Petra: The rose red city of the Nabataeans

So-called Treasury (Khazneh), Petra (Jordan), 2nd century C.E. (photo: Colin Tsoi, CC BY-ND 2.0)

So-called Treasury (Khazneh), Petra (Jordan), 2nd century C.E. (photo: Colin Tsoi, CC BY-ND 2.0)

So-called Treasury (Khazneh), through the Siq, Petra (photo: Colin Tsoi, CC BY-ND 2.0)

So-called Treasury (Khazneh), through the Siq, Petra (photo: Colin Tsoi, CC BY-ND 2.0)

There is only one true way to experience Petra—the greatest city of the Nabataeans, a people who occupied the area from Sinai and Negev to northern Arabia in the west and as far north as southern Syria. On foot or mounted on a camel, one should leave the modern village of Wadi Musa in modern-day Jordan and enter the Siq, a narrow, curving canyon, that traders, explorers, and travelers have been walking down since time immemorial.

Stone carvings, camel caravans, and betyls (the famous god blocks) set in niches, appear. But these elaborate carvings are merely a prelude to one’s arrival into the heart of Petra, where the Treasury, or Khazneh, a monumental tomb, awaits to impress even the most jaded visitors. The natural, rich hues of Arabian light hit the remarkable façade, giving the Treasury its famed rose-red color.

Nabataean trade routes (underlying map © Google)

Nabataean trade routes (underlying map © Google)

So-called Treasury (Khazneh), Petra (Jordan), 2nd century C.E. (photo: Kyle Simourd, CC BY 2.0)

So-called Treasury (Khazneh), Petra (Jordan), 2nd century C.E. (photo: Kyle Simourd, CC BY 2.0)

Petra, the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom

Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom for most of its history until the Roman Emperor Trajan created the province of Arabia in 106 C.E., annexed the Nabataean kingdom, and moved the capital of this new province to Bosra (also spelled Bostra) in what is today modern southern Syria.

The Hellenistic period

The ancient sources inform us that the Nabataeans were great traders who controlled the luxury trade in incense during the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods. The Hellenistic period stretches from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. to 31 B.C.E. when the Roman Empire emerged. It can also refer to artistic and cultural similarities in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Middle East in this era. Petra, the rock-cut city of the Nabataeans, lay at the intersection of these rich trade routes. The great wealth that the Nabataeans amassed allowed them to create the spectacular architecture that so many admire in Petra today.


Video from UNESCO Amman

The Siq is one of Petra’s most endangered areas, in which natural environmental risks pose a major threat to the cultural heritage and the visitors. Thus, systematic identification and monitoring of its potentially unstable areas is needed. The Jordanian government made a request in 2011 for assistance in this regard, and subsequently a rapid assessment of the Siq was carried out by UNESCO to identify the unstable blocks and map risk zones in the Siq. Read more here.

Short video of approaching the Treasury (Khazneh).

Petra at the American Museum of Natural History.

Resources for educators from the American Museum of Natural History on Petra.

Brown University Petra Archaeological project.

Petra: The Great Temple Excavation (Brown University).

The Pool-Complex at Petra, University of Pennsylvania.

New Pieces of Mada’in Salih’s Puzzle.

Susan B. Downey, “Museum Review: Petra Rediscovered: An Exhibition on Petra and Nabataean Sanctuaries in Jordan,” American Journal of Archaeology 109, no. 4 (October 2005): 783–787.

Philip C. Hammond, “The Capitals from ‘The Temple of the Winged Lions,’ Petra,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 226 (April 1977): 47–51.

Richard B. Freeman, “Nabataean Sculpture in the Cincinnati Art Museum,” American Journal of Archaeology 45, no. 3 (July–September 1941): 337–341.

The Nabataean Kingdom and Petra on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

Unesco: Petra

 

Cite this page as: Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay, "Petra: The rose red city of the Nabataeans," in Smarthistory, July 8, 2018, accessed June 14, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/petra-the-rose-red-city-of-the-nabataeans/.