Imagine this: you’re in the desert, making your way across the sands atop a camel’s back. It’s been a long day; the entire team is tired and ready to bed down for the night. As you crest the next hill, a narrow passage in the rock fills your vision. You encourage the team to push forward just a bit more, and when you finally make it through, you come face to face with Petra, the ancient Jordanian city.
This must have been how Johann Ludwig Burckhardt felt when he first discovered the city. While its existence was well known, the western world had little access to this ancient wonder until 1812 when Burckhardt came across it. Petra is also known as the Rose City due to the reddish color of the rock it is built from. When the sunlight falls across it at just the right angle, it’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful.
Petra was the capital city of a group called the Nabataeans, a nomadic group that traveled across the Middle East conducting trade through caravans. Petra was the center of this massive trade network. Because the city is protected by massive stone walls and has a natural water supply, it is essentially impenetrable by opposing forces. This made it the perfect control point for the trade routes which passed through the entire area. Without Petra on their side, a merchant was stuck.
The earliest records of the area place inhabitants around 7,000 BC. The city did not come into existence until much later, although people had settled and lived in the area for thousands of years before. It is referenced in the Bible as the ‘cleft in the rock’ in 2 Chronicles.
The city has had its fair share of fame throughout the ages. During the wars against the Ottoman Empire, T.E. Lawrence, better known as the famed Lawrence of Arabia, led a group of Bedouin women in revolt against the Ottoman forces with the help of the English army. The site is also known for its role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Jones confronts the ghost of an ancient crusader in his quest for the Holy Grail.
On December 6, 1985, UNESCO declared Petra a World Heritage Site. This designates the area as a place of special cultural significance to all of mankind, and therefore protects it from commercial development or destruction. Numerous historical sites across the world have been given this honor. Petra has also been declared to be one of 28 places to see within a lifetime by the Smithsonian organization.
However, it is best known today as one of the 7 new wonders of the world. In an effort to give more historical locations the honor of being a wonder of the world, Petra was selected alongside Cristo Redentor, Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, the Colosseum, and the Great Wall of China, to be one of the new 7 wonders of the world. This title helps not only to protect the site, but to encourage education worldwide about the ancient world and those who came before.
Petra is located in an area that sees very little combat, and is a popular tourist destination. Numerous tours pass through the area each year, although it is entirely possible to go and be quite alone with the ancient rocks. Because it is hewn directly out of the cliff wall, Petra is perfectly safe, even several thousand years after its construction. Visitors can rest easy that the walls will remain standing around them, just as they have done before.
Anyone given the chance to pay a visit to this beautiful wonder should take the chance. There are very few places like it on Earth. To stand in Petra is to breathe the air of history itself.