Temples or Tombs from 300 BC?

Ron McGinty

Petra is a sensation of historical proportions rambling through a narrow gorge called Al Sig. The sunlight shines down as if a dark screen is defusing it. You are cloaked by sandstone walls of 300 to 500 feet high and a path sometimes only 10 feet wide. The journey to Petra is a little less than a mile long, but a fun voyage. You will see an ancient hand-carved ghost, swelling from the walls. Listen for chariots, horses, camels, and people trying to pass you. Near the end, your guide will direct you to turn around and walk backward for about ten feet, then look around.

Your breath will become shortened as you are stunned to see Al-Khazneh through a slit in the darkness to the sun-drenched masterpiece. Petra is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and you will know why at that very moment. Why did the Nabataea nomad community come to settle down in a permanent place? It is believed they needed a place to bury their dead, evidenced by the colossal number of tombs. Also, they needed water to survive in this parched desert. Consequently, they built an ingenious aqueduct carrying water from a distant spring. This system of pipelines provided the city with the most precious of liquids – water, producing twelve million gallons of fresh spring water daily.

They had all the tools and engineering skills to literally carve a city out of a mountain. The Nabataeans were master traders that developed a center of trade for commodities of silk, spices, textiles, ivory and other assorted products. The trading business made Petra one of the richest cities in the world at its peak prevailing in a punitive desert environment. The caravans of goods would consist of up to 2500 camels and extended over five miles. It
was a convenient crossroad to China, Rome, Greece, Egypt, India and other trading partners. Construction
continued until it could house more than 20,000 inhabitants with only chisels. The nomads were no longer wanderers.

You may question how they carved this mammoth piece of art, taller than the heads of Mount Rushmore? It was simply due to the uniqueness of the sandstone mountains material. Normally construction starts at the bottom, but they would start from the top, chiseling out a ledge. This process would keep moving down the
mountain to completion. Petra is often referred to as the Rose City because of the rose color of the rocks.

Allow yourself enough time to walk and climb through the mountain’s many unique structures numbering over eight hundred. The city’s construction was elaborate containing hundreds of tombs, an open air theater capable of holding 6,000 people and courtyards with 125 tall columns.

Life in Petra rivaled that of other dynasties such as Rome and Egypt. Fortunately, the outside world had no interest in conquering Petra because it was a remote desert place. The reward of water was the impetus to build Petra and it was their demise also by catastrophic floods. Petra is an astounding exhibition of man’s artistry. Some worry about the wear of thousands of tourists, Indiana Jones once said, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage.”

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