Petra: Where is it?
Petra, also known by the ancient name of Rekem, is identified as the capitol of the ancient Nabataean people. They were an ancient Semitic, people of southern Jordan, Canaan, and the northern part of Arabia. Petra lies about 4 hours south of today’s modern city of Amman, Jordan. It is about 2 hours north of Aqaba near the mountainous desert of Wadi Arabia. Petra is a naturally enclosed fortress that enjoyed prosperity by being on the caravan trade route passing through to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.
Petra: What is its History?
Petra’s ancient name appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls adding historic credibility. This natural fortress is known for its amazing beauty of rust-red sandstone rock and the magnificently carved architecture of its Great Temple. However, little is known about the religious pagan beliefs Nabataean people. The Petra area (but not necessarily the site itself) was also populated by Edomites (descendants of Esau) and the area was known as Edom ("red"). Christianity made its way into Petra in the 4th century AD.
The Nabataeans were a nomadic tribe who laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into Syria. Petra remained under Nabataean control until around AD 100 despite continual attempts by the Roman Emperor Pompey and Herod the Great to conquer.
The Romans finally took control of the area around AD 100. Then the Roman Empire focused eastward to Constantinople at which time Petra became less important. Eventually, the Crusaders built a fort at Petra in the 12th century, but later they too departed from the area leaving the fortress once again to the locals until the 19th century. Around 1812, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer came upon Petra. It had been relatively unknown to the Western world until then.
Today, the Great Temple contains some exquisite pieces of art and architecture that reveal the value system of the Nabataean people. Petra’s beautiful architectural sculptures and decorative design on the building’s facade show the influence of various cultures. The structures prove the high levels of skill and workmanship by those who constructed them, as well as their leadership.
Petra: What is its Function Today?
Petra was designated as a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1985. In 2006 archeologists began the planning and designing a Visitor Center. Petra was named one of the New Open World Corporation’s New Seven Wonders of the World in July of 2007.
Brown University professor Martha Sharp Joukowsky is at present directing archaeological excavations of the Great Temple at Petra, Jordan. This is being done in coordination with the Institute of Archaeology and the Ancient World, the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) located in Amman, and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Petra receives thousands of visitors from around the world each year. The popular sight has been featured in several movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger as well as Spy Hunter and in the well-read Left Behind series as well as the movie of the same name. Many today believe it will once again be used as a mighty fortress for fleeing Jews in the last days when the Antichrist takes the throne in their rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.