouring of the rock. It is situated in the south of Jordan and is surrounded by mountains.
Although Petra is generally associated with the Nabataeans, the remains of a settlement have been found there which date back to the 6th century BC. Petra developed due to the plentiful water supply and the natural defensive position of the land. It is known that a settlement existed there between 1550-1296 BC as it is referred to in the accounts of the Egyptian campaigns of the 18th Dynasty. The Nabataeans, constructed massive rock cut architecture and an ingenious complex of dams and water channels. At its peak in the 1st centuries BC and AD the Nabateans controlled as far north as Damascus in Syria, as far south as Northern Arabia and also over parts of the Sinai and Negev deserts.
The Nabataeansí prosperity came from Petra's location on the incense, spice and silk trade routes, which linked China, India and Southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. Due to its plentiful water supply it provided a stopping place for the caravans.
In 64 BC, the Romans under Pompey arrived, which curtailed any further expansion by the Nabataeans and in 106 AD, Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire, and the Nabataean dynasty came to an end - although the city continued to flourish. In the 13th to 15th centuries AD, it once again became a stopping place for caravans, although it did not regain its commercial importance, and was subsequently inhabited only by local Bedouins until it was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
The city is reached through a narrow gorge over 1 kilometre in length, with steep rising sides over 80 metres high called the Siq ("the shaft"). This is a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks, which opens into a natural square dominated by Petra's most famous monument known as The Treasury (El-Khazneh) Having been carved from the cliff face, it has an intricately carved facade which is 30m wide and 43m high. The purpose of the Treasury is not known for certain, although it is accepted that it was not in fact a treasury. It has been suggested that it is a memorial mausoleum. However, excavations conducted below the building indicate that it was a royal tomb. The date of its construction is also unclear, although it is probable that it was constructed by Aretas III Philhellene (86-62 BC), at a time of great expansion.
The area also contains over 800 monuments which include buildings, tombs, baths, funerary halls, temples, arched gateways and a theatre with a capacity for 5,000 people. The Royal Tombs are set into the rock-face of the Jabal Al-Khubtha and are amongst the most impressive of the 500 tombs found in Petra. The Urn Tomb which was probably constructed around 70 AD was adapted in 446 AD to serve as a Byzantine church, the vaults of which can still be seen below the tombs.
In the city centre can be seen the remains of the Nymphaeum, (the public fountain) and the Temple of the Winged Lions leading along the Colonnaded Street which ends at the Triple Arched Gate. This was constructed in the 2nd century AD, after the completion of the street in order to act as a ceremonial entrance to the sacred precinct. Within the sacred precinct is the Qasr Al-Bint Temple constructed around 30 BC - 40 AD. It is the only substantial stone-built structure in Petra still standing amongst the multitude of buildings hewn out of the rock. Petra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
Panorama Available at airpano.com
Additional information can be seen on Encyclopaedia Britannica