Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Petra - Jordan

Petra (meaning rock) is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma'an that is known for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourism attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as "a rose-red city half as old as time" in a Newdigate Prize-winning sonnet by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage". Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of "the 40 places you have to see before you die".
Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabateans and the center of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.
Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper from its sale.
Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south via Saudi Arabia on a track leading around Jabal Haroun ("Aaron's Mountain"), across the plain of Petra, or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m (9.8–13 ft) wide) called the Siq ("the shaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (popularly known as "the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.
A little further from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheatre has been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-coloured mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.
Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550-1292 BCE). It is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times. Stations 19 through 26 of the stations list of Exodus are places associated with Petra. This part of the country was Biblically assigned to the Horites, the predecessors of the Edomites. The habits of the original natives may have influenced the Nabataean custom of burying the dead and offering worship in half-excavated caves. Although Petra is usually identified with Sela which means a rock, the Biblical references refer to it as "the cleft in the rock", referring to its entrance. 2 Kings xiv. 7 seems to be more specific. In the parallel passage, however, Sela is understood to mean simply "the rock".
The Nabataeans worshipped the Arab gods and goddesses of the pre-Islamic times as well as a few of their deified kings. One, Obodas I, was deified after his death. Dushara was the main male god accompanied by his female trinity: Al-Uzza, Allat and Manat. Many statues carved in the rock depict these gods and goddesses.
The Monastery, Petra's largest monument, dates from the 1st century BCE. It was dedicated to Obodas I and is believed to be the symposium of Obodas the god. This information is inscribed on the ruins of the Monastery (the name is the translation of the Arabic "Ad Deir").
Christianity found its way to Petra in the 4th century CE, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade center. Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra (Anhioch. 10) named Asterius. At least one of the tombs was used as a church. An inscription in red paint records its consecration "in the time of the most holy bishop Jason" (447). After the Islamic conquest of 629–632 Christianity in Petra, as of most of Arabia, gave way to Islam. During the First Crusade Petra was occupied by Baldwin I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and formed the second fief of the barony of Al Karak (in the lordship of Oultrejordain) with the title Chateau de la Valee de Moyse or Sela. It remained in the hands of the Franks until 1189. It is still a titular see of the Catholic Church.
According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth, and where Moses' brother, Aaron, is buried, at Mount Hor, known today as Jabal Haroun or Mount Aaron. The Wadi Musa or "Wadi of Moses" is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petra is sited. A mountaintop shrine of Moses' sister Miriam was still shown to pilgrims at the time of Jerome in the 4th century, but its location has not been identified since.
Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. Because the structures weakened with age, many of the tombs became vulnerable to thieves, and many treasures were stolen.
The site suffers from a host of threats, including collapse of ancient structures, erosion due to flooding and improper rainwater drainage, weathering from salt upwelling, improper restoration of ancient structures, and unsustainable tourism. The latter has increased substantially ever since the site received widespread media coverage in 2007 during the controversial New Seven Wonders of the World Internet and cell phone campaign, started by a private corporation.
On December 6, 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site. In 2006 the design of a Visitor Centre began. The Jordan Times reported in December 2006 that 59,000 people visited in the two months October and November 2006, 25% fewer than the same period in the previous year.
In popular culture
Petra was the main topic in John William Burgon's Poem Petra. Referring to it as the inaccessible city which he had heard described but had never seen. The Poem was awarded the Newdigate Prize in 1845.
The site is featured in films such as: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights, Passion in the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the Sisters of Mercy music video "Dominion", and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It was recreated for the video games Spy Hunter (2001), King's Quest V, Lego Indiana Jones and Sonic Unleashed and appeared in the novels Left Behind, Appointment with Death, The Eagle in the Sand and The Red Sea Sharks, the nineteenth book in The Adventures of Tintin series. It featured prominently in the Marcus Didius Falco mystery novel Last Act in Palmyra.



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