Visiting Petra is an experience and a half. Without a doubt Jordan’s most prominent and visited tourist destination, this ancient town has been named one of the seven new world wonders.
While Petra is still architectural site still under study there are so many things scientist have already found out about the past (though probably still plenty more to discover). As I arrived on the Wadi Musa on an extremely cold and rainy looking day I decided to roam around the Petra Museum in the visitor center that exhibits things found and tells the story of the of the people who built Petra. Or at least the tiny part as it’s known.
There are some general facts and interesting numbers I learned from my visit
- We call people who built Petra Nabataeans. It seems that we are not sure of their origin. They were nomadic tribe who took over a strategically important area and made a capital city there.
- While local Bedouins who roam the Petra in modern days selling souvenirs and offering a guide service would like you to think of them as direct descendants of the Nabataeans, there are little to no evidence to support that claim.
- Petra peak time as a modern and cosmopolitan trade city was from 1BC-1AD. After that trade routes started shifting north and the town’s importance gradually diminished.
- Their main genius lay in water management but also in trade. The water systems were ingenious, they invented and used waterproof concrete to line the cisterns. They extracted salt and bitumen from the Dead Sea and produced/mined copper, iron, glass.
- During its heydays, it took 12 weeks for a caravan to travel from Southern Arab to Petra (2,750 km).
- Taxes and duties along the way were 688dinars per camel (more than average man earned in two years. In today’s money it is equivalent of $4,200)
- During the Byzantine period, Petra was a seat of a Bishop. 363AD earthquake damages water system. After the 551AD earthquake, bishop seat was moved and population diminished further.
- From the 7th century, the region become under Islamic influence.
- Petra is located next to a town called Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) and is believed to be a place where Moses performed a miracle of creating springs from stone. Today the town is all about servicing Petra (hotels, food places, etc.)
Women in the Nabatean Kingdom
As far as scientists can tell about the Nabatean Kingdom it was far ahead of its time in many things.
- Among them is that women had equal status in society, making them ahead of their time in the past as well as in the present.
- Nabatean coins had queens along the side of kings. Women’s inheritance was equal, they could sign contracts, run businesses and own and sell a property.
Re-discovering Petra for the West
Petra was lost from the knowledge for the Western world for a few centuries until 1812 Swish explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard of the ancient city. He convinced a local guide that he is Muslim looking to make a pilgrimage to the Tomb of Harun. He went, he saw and he wrote about it raising a lot of interest in the Western world. Six years later first official expedition was made by the British.
First western woman to visit Petra was Charlotte Rowley during the 1835-1836 expedition.
- 70% of the local community relies on tourist for their livelihood. General info about Petra visit is at Petra official site.
- Approximately 40% of all recorded species in Jordan exist within the Petra area (including 42 out of impressive 105 reptiles and amphibians).
- Petra is a Greek word for ‘rock’.
When visiting Petra, stroll the passages between high cliffs, admire the multitude of colors, shapes and contemplate over the human perseverance. I wouldn’t say that history becomes alive as the stones radiate cold and the black entrances to the tombs look like dead eyes. The history is very much here and very much dead.
The current time is like a parallel universe, so fitted on top of the solemn though colorful past. Its movement, noises and technologies are dynamic yet it all revolves around the solid stone. Cameras clicking, phones being taken out to use Petra free WIFI to upload the photos to social media to show friends “I’m here, I’m part of the past, see how people lived in the stone caves! I won’t even get back for tea tonight”
Next week I will write about getting to Petra, different hiking trails and a whole section about all the creative “street theater” (scams) going on and how to survive them.