How Petra Was Built

From the time of its modern discovery in 1812, Petra has been immortalized by artists, poets and filmmakers!

Petra is an abandoned city in the area of today’s Jordan, and in times of antiquity was the capital of Nabateiah. It is famous for its Hellenistic structures carved in rocks, but also the water system, which was discovered in the West in 1812.

The capital city of Petra (which means ‘rock’) lies in a natural basin that accessed water through a permanent tract.

The area was prone to flooding and the city dwellers used dams, wells, cisterns and water conduits to direct and store water.

The Nabataens (the inhabitants of Petra) lived in a natural oasis and enjoyed great prosperity. Some of their buildings were free-standing while others were carved from the natural rock.

Did you know … In 1985, Petra was on UNESCO list of world heritage sites in Asia and Oceania as “one of the most valuable cultural assets of the heritage of mankind”.

petra cityThe Nabataens used sandstone to create complex structures such as vaults, domes and arches. The stone was cut from a local quarry and transported to the site by a sledge that was dragged over rollers. They also used luxury materials such as juniper and olive wood, marble and limestone.

During the building process the craftsmen used pulleys, ladders and ropes to carve their monuments. Working from top to bottom they used picks, hammers and claw chisels on the outer surfaces. Influenced by the craftsmen of Alexandria, the Nabataens created a complex city compound that included houses, tombs, a treasury and an amphitheatre.

The city was full of greenery and flowers. River has occasionally caused floods, although most of the year the riverbed was dry. Even today the river flows occasionally. At the top of the surrounding mountains there were fortresses from which the whole area was monitored and in time saw the arrival of the enemy.

Did you know … Theater in Petra was carved in the rock and could accommodate 6,000 spectators!


Petra is located half way between the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea at a height of 800 up to 1,350 meters above sea level in a wide valley in the hilly area of Edom.

Petra locationThanks to its strategically favorable position at the intersection of several caravan routes that united Egypt with Syria and southern Arabia with the Mediterranean, the city was in the 5th century BC. Cr. until the 3rd century our era was a very important trading center.

Petra particularly controlled the intersection on the incense route. This ancient trade route traveled from Yemen along the Arabian west coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and at Petra, it drove northwest to Gaza and the other northward to Damascus.

Today, it is possible to reach Petar only by a narrow mountain slope from the northwest or a rocky cliff from the east, which is about 1.5 km long and the rocks between which reach a height of about 200 m while in the narrowest place is only 2 m wide.

Did you know … Approximately 800 buildings and altars were preserved. They are marked by the Nabatean, Greek-Hellenistic and Roman influences.

Life at Petra

Life at PetraPetra was built on an important point on the trading route between Asia and Arabia.

Because of this, Petra was a cosmopolitan and cultivated city that was well sustained by commerce, agriculture and water.

The population, believed to have been about 40,000 people, was familiar with foreign migrants, their crafts and trading goods. Artistic merit is visible in the decoration of the elaborate buildings and tombs.

Each home was a small temple. The adored God of Petra was Dushara al-‘Uzza. He represented the divine connection between earth and heaven. The city itself developed around the main temple of Qasr al-Bint, dedicated to the Supreme God.

In one of the rocks you can see a carved large elephant that was a great attraction for this ancient people. In the rocks you can see the engraved about 4,000 original texts of writers in the common language of Bedouin. These inscriptions mainly reveal the reasons for the existence of certain structures, their religious feelings, and the names of burnt deceased.

The city was abandoned in the 13th century and then forgotten among the people of the West!

Keeping Petra safe

The Petra National Trust was established in 1989. Its aim is to protect this World Heritage Site. Petra is now recognized as one of the world’s most endangered archaeological centres. Not only is it damaged by flooding and salt erosion, but also by tourism.

Planes and helicopters, once used for aerial tours, threatened the stability of the area. Thanks to the work of the Trust they have now been banned.

The Trust deals with issues that concern the local inhabitants who use the site as homes, storehouses and stables.

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