By Micha Banschick
I was walking in a narrow canyon that became darker and darker until it was almost pitch black. I started hearing people exclaiming in excitement. Then, all of a sudden, I was shading my eyes. I came out from the gloomy canyon into the open sky with sun in my eyes. What I saw standing before me was an amazing temple carved in red rock – the Treasury.
The Treasury is a front of a temple carved in stone and is the most impressive part of Petra. It rises to two levels with classical columns and sculptures. Our guide said that the architecture is of a mixture of styles, including Greek and Egyptian. It is called Treasury because the Bedouins (Nomadic Arabs) in the area believed that there were treasures hidden inside.
The Siq (looking up)
The astonishing city of Petra is located in southern Jordan, in the Arabah valley. Petra was founded by a group of people known as the Nabataeans (pronounced Na-ba-te-yans) around 6th century BC. The Nabataeans used to be a people who traded in the desert. They bartered spices and incenses to people from distant lands. Slowly they decided that a nomadic way of life wasn’t fit for them anymore. They established a few cities on the trading route. The greatest accomplishment of this change from a nomadic life to an urban life was Petra. It became the capital of Nabataea. Soon, the city flowed with wealth.
The Siq (showing the path)
Petra looks like a sun dried sandy stone with a cluster of air pockets. The sun blazes the eyes with burning heat as you try to snatch a look at the city. Details are scratched out by the sun and everywhere you look, you see the color of sandstone. The ground is soaking wet and slippery. This is often the case because there is constant flooding in there in the winter. There is only one way in and out of the city. This pathway is a canyon, called the Siq (which means shaft). The Siq is an amazing thing on its own. The tall walls of sandstone are carved by water and wind into all kinds of beautiful shapes.
Elephant head carved in sandstone by
water and wind
water and wind
The city is practically a city of caves, having so many of them. The great Nabataeans, who populated the city fancied the art of burial. In fact, the Nabataeans carved tombs out of the rocks. Petra is mostly sandstone so it was easy to carve into the rocks. The Nabataeans also carved small water channels in the walls of the Siq to carry drinking water down into the city.
The Nabataeans’ religion was mostly a mixture of other surrounding religions. I saw many little niches which were carved for idol worship. They worshiped Arab gods, mainly Dushara and his female cohorts. Also, in Nabataean religion, the worship of the sun, moon, planets, and stars, particularly the zodiac signs such as Ares and Capricorn, were very important.
Another impressive part of Petra is the Amphitheater. It is carved entirely in stone and it was probably able to sit a few thousand people. A little further from the Amphitheater, you can see amazing tombs carved in the side of the mountain.
When Petra was at its prime glory, it declined and her people left her. We don’t know the exact reason but historians think that it was because there was a big earthquake around 363 AD which destroyed much of Petra. In addition, the trading routes changed by then so Petra’s importance subsided. Luckily for us, some of the beauty of Petra survived so we can enjoy seeing it today.