The capital city of the ancient nomadic civilization of North Africa, Nabataeans, may have been re-discovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig in 1812 but it only became popular with the general populace after its depiction in the famous Indiana Jones film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. It is today the most popular tourist attraction of Jordan and receives over 5,000 people each day.
We visited the ancient city of Petra in 2010 and were completely bowled over by its beauty and intrigue. The entire city has literally been carved into the red sandstone canyons that stand in the middle of the desert, so much so that it looks like an extension of it’s natural surroundings. It’s intrigue comes from the fact that it is completely hidden in the cliffs, only made accessible through a thin split in the mountains called “Siq” through which you can get a glimpse of one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture from that era called “El Khazanah” or “The Palace of Treasury”.
Petra was once a thriving trade centre due its location at the crossroads of several key trade routes between Asia and the Arab world. It is said that in its hey day, around 300 BC, as many as 20,000 Nabataean people lived here and you could see caravan of thousands of camels laden with goods pass through the city. The Nabataeans were excellent businessmen and one of the wealthiest and most eclectic people of their time. It is evident even today when you see massive amphitheatres, tombs, intricate stone work and temples in the ruins of their city. But just like all other civilizations in this world this one too came to an end. It’s demise came slowly, first due to being taken over by the Roman empire who diverted the trade routes to the Middle East and then through a massive earthquake that struck it in 300AD. For centuries after that, the city of Petra sat empty and laid in ruins. Slowly, the ancient Nabataean civilization and their once thriving city was completely forgotten by people. Due to its location, practically in the middle of nowhere, it was only discovered in early 1800 by a Swiss explorer who disguised himself as a bedouin and found the lost city.
Standing in front of the El Khazanah we could not help but marvel at the geniuses that were the ancient Nabataeans. A feat like this couldn’t have been achieved without the expertise of their architects, engineers and artists. We also felt a twinge of sadness looking at the ruins of this once magnificent city. Today all that remains are tales of this ancient civilization and thousands of tourists like us who flock here to see the Lost City with their own eyes.