With its rose-red walls and dramatic rock-cut architecture, the ancient city of Petra stirs up the imagination of visitors. Thanks to its stunning appearance and archaeological value, Petra has been designated as one of the new Wonders of the World as well as a World Heritage Site. The city is enclosed and protected by immense rocks and is hidden from plain view by some rugged mountains.
Petra was built by Nabataeans, a group of Semites who spoke Aramaic, as the center of their caravan trade. Additionally, it had a strategic location as the Nabataeans were able to control the main commercial routes that passed through the city to Bosra and Damascus in the North, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, to Gaza in the west, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf. Petra is situated in the desert yet was able to flourish because of the Nabataeans’ ingenious control of its water supply from flash floods and a nearby stream which they controlled to create an artificial oasis. The Nabataeans constructed dams, water conduits, and cisterns, which enabled them to store water during droughts.
Visitors enter Petra either on horseback or by horse-drawn carriage through the Siq, a narrow passage that was naturally formed when the sandstone rocks split. Since the rocks are very high, they form a gorge that helps keep the heat from the sun at bay. At the end of the Siq is Petra’s most famous landmark – the beautiful Al Khazneh (Treasury). Apart from the Treasury, Petra also boasts of tombs and chambers on cliffs as well as an amphitheatre. Besides these, however, there is nothing much inside Petra as its interior is basically a square chamber that was carved into the cliff.