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Petra the Ancient City

Petra, the Ancient City - The Setting
Once a flourishing city in the heart of the Near East, Petra, the Ancient City was forgotten for centuries by the outside world, even veiled in mystery. Situated halfway between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, rests a trapezoidal valley encompassed by steep rocky cliffs. Passage to the city of Petra exists only by entering through a narrow gorge, the Siq.

The fascinating remains of remote cities always seem to entice our imagination. Petra captured the interest of early 19th-century European travelers who read the incredible accounts of a Swiss explorer. Knowledge of Petra was lost to the Western world until John Lewis Burckhardt tricked his Bedouin guides into leading him there in 1812. For more than 500 years, Petra had remained unseen by outsiders, undocumented on their modern maps—until Burckhardt's visit. With anticipation, early visitors journeyed by camelback and on foot to relish in Petra's magnificent past. Their accounts and images fueled immense curiosity about the city’s origins and its people.

Petra, the Ancient City - The Inhabitants
Who inhabited Petra, the Ancient City? It is believed that the earliest inhabitants of this mysterious area were the Horites (Genesis 14:6). Evidence indicates that Petra’s first occupants were cave-dwellers. Esau, the brother of Jacob, settled in the area south of the Dead Sea. His descendants, the Edomites, eventually replaced the Horites (Genesis 36). The mountains of Edom still abound with caves, temples, and houses cut in the side of the mountain surrounding Petra. The Edomites built almost impregnable fortresses in the canyons and gorges of these mountains. The magnificent ruins at Petra attest to the greatness which Edom once knew. When the Israelites came from Egypt during the Exodus, about 1445 BC, the Edomites still occupied this region.

It was the Nabataeans who drove the Edomites out of the ancient city of Petra (approximately 400 BC). The Nabataeans were a group of Arabian nomads who led fruitful lives as desert traders. Few clues exist to reveal exactly where these migrants originated. It is puzzling why these successful, nomadic merchants settled down, shifting from a rural life to an urban lifestyle. Since the early Nabataeans were tent-dwellers, it is assumed that for the first several hundred years of their occupation of the region that they did not erect stone houses. It is only during the latter part of their kingdom that suddenly the Nabataeans began constructing houses -- often of incredible size, varying from 600 to 2000 square meters.

As many as 30,000 people may have occupied Petra during the 1st century A.D. A large earthquake in 363 A.D. destroyed at least half of the city. Petra never recovered from this destruction. It is believed that God predicted the demise of the inhabitants of Petra. The prophet Obadiah describes the lofty places of Petra and the confidence of its inhabitants (Obadiah 2–4). Jeremiah prophesied that Petra would lose its power and become uninhabited (Jeremiah 49:16–18).

Petra, the Ancient City - The Inhabitants
Petra, the Ancient City was recently voted (over 100 million votes) as the seventh wonder of the ancient world. The Siq and the temple at the end of it (the Kazneh) were popularized in American culture in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Centuries later, this mysterious city still stirs the imagination as well as our fascination.

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