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Petra City

The city of Petra, meaning "rock," was the center of an Arab kingdom during Hellenistic and Roman times. Its Greek name probably replaced the biblical name Sela. It is also known as the "rose red city" for the veins of red and purple varying to pale yellow running through its sandstone cliffs. The ruins of Petra are located in southwest Jordan. Its rock-cut monuments are built on a terrace of land divided east and west by the Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), supposed to have been one of the places where the Israelite leader, Moses struck rock and water gushed forth. The city is usually approached through a narrow valley called the Sik.

Remains include those from Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The original inhabitants of the city were probably descendants of a nomad tribe. Little else is known about the site until about 312 B.C., when the Nabataeans made the city their capital. To construct their tombs, residents excavated and smoothed the tall rock cliffs, carving out the architectural fronts. Blocks removed from inside were used to construct more conventional dwellings. Architecture combined Greek, Egyptian and Roman styles, later incorporating Roman and Hellenistic elements.

Only a few of the smaller dwellings remain intact, while many of the tombs, ranging from simple crypts to elaborate mausoleums, survive. One of the most beautiful and best preserved tombs is the Khazneh (Treasure), a rich, decorative building with strong Roman influence. The Palace Tomb, with three floors and Ad-Dayr (Monastery) are the biggest of the conserved buildings. Ad-Dayr, one of the most famous rock-cut monuments, was probably used as a church during Byzantine times. Ruins of a theater with a seating capacity of 2000 were uncovered, along with local currency, beautiful, fragile mosaics and even a complex system of water canals.

In 106 A.D., the Romans defeated the Nabataeans, and Petra became part of the Roman province of Arabia. As trade routes changed, the city eventually fell into decline. The city was mostly vacated after earthquake damage in 551 A.D. Evidence suggests the city’s use as a Crusader outpost in the 12th century; then it seems to disappear from history until rediscovered by the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig in 1812. Today the beautiful tombs and mausoleums are used as dwellings.

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