Petra



Petra is an archaeological site in Jordan, lying in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Wadi Araba, the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It is famous for having many stone structures carved into the rock. The long-hidden site was revealed to the Western world by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. It was famously described as "a rose-red city half as old as time" in a Newdigate Prize-winning sonnet by John William Burgon. Burgon had not actually visited Petra, which remained accessible only to Europeans accompanied by local guides with armed escorts, until after World War I.

Rekem is an ancient name for Petra and appears in dead sea scrolls such as 4Q462 associated with mount Seir. Additionally, Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94) assert that Rekem was the native name of Petra, supposedly on the authority of Josephus (Antiquities iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7), Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans, Aramaic-speaking Semites, and the centre of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.

Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabateans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, in effect creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabateans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. Thus, stored water could be employed even during prolonged periods of drought, and the city prospered from its sale.

Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south (via Saudi Arabia on a track leading around Jabal Haroun, Aaron's Mountain, on across the plain of Petra), or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the ancient site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark and narrow gorge (in places only 3-4 metres wide) called the Siq (the shaft), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh ("the Treasury") hewn directly out of the sandstone cliff.

A little farther from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view; and at the point where the valley opens out into the plain the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. Indeed, the amphitheatre has actually been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction, rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-coloured mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with tombs cut from the rock in the form of towers.

There is no way to discern when the history of Petra began. Evidence appears to show that the city was founded relatively late, though a sanctuary may have existed there since very ancient times. This part of the country was traditionally assigned to the Horites, i.e. probably cave-dwellers, the predecessors of the Edomites;the habits of the original natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves. However, the fact that Petra is mentioned by name in the Old Testament cannot be verified; although Petra is usually identified with Sela, which also means a rock, the Biblical references are not clear. 2 Kings xiv. 7 seems to be more specific; in the parallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply "the rock" (2 Chr. xxv. 12, see LXX). As a result, many authorities doubt whether any town named Sela is mentioned in the Old Testament.

It is unclear exactly what Semitic inhabitants called their city. Apparently on the authority of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7), Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94), assert that Rekem was the native name and Rekem appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra. But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is the name of Kadesh so Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form Rekem-Geya, which recalls the name of the village El-ji, south-east of Petra; the capital, however, would hardly be defined by the name of a neighbouring village. The Semitic name of the city, if it was not Sela, remains unknown. The passage in Diodorus Siculus (xix. 94-97) which describes the expeditions which Antigonus sent against the Nabataeans in 312 BC is understood to throw some light upon the history of Petra, but the "petra" referred to as a natural fortress and place of refuge cannot be a proper name and the description implies that the town was not yet in existence. Brünnow thinks that "the rock" in question was the sacred mountain en-Nejr (above); but Buhl suggests a conspicuous height about 16 miles north of Petra, Shobak, the Mont-royal of the Crusaders.

More satisfactory evidence of the date of the earliest Nabataean settlement may be obtained from an examination of the tombs. Two types may be distinguished, the Nabataean and the Graeco-Roman. The Nabataean type starts from the simple pylon-tomb with a door set in a tower crowned by a parapet ornament, in imitation of the front of a dwelling-house; then, after passing through various stages, the full Nabataean type is reached, retaining all the native features and at the same time exhibiting characteristics which are partly Egyptian and partly Greek. Of this type there exist close parallels in the tomb-towers at el-I~ejr in north Arabia, which bear long Nabataean inscriptions and supply a date for the corresponding monuments at Petra. Then comes a series of tombfronts which terminate in a semicircular arch, a feature derived from north Syria, and finally the elaborate façades, from which all trace of native style has vanished, copied from the front of a Roman temple. The exact dates of the stages in this development cannot be fixed, for strangely enough few inscriptions of any length have been found at Petra, perhaps because they have perished with the stucco or cement which was used upon many of the buildings. The simple pylon-tombs which belong to the pre-Hellenic age serve as evidence for the earliest period; it is not known how far back in this stage the Nabataean settlement goes, but it does not go back farther than the 6th century BC. A period follows in which the dominant civilization combines Greek, Egyptian and Syrian elements, clearly pointing to the age of the Ptolemies. Towards the close of the 2nd century BC, when the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms were equally depressed, the Nabataean kingdom came to the front; under Aretas III Philhellene, (c.85 - 60 BC), the royal coins begin; at this time probably the theatre was excavated, and Petra must have assumed the aspect of a Hellenistic city. In the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris, (9 BC - AD 40), the fine tombs of the el-I~ejr type may be dated, and perhaps also the great High-place.

