The ancient city of Petra is one of Jordan’s national treasures and by far its best known tourist attraction. Located about three hours south of Amman by car or bus,, Petra is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in southern Jordan more than 2 000 years ago. Admired then for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a UNESCO world heritage site that enchants visitors from all corners of the globe.
Although most of what can be seen at Petra today was built by the Nabataeans, the area is known to have been inhabitedfrom as early as 7,000 to 6,500 BC. Evidence of an early settlement from this period can still be seen today at Little Petra, just north of the main Petra site. Where it is not so easy to go. A long walk is needed.
By the Iron Age (1,200 to 539 BC), Petra was inhabited by the Edomites who settled mainly on the hills around Petra rather than the actual site chosen by the Nabataeans. Although the
Edomites were not proficient at stone masonry, they excelled at making pottery and it seems they passed this craft on to the Nabataeans. A recently excavated kiln discovered at Wadi
Musa, indicates that Petra was a regional centre for potteryproduction up until the late 3rd century AD, after which it fell into decline.
The Nabataeans were a nomadic Arab people from Arabia who began to arrive and slowly settle in Petra at the end of the 6th
century BC. It seems their arrival at Petra was unplanned, as their original intent was to migrate to southern Palestine. No
doubt they found this place attractive with its plentiful supply of water, defensive canyon walls and the friendly Edomites,
with whom it seems they had a peaceful coexistence.
By the 2nd century BC, Petra had become a huge city encompassing around ten square kilometres, and was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom. Primarily, the Nabataeans were farmers. They cultivated vines and olive trees and bred camels, sheep, goats and horses.
They were skilled at water management and built a complex network of channels and cisterns to bring water from a plentiful source at Ain Musa several kilometres away.