22 Interesting Facts About Petra, Jordan

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One of the world's seven wonders, Petra is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Jordan. Are you wondering why the city is referred to as “The Lost City” or even “Rose City'' or just generally curious to know more about this special place? Continue reading this article to discover the reason behind these titles and to learn more interesting facts about Petra!

Here’s a list of 22 facts you might not know about this beautiful historical city in southern Jordan.

1. Petra is popularly called The Lost City 

Though the exact founding date is unknown, Petra began to prosper around the 1st century B.C. and continued to do so till roughly 363 A.D. An earthquake in the fourth century majorly destroyed Petra, which remained abandoned for over five centuries. It was rediscovered much later in the early 19th century (1812) by a Swiss explorer, Johannes Burckhardt. Since then, it has been widely known as The Lost City. 

 2. Petra is also known as the Rose City

The name has been given to Petra primarily because of the colour of the stone from which it was carved. Many structures of the city, which are made of sandstone, take on a beautiful red-pink hue at sunset and sunrise, thus earning the title of the ‘Rose City’. 

3. Petra is one of the oldest cities in the world 

Petra is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Archaeologists think that the city was established in 321 B.C. when it became the capital of the Nabataean Empire. 

4. Petra means rocks 

The name ‘Petra’ is derived from ‘petros’ which means ‘rocks’ in Greek. The name was probably given to the city due to its carved sandstone and rock structures. 

5. UNESCO World Heritage Site 

It comes as no surprise that Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It became a World Heritage Site in 1985 and has been referred to as ‘one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage’ by UNESCO. 

6. Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World 

Petra was added to the list of ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ in 2007 alongside The Great Wall of China, The Statue of Christ Redeemer, the Colosseum, Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal and Chichen Itza.         

7. The famous treasury of Petra is actually a mausoleum 

The treasury, also known as Al-Khazneh, is the site's most beautiful and photographed structure in Petra. The area is built with intricate carvings set into a deep rock. However, it was actually built as a mausoleum and crypt by the Nabateans, who adorned it with symbols from the afterlife. It is also supposed to be the resting place of the Nabatean King Aretas IV. Later, the locals called Bedouins believed it contained riches and renamed it ‘treasury’. 

8. Petra is home to over 1000 tombs

The Nabateans believed in the afterlife and taking extra care of their dead. They built over 1000 tombs in Petra. This makes the site ‘one of the largest royal tomb complexes in the world’.   

9. Petra’s four Royal Tombs

Petra has possibly some of the most stunning burial places in the world. The four tombs that make up its Royal Tombs include The Urn Tomb, The Silk Tomb, The Corinthian Tomb and The Palace Tomb. The structures suffered damage due to floods in the past but continue to be magnificent works of art from the first century. 

10. A different name was given to Petra by original inhabitants

Evidence suggests that the Nabateans had a completely different name for the city, and it was much later that the name ‘Petra’ came into use.  According to the carved inscriptions on the walls and the words of the ancient historian Josephus, the city was referred to as Raqemo after its royal founder. 

11. Petra is featured in Indiana Jones and other movies 

The Lost City of Petra made its Hollywood debut in one of the most famous movies of all time, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, featuring Harrison Ford and Alison Doody. Since then, it has been a prime location for many movies and shows, including The Mummy Returns. 

12. Unique entrance to the city 

The entrance to Petra is through a 1.2 km narrow passageway called the Siq, meaning gorge. Years of rain and wind have led to the formation of this entry point flanked by high cliffs on each side. 

 13. Petra's biblical connection 

Petra is said to have a biblical connection by being located in a valley referred to as Wadi Musa or Moses Valley. Legend says that Moses struck the rock that forms Petra, leading to water coming out of the ground. It is said that the water continued to flow after this and formed the water supply system in Petra. This water supply made Petra an oasis back in the day as opposed to the current state of dry rocks.  

14. Complex irrigation system and famous gardens

In addition to the biblical link of the valley, excavations have shown that Petra was surrounded by lush green gardens and had a complex irrigation system. The water from the system maintained grand fountains and swimming pools. 

15. The structure aligns with solar patterns 

The Nabateans apparently valued the sun and its light and considered it sacred. The structures constructed at Petra were made to align with different solar patterns so that they would receive direct sunlight. This gives historians and archaeologists great insight into Nabateans’ customs and values.

16. 85% of Petra remains undiscovered 

Archaeologists have been able to discover only 15% of Petra so far. The rest remains largely underground and unexcavated. 

17. Mysterious exterior platform 

Archaeologists discovered an unknown structure outside the main city area in 2016. Assumed to date back to around 150 B.C., the structure has a massive staircase and seems to have no known relationship with the city centre.  

18. Some Nebateans still live in Petra

Though most people who used to live in the area have relocated, some Nabateans continue to stay in Petra. One particular Bedouin tribe, B’doul, still lives and works in the city. 

19. Petra has a massive theatre that can accommodate 4000 people

Petra has a massive theatre constructed on the side of the mountain at the foot of another famous structure, the High Place of Sacrifice. The theatre was built during the rule of King Aretas IV and could accommodate roughly 4000 spectators. 

20. Inhabitants of Petra

Different people inhabited Petra during different time periods. During the 18th-2nd century B.C., it was inhabited by the Edomites; from the 2nd century B.C. to 106 B.C., the Nabateans lived there; and from 106-395 B.C., it was occupied by the Romans.

21. A little historical background of the city

Petra was a famous historical trade route connecting Greece to South Asia. It was a thriving commercial hub from which Chinese silks, Indian spices and Arabic incense passed to Africa, Western Europe and the Middle East. 

22. No motor vehicles were allowed in Petra

For a long time, no cars or motor vehicles were allowed in the city, and only animal-driven carriages such as horse-drawn carriages or camel rides were permitted. But recently, in 2021, cars became an accepted mode of transport within Petra in the face of animal welfare. Tourists can now buy tickets to use a car from the Visitor Centre. 

This list, by no means, is a fully exhaustive compilation of all aspects of this wondrous Jordanian city. But hopefully, it provides enough material to spark your interest in Petra and maybe one day visit this Wonder of the World!

This post was published by Archita Zutshi

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