In 106, when Cornelius Palma was governor of Syria, that part of Arabia under the rule of Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire as part of Arabia Petraea, and the native dynasty came to an end. But the city continued to flourish. A century later, in the time of Alexander Severus, when the city was at the height of its splendour, the issue of coinage comes to an end, and there is no more building of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe, such as an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the Sassanid dynasty. Meanwhile as Palmyra (fl. 130 - 270) grew in importance and attracted the Arabian trade away from Petra, the latter declined; it seems, however, to have lingered on as a religious centre; for we are told by Epiphanius of Cyprus (c.315 - 403) that in his time a feast was held there on December 25 in honour of the virgin Chaabou and her offspring Dusares (Haer. 51).

The Nabataeans worshipped the Arab gods and goddesses of the pre-Islamic times as well as few of their deified kings. The most famous of these was Obodas I, who was deified after his death. Du Sharrah was the main male God accompanied by his feminine trinity; Al Uzza, Al Latt and Mena. Many statues carved in the rock depict these gods & goddesses. The Monastery, Petra's largest monument, dates from the first century BC. It was dedicated to Obodas I and is believed to be the symposium of Obodas the god. This information is inscibed on the ruins of the Monastery (the name is the translation of the Arabic "Ad-Deir").

Christianity found its way into Petra in the 4th century AD, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade center. Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra (Anhioch. 10) named Asterius. At least one of the tombs (the "tomb with the urn"?) was used as a church; an inscription in red paint records its consecration "in the time of the most holy bishop Jason" (447). The Christianity of Petra, as of north Arabia, was swept away by the Islamic conquest of 629 - 632. During the First Crusade Petra was occupied by Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and formed the second fief of the barony of Kerak (in the Lordship of Oultrejordain) with the title Château de la Valée de Moyse or Sela. It remained in the hands of the Franks until 1189. According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came forth, and where Moses' sister, Miriam, is buried.

Petra's decline came rapidly under Roman rule, in large part due to the revision of sea-based trade routes. But in 363 an earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled the vital water management system. The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by the Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the close of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

* On December 6, 1985 Petra was designated a World Heritage Site. A team of architects has been (2006) set to work on a 'Visitor Centre', and Jordan's tourist revenue is set to increase dramatically, with the mass production of visitors on package holidays, although this is sensitive to any hint of political instability. For example, the Jordan Times reported in December 2006 that 59,000 people visited in the two months October and November 2006, 25% fewer than the same period in the previous year.

* John William Burgon famously wrote that Petra was a "rose red city half as old as time." Although at that time Burgon had never been to Petra himself, the phrase has become strongly associated with Petra. In fact the rocks of Petra are of many hues, few of which could properly be described as "rose red".

* David Lean had planned to film lengthy scenes for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) there, since T.E. Lawrence had investigated the site. Because of budgetary limitations, however, the production pulled out of Petra before the scenes could be shot.
* Petra is featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the Holy Temple where the Holy Grail is located.
* Petra also appears in many less distinguished films, and in popular fiction. The site has also been used for television programmes and pop promotions.
* The independent film Passion in the Desert used areas in Petra as a backdrop for filming[6].
* Petra is the prophesied "Refuge" for "The Remnant" in the Left Behind Series.
* British rock group The Sisters of Mercy filmed the video for their song "Dominion" in Petra in 1988.

Movies and T.V. series filmed in Petra

* Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) ...aka Sinbad at the World's End
* Terra X - Expedition ins Unbekannte" (1984) TV Series
* Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
* Xin A Li Ba Ba (1989)...aka A Li Ba Ba (1989) (USA: video box title)
* Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) ...aka Mortal Kombat 2
* Passion in the Desert (1997)
* Son of God (2001) TV Series
* The Mummy Returns, (2001)
* Spiritual Warriors (2006)Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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