What is Petra?

Petra means rock in Greek, and it’s an archaeological site in Arabah, Aqaba Governorate, Jordan, lying 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. It is renowned for its rock-cut architecture.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was discovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was famously 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.”In 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site. It is one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” as determined by the New Open World Corporation (not affiliated with UNESCO).

Rekem is an ancient name for Petra and appears in Dead Sea scrolls associated with Mount Seir. Additionally, Eusebius and Jerome assert that Rekem was the native name of Petra, supposedly on the authority of Josephus, Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans, Aramaic-speaking Semites, and the centre 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. The latitude is 32.55N and the longitude is 30.05E.

The end of the Siq 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, in effect 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.

So far, no method has been found to determine when the history of Petra began. Evidence suggests that the city was founded relatively late, though a sanctuary may have existed there since very ancient times. This part of the country was traditionally assigned to the Horites, probably cave-dwellers, the predecessors of the Edomites.

It is unclear exactly what Semitic inhabitants called their city. Apparently on the authority of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews iv. 7, 1~ 4, 7), Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. sacr. 286, 71. 145, 9; 228, 55. 287, 94), assert that Rekem was the native name and Rekem appears in the Dead Sea scrolls as a prominent Edom site most closely describing Petra. But in the Aramaic versions Rekem is the name of Kadesh, implying that Josephus may have confused the two places. Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form Rekem-Geya which recalls the name of the village El-ji, southeast of Petra. The capital, however, would hardly be defined by the name of a neighboring village. The Semitic name of the city, if not Sela, remains unknown. (Text from Wikipedia)