Discovered in 1812 and dubbed the “rose red city” by Victorian poet Dean Burgeon, Petra was built in the third century BCE by the Nabataeans as a fortress city. A town quite literally chiseled into the sandstone mountains of Jordan’s southwestern region, the city of Petra could only be accessed on foot – making it impossible for massive armies to penetrate it. This defense tactic was made possible by the geological phenomenon of the Shiq gulf situated directly before the city entrance.
A cleft or crack in the earth’s surface, the Shiq has its own biblical history prior to Petra. The approximately mile-and-a-half long Shiq is believed to be the place where Moses performed the miracle of drawing water from a stone during the Israelites’ travels in the desert after leaving Egypt. The chasm in which the city was built was named after Moses himself—Wadi Musa, or Valley of Moses.
Though the city of Petra is located in Jordan and not in Israel proper, it is well worth the extra travel when on a tour of Israel.
El Khazneh, the Arabic term for the treasury, the Khazneh is a monumental shrine, originally a tomb and thought to be the burial place of Nabataean King Aretas IV. The façade of the tomb is immense – about 140 feet high and 90 feet wide. The ornate decorations of the façade are etched into solid stone and have remained perfectly preserved for thousands of years. Their decorative lines are reminiscent of Greek and Roman architecture with classical columns, topped with Doric, Ionic and Corinthian capitals alongside massive carved arches.
Named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in 2007, Petra has finally gained the recognition it deserves, although it has long been an unofficial source of inspiration and wonder to all those who have visited and written about it. Petra has made appearances -- with several inaccuracies -- in the third Indiana Jones sequel as well as the science fiction series, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. The mystifying city has also featured prominently in video games and children’s books, often depicted as a “faraway land” and a haunted or magical place.
Petra’s location in Jordan makes it relatively easy to access when touring Israel. Jordan shares a peaceful border and diplomatic relations with Israel and is western in attitude – an easy place to visit.
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