Petra the “rose-red city” of the ancient Nabataean civilization is situated in the south of Jordan. It lies to the east of Wadi Araba, a part of the Great Rift Valley, approximately 133 kilometers as the crow flies from the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Hidden away amidst the folds of spectacular hills, this unique site was lost to Europeans until it was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. After spending several years learning Arabic and studying the tenets of Islam, Burckhardt, who passed himself off as a Muslim from India, set out on his journey under the auspices of the London-based “Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior parts of Africa”.
En route to Cairo, through the area of what is now Jordan, his fluent Arabic enabled him to understand stories of a wondrous ancient city hidden away amongst impenetrable mountains. However, he needed a plausible excuse to gain access to the city without arousing any suspicion as to his real intentions. By claiming he wished to make a sacrifice at the tomb of the Prophet Aaron , which was nearby, he gained entry to the forgotten city of Petra.
One can imagine the impression the ruins made upon him, for he was fully able to appreciate the importance of his discovery and correctly identify the city as ancient Petra. In spite of the fact that he was obliged to conceal his interest and excitement from his guides, Burckhardt recorded what he had seen, and his account, published in 1822 was to excite great interest in Europe and inspire a long line of travelers to visit the site.
Today, the dangers of such an expedition have disappeared and the visitor is able to explore the city in comfort. One can share the excitement Burckhardt would have felt on his first visit in 1812 as one enters the narrow gorge of Al-Siq – the secret entrance to Petra. After winding down this great natural cleft for over a kilometer, the sudden impact of the view of the Treasury is as strong every time.
This unique site never fails to enchant visitors; the setting of the monumental Nabataean remains against a background of rugged mountain scenery is spectacular and its colors, equally thrilling. Petra, once described by a poet as a “rose-red city” is in fact dusky pink, broken at times by swirls of yellow, mauve, gray and white. No two colors remain the same, for the colors constantly change according to the time of day and the quality of the light. The rock is further set off by the bright green and pink of oleanders or the orange of cactus flowers.