Petra: An ancient city

Whenever we dig into the depth of time, we find pages of history soiled beneath the layers of the Earth. These pages can be in the form of pictures, sculptures, shreds of evidence, and sometimes, a whole civilization. Petra is similar historical evidence that has been dug out from the layers of soil. Petra is an ancient city that lies in present-day Jordan, which once termed to be a great metropolis and trading center, and now the ruins of the city are admired by tourists and established its importance as an archaeological site.

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Site of Petra_©


In the present day, the ruins of Petra can be found in Jordan about 150 miles south of both Jerusalem and Amman and about midway between Damascus, Syria, and the location of the Red Sea. The city turned out to be a hub of commercial activities in the area. As stated above, the site of Petra is considered by historians and archaeologists due to its outstanding rock-cut architecture and innovative water management system, this development enabled the region to be inhabitable, although surrounded by desert and robust mountainous terrain. Petra has also been recognized by the title of “Rose City”, as the architecture of the city is blended in a similar color of stones in its buildings. The site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

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Rock-cut architecture of Petra_©

Establishment of the City

The geographical location of the place had connectivity through the sea which laid the establishment of Petra city as a trading post for commercial activities, by the Nabateans, an Arab Bedouin tribe who developed their livelihood in this region which is now southwestern Jordan.

The Nabateans who started trading in Petra developed a livelihood there and in the process of trading and living, they acquired a significant amount of wealth which resulted in the growth of the city, the city was later attacked by the Greek Empire in 312 B.C. This invasion attack on Petra engraved the name of the city as the first reference in recorded history. The Nabateans survived and took advantage of the mountainous terrain surrounding the city and answered back with a successful war against the Greek invader. This was although not the only invasion attack. In 106 A.D. Romans invaded Petra and forced Nabateans to surrender. The Romans Empire acquired the territory and established a new empire which they named Arabia Petraea. The Roman Empire continued to rule over the city for more than 250 years till an earthquake destroyed many of its buildings. Later on, the control of the whole Petra city was taken over by Byzantines who governed the city for 300 years.

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Petra World Heritage_©

The devastation of the Petra City

Petra was established and became a trading hub and capital of the Nabataean Empire between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106. By the beginning of the eighth century A.D., Petra was devastated, and a large part of the city became abandoned, the local streets and the trade center were ruined and left empty for centuries, and the commerce, management, and culture of the city turned into a remnant of dusty shambles. By that time, the city lost its importance and it remained the same for so many years until it again eyespot the historians and archaeologists towards its unique architecture and specific innovation created by the Nabatean Bedouins who laid the foundation of the city.

In 1985, Petra gained a name in historical records when the Petra Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

Architectural innovation of the city

The architectural innovation of the city evoked from geographical features of the place and the idea to erect the structure of the city from this natural geography as described most of the structure was carved out from massive rocks Nabateans well used the technique of building rock-cut architecture. In the development stage of Petra, other than the ideology and technique perspective of Nabateans, Romans and Byzantines later carved their impression on the city’s architecture, and Petra reformed as a mix of different cultural architecture.

As an example, large and ornate tombs constructed by Nabateans directed the way of building Byzantine churches and during the development of Petra, it was conquered by Romans before Byzantine; hence we can find the Roman touch in city architecture- the Petra Roman Road. Ornate gates were built in the city in Roman style to empower the entrance of the city.

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Petra from inside_©
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Stone work on wall and ceiling_© Coltura Colectiva
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Details carved by Nabateans_©

The present picture of Petra

After Petra was left abandoned, its stone structures were used for shelter by nomadic shepherds for centuries, till the ruins, which were later found to be an architectural impression, were discovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. By the time the western world was attracted by the existence of Petra, it soon became the interest of architects, scholars, and researchers. In 1929, British archaeologist Agnes Conway and George Horsefield, and scholars Tawfiq Canaan and Detlef Nielsen dropped an objective to excavate and survey Petra.

The survey collected the findings from the Greek invasion to the Byzantine imprints on the city, as well as recent documentation via satellite imaging, found a mysterious and lost in time monumental structure buried in the soil. After the declaration of Petra as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Bedouin tribe people who sheltered themselves in Petra were relocated to Jordan forcefully by the Jordanian Government. In the present day, due to its listing as the Seven Wonders of the World, it attracts tourism from a wide range.

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The Rose City_©Elrik Rasmus



Divyanshi Sahu is a young ,passionate architect and co-author of book –“philosophies from not so philosophers ” the connectivity of her thoughts with the architectural diversity , drives her to explore and write more about the variations of the field.

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