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PETRA, II. In Asia.


Πέτρα, Ptol. 5.17.5, 8.20.19; Πέτρα or Πέτραι, Suid. s. v. Ἱ᾽ενέθλιος; the SELA of the Old Testament, 2 Kings, 14.7; Isaiah, 16.1: respecting its various names see Robinson, Biblical Researches, vol. ii. Notes and Ill. p. 653), the chief town of Arabia Petraea, once the capital of the Idumaeans and subsequently of the Nabataei, now, Wady Musa. [NABATAEI]

Petra was situated in the eastern part of Arabia Petraea, in the district called under the Christian emperors of Rome Palaestina Tertia (Vet. Rom. Itin. p. 721, Wessel.; Malala, Chronogr. xvi. p. 400, ed. Bonn). According to the division of tile ancient geographers, it lay in the northern district, Gebalene; whilst the modern ones place it in the southern portion, Esh-Sherah, the Seir, or mountain-land, of the Old Testament (Genesis, 36.8). It was seated between the Dead Sea and the Elanitic gulf; being, according to Diodorus Siculus (19.98), 300 stadia S. of the former, whilst the Tab. Peut. places it 98 Roman miles N. of the latter. Its site is a wilderness overtopped by Mount Hor, and diversified by cliffs, ravines, plains, and Wadys, or watered valleys, for the most part but ill cultivated. Strabo (xvi. p.779) describes it as seated in a plain surrounded with rocks, hemmed in with barren and streamless deserts, though the plain itself is well watered. Pliny's description (6.32), which states the extent of the plain at rather less than 2 miles, agrees very nearly with that of Strabo, and both are confirmed by the reports of modern travellers. “It is an area in the bosom of a mountain, swelling into mounds, and intersected with gullies.” (Irby and Mangles, ch. viii.) It must not, however, be understood to be completely hemmed in with rocks. Towards the N. and S. the view is open; and from the eastern part of the valley the summit of Mount Hor is seen over the western cliffs. (Robinson, ii. p. 528.) According to Pliny (l.c.) Petra was a place of great resort for travellers.

Petra was subdued by A. Cornelius Palma, a lieutenant of Trajan's (D. C. 68.14), and remained under the Roman dominion a considerable time, as we hear of the province of Arabia being enlarged by Septimius Severus A.D. 195 (id. 75.1, 2; Eutrop. 8.18). It must have been during this period that those temples and mausoleums were made, the remains of which still arrest the attention of the traveller; for though the predominant style of the architecture is Egyptian, it is mixed with florid and over-loaded Roman-Greek specimens, which clearly indicate their origin. (Robinson, ii. p. 532.)

The valley of Wady Musa, which leads to the town, is about 150 feet broad at its entrance, and is encircled with cliffs of red sandstone, which gradually increase from a height of 40 or 50 feet to 200 or 250 feet. Their height has been greatly exaggerated, having been estimated by some travellers at 700 and even 1000 feet (Irby and Mangles, ch. viii.; Stephens, ii. p. 70; see Robinson, ii. p. 517 and note). The valley gradually contracts, till at one spot it becomes only about 12 feet broad, and is so overlapped by the cliffs that the light of day is almost excluded. The ravine or Sik of Wady Musa extends, with many windings, for a good English mile. It forms the principal, and was anciently the only avenue to Petra, the entrance being broken through the wall. (Diod. 2.48, 19.97; Robinson, ii. p. 516; Laborde, p. 55.) This valley contains a wonderful necropolis hewn in the rocks. The tombs, which adjoin or surmount one another, exhibit now a front with six Ionic columns, now with four slender pyramids, and by their mixture of Greek, Roman, and Oriental architecture remind the spectator of the remains which are found in the valley of Jehoshaphat and in other parts of Palestine. The further side of the ravine is spanned by a bold arch, perhaps a triumphal one, with finely-sculptured niches evidently intended for statues. This, like the other remains of this extraordinary spot, is ascribed by the natives either to the Pharaohs or to the Jins or evil genii. Along the bottom of the valley, in which it almost vanishes, winds the stream mentioned by Strabo and Pliny, the small but charming Wady Musa. In ancient times its bed seems to have been paved, as many traces still show. Its stream was spanned by frequent bridges, its sides strengthened with stone walls or quays, and numerous small canals derived [p. 2.584]from it supplied the inhabitants with water. But now its banks are overspread with hyacinths, oleanders, and other flowers and shrubs, and overshadowed by lofty trees.

