In the mountains of
Idumaea 300 km S of Amman, Petra was the capital of
the kingdom of Nabataea and a flourishing caravan city.
It was annexed by Trajan in A.D. 106 and visited by Hadrian in 130. The Moslem conquest in the 4th c. brought decline and oblivion.
The site, rediscovered in 1812, is a basin shut in by
cliffs of brightly colored sandstone into which many
monuments were cut. The monuments are often baroque in their variety of form and richness of decoration.
The only access is by the Siq, a narrow defile 2 km
long cut by the wadi Musa, whose waters were diverted
by an ancient tunnel. A rock-cut necropolis at the entry
to the Siq has nefesh (obelisks or stelai symbolizing the
soul of the deceased) and, farther along, baetyls (aniconical representations of the divinity).
The most famous of Petra's monuments, the Khazné
or treasury, rises in the middle of the Siq. Its pink sandstone facade, more than 40 m high, is exotically decorated,
suggesting a Corinthian temple topped by a tholos in a
courtyard with porticos. Its interior is a vast cross-shaped
chamber. The monument may be a mausoleum of King
Aretas IV, who died in A.D. 40.
At the exit of the Siq is a large theater cut into the
rock in the 2d c. A.D. There is also a small theater, more
recent in date, at a bend of the wadi Musa. A paved
street, the cardo, ran along the wadi and was the town's
main axis. To N and S the town rose tier on tier over
fairly steep slopes. It was larger in circumference in the
1st c. B.C. than in the 2d c. A.D. First one sees the hemicycle enclosing the basin of a public fountain or nymphaeum, then the ruins which, to the S, may be markets and a large temple, and to the N a palace and a gymnasium. To the W the cardo reaches a monumental arch
with three bays, which gives access to a sacred area of
the 1st c. A.D. The area contains the base of a monumental altar and a square cella with stucco decoration.
These are remains of the main temple, known as Qasr
Firaun, consecrated to Dusares. According to Suidas,
its gold-covered baetyl would have been enthroned in
the axial chapel. The cliff of el-Habis, which dominates
the Qasr to the W, was covered with Nabataean houses.
The E cliff has extraordinary funerary facades. To
the S, at the exit of the Siq, are tiers of tombs crowned
with merlons or steps. Farther to the left is the tall
Doric urn tomb of the middle of the 1st c. A.D., which
was turned into a cathedral in A.D. 446. Then come the
Corinthian Tomb, which imitates the Khazné, and the
Palace Tomb, resembling the long facade of a Parthian
palace; both are the burial places of princes and princesses of the last Nabataean dynasty. The narrow and
overburdened facade of the tomb of Sextus Florentinus
(legate in Arabia ca. A.D. 127) stands 300 m farther N
cut into a rocky spur.
There are many High Places on the neighboring plateaus, with enclosing walls, sacrificial areas, altars, bases
for baetyls, triclinia cut in the rock, and basins. On the
ed-Deir plateau, the main one is dedicated to the god
Dushara. There is also a theater in the gorge of the
L. de Laborde et Dinant, Voyage de
l'Arabie pétrée (1830)I
& Journey Through Arabia Petraea
. . . (1836)I
; R. E. Brunnow & A. v. Domaszewski,
Die Provincia Arabia
; G. Dalman, Petra
und seine Felsheiligtümer
(1908); H. Kohl, Kasr Firaun
; W. Bachmann et al., Petra
; A.B.W. Kennedy, Petra, Its History and Monuments
; A. Kammerer, Pétra et la Nabatène
(1929); G. & A. Horsfield, “Sela-Petra, The Rock of Edom and Nabatene,” QDAP
; G. L. Harding, The Antiquities of Jordan
(1960); J. Starcky, “Pétra et la
Nabatène,” Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible
; P. J. Parr et al., “Découvertes récentes au sanctuaire du Qasr à Pétra,” Syria
; M. Lindner et al. Petra und das Königreich der Nabatäer