Petra was built around 700 BC on the trade route from Mesopotamia to Egypt by a civilization called the Nabataeans. The city thrived even after it surrendered to Rome when the Romans learned how to cut off its secret water supply. In 363 AD a large earthquake destroyed much of the city. That combined with changes in trade routes caused the city to be abandoned by all but local Bedouins until it was rediscovered in 1812 by Johannes Burkhardt and became increasingly known to the West as The Red City due to the red color of the rocks.
A narrow gorge, The Siq, leads into the city. Along the gorge a number of rock carvings can be seen, including altars to their gods and remnants of the water channels that provided a secure water supply in this desert. The end of the gorge opens into the dramatic facade known as The Treasury, famed partly for its use in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the location site of the Holy Grail. The Treasury and the other carved facades in Petra are actually thought to be monuments to the dead, though no remains have been found. According to our guide, Petra covers 40 square miles and only 5 percent of it has been excavated. No further excavation is being done.
Apart from the carved details in The Treasury, the rest of the city was disappointing to me. I could understand it being packed with people, but it was also full of people aggressively trying to sell you post cards, camel rides, and other tourist attractions. There were plenty of these outside the ticket gate. The horse cart drivers dangerously flew through the narrow gorge with people walking everywhere. I was shocked that UNESCO would allow such behavior in one of its world heritage sites. Perhaps, my expectations were too high; this was one of my top three places to see.
The bus ride to Petra followed The King’s Highway which is supposed to be the route followed by Moses in the desert. Along the way, we saw the mountain top where Aaron, Moses’ brother, is supposedly buried. The town surrounding Petra is called Wadi Mousa, the Arabic name for Moses. We drove for two hours in the desert. I can only imagine what it would have been like to wander here for forty years. Thank God for manna.