Opposite to where the Sik terminates, in a second ravine-like but broader valley, another monument, the finest one at Petra, and perhaps in all Syria, strikes the eye of the traveller. This is the Khuzneh,--well preserved, considering its age and site, and still exhibiting its delicate chiselled work and all the freshness and beauty of its colouring. It has two rows of six columns over one another, with statues between, with capitals and sculptured pediments, the upper one of which is divided by a little round temple crowned with an urn. The Arabs imagine that the urn contains a treasure,--El Khuzneh, whence the name,--which they ascribe to Pharaoh (Robinson, ii. p. 519). The interior does not correspond with the magnificence of the façade, being a plain lofty hall, with a chamber adjoining each of its three sides. It was either a mausoleum, or, more probably, a temple.

From this spot the cliffs on both sides the Wady are pierced with numerous excavations, the chambers of which are usually small, though the façades are occasionally of some size and magnificence; all, however, so various that scarce two are exactly alike. After a gentle curve the Wady expands, and here on its left side lies the theatre, entirely hewn out of the rock. Its diameter at the bottom is 120 feet (Irby and Mangles, p. 428), and it has thirty-three, or, according to another account, thirty-eight, rows of seats, capable of accommodating at least 3000 spectators. Strangely enough, it is entirely surrounded with tombs. One of these is inscribed with the name of Q. Praefectus Florentinus (Laborde, p. 59), probably the governor of Arabia Petraea under Hadrian or Antoninus Pius. Another has a Greek inscription, not yet deciphered. A striking effect is produced by the bright and lively tints of the variegated stone, out of which springs the wild fig and tamarisk, while creeping plants overspread the walls, and thorns and brambles cover the pedestals and cornices (Isaiah, 34.13). Travellers are agreed that these excavations were mostly tombs, though some think they may originally have served as dwellings. A few were, doubtless, temples for the worship of Baal, but subsequently converted into Christian churches.

Proceeding down the stream, at about 150 paces from the theatre, the cliffs begin to expand, and soon vanish altogether, to give place to a small plain, about a mile square, surrounded with gentle eminences. The brook, which now turns to the W., traverses the middle of this plain till it reaches a ledge of sandstone cliffs, at a distance of rather more than a mile. This was the site of Petra, and is still covered with heaps of hewn stones, traces of paved streets, and foundations of houses. There are remains of several larger and smaller temples, of a bridge, of a triumphal arch of degenerate architecture, and of the walls of a great public building--Kusr Faron, or the palace of Pharaoh.

On an eminence south of this is a single column (Zub Faron, i. e. hasta virilis Pharaonis), connected with the foundation-walls of a temple whose pillars lie scattered around in broken fragments. Laborde (p. 59) thinks that the Acropolis occupied an isolated hill on the W. At the NW. extremity of the cliffs is the Deir, or cloister, hewn in the rock. A ravine, like the Sik, with many windings, leads to it, and the approach is partly by a path 5 or 6 feet broad, with steps cut in the rock with inexpressible labour. Its façade is larger than that of the Khuzneh; but, as in that building, the interior does not answer to it, consisting of a large square chamber, with a recess resembling the niche for the altar in Greek ecclesiastical architecture, and bearing evident signs of having been converted from a heathen into a Christian temple. The destruction of Petra, so frequently prophesied in Scripture, was at length wrought by the Mahometans. From that time it remained unvisited, except by some crusading kings of Jerusalem; and perhaps by the single European traveller, Thetmar, at the beginning of the 13th century. It was discovered by Burckhardt, whose account of it still continues to be the best. (Robinson, ii. p. 527.) Laborde's work is chiefly valuable for the engravings. See also Irby and Mangles, Travels, ch. viii; Robinson, Bibl. Researches, vol. ii. p. 512, seq. [T.H.D]


A town in the land of the Lazi in Colchis, founded by Joannes Tzibus, a general of Justinian, in order to keep the Lazi in subjection. It was situated upon a rock near the coast, and was very strongly fortified. (Procop. B. Pers. 2.15, 17.) It was taken by Chosroes in A.D. 541, and its subsequent siege by the Romans is described by Gibbon as one of the most remarkable actions of the age. The first siege was relieved; but it was again attacked by the Romans, and was at length taken by assault after a long protracted resistance, A.D. 551. It was then destroyed by the Romans, and from that time disappears from history. Its ruins, which are now called Oudjenar, are described by Dubois. (Procop. B. Pers. 2.17, 20, 30, B. Goth. 4.11, 12; Gibbon, c. xlii. vol. v. p. 201, ed. Smith; Dubois, Voyage autour du Caucase, vol. iii. p. 86, seq.)


A very strong fortress in Sogdiana, held by Arimazes when Alexander attacked it. (Curt. 7.11; comp. Arrian, 4.19; Strab. xi. p.517.) It is probably the modern Kohiten, near the pass of Kolugha or Derbend. [See Dict. of Biogr. Vol. I. p. 286.]

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 7.11
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 2.48
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.97
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