Petra, Capitral city of Nabataea
PETRA
 
Arriving at Petra
 
The Walk Into Petra
 
The Siq
 
The Small Siq
 
Treasury
 
Street of Facades
 
Water Works
 
The Theater
 
The Royal Tombs
 
High Place
 
Colonnade Street
 
Great Temple
 
Temple of Al Uzza
 
Temple of Dushares
 
The Museum 
 
The Dier 
 
Al Habis
 
Um Al-Biera
 
Jebal Haroun
 
City of Board Games
 
Snake Monument
 
Sabara Suburb
 
City Walls/Map
 
Al Beidha
 
Al Beidha Village
 
Churches
 
Kubtha High Place
 
Wadi Nmeir 
 
Small Delights
 
The Bedul
 
Petra Today 
 
Petra Park
 
Is Petra the
Holy City of Islam?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Check out
http://flickr.com/photos/cdiclerico/page4/
for more photos of Petra
 
 

The ancient Nabataean city of Petra was recently votedas the seventh wonder of the ancient world. New7Wonders, the nonprofit organization that conducted the poll said that over 100 million votes were placed. All of us here at nabataea.net were delighted with the recognition this ancient site will now have. While most people votes because of personal preference rather than choosing places that had major significant impact in ancient history, we believe that in time Petra will become known as more than just a 'pretty place' with impressive ruins. Hopefully peple will soon realise the breadth and depth of the wonders of this special place. If you are interested in specific details, you can find them throughout nabataea.net. The menu at the left of this page will help you navigate the more than thirty web pages that we have specifically designated for this fantastic site. If you start at the top of the menu, you can move through the city, starting from the parking lot outside of Petra Park. There are some places where you can take side paths, but don't get side-tracked from the main menu... and then of course there are hundreds of other pages on this site about the ancient Nabataean people who built Petra, as well as the amazing merchant empire that impacted much of the world from China to Rome. For a quick overview of the Nabataean people click here.

The Treasury Monument in Petra (Nabateans)

Above: The Treasury monument in Petra is located at the end of a long passage through a crack in the rock. It is the most famous spot in Petra. Photo by Silvija Seres, 2002. Used with permission. Please visit her travel site (http://www.silvija.net)

The Number of Tombs
There are over one thousand burial monuments in Petra and several hundred others in the other burial cities. Most of these were for family and tribal units. Thus the tombs could have contained tens of thousands of people. Added to this, there are extensive Nabataean graveyards located near Petra and the other cities where the more common people were buried. This adds up to a lot of graves.The Nabataeans wealthy were mostly buried in five Nabataean burial cities. There were three cities in the Sinai/Negev, one in the inner kingdom (Petra) and one in Saudi Arabia. These cities are also important cities, in that they were located at the junctions of major trade routes.

Therefore, it appears that the Nabataean dead were transported to these cities for proper burial. Most likely there was something in Nabataean culture or religion that encouraged people to think of them spending eternity along side of their family and relatives.

The Builders of the Tombs
From the inscriptions we see that the tombs were made by Nabataean sculptors and not by imported slaves or laborers.

A City of Tombs
Was Petra originally a religious city, or was it an urban center for the Nabataeans. That probably depends on when you are talking about. It appears that originally it was more like a religious city. It functioned as the center for the twice-yearly pilgrimages and festivals, and it also functioned as a burial city. It was complete with several temples, a festival theater, a nymphaeum, a bathhouse, a sacred way, a monumental gate, many pools, and several other public buildings. The temples and other public buildings occupied the central valley, where the Royal Tombs were situated.

Along with this, the people who maintained Petra had to live there. This included priests, sculptors, grave diggers, temple attendants, administrative staff for the many public buildings, merchants who sold temple and burial paraphernalia, and other support people who ran services that provided things like food and water. If there was a royal court in Petra, then this would have entailed another whole group of people. These people alone may have numbered several thousand, along with their spouses and families.

Some writers have estimated that Petra might have had a population of 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants. Interestingly enough, few academic sources substantiate these figures. (originally derived by a journalist). There was a limited amount of room within Petra's city walls. If we calculated, say, 10 people to a household, this would come to at least 2000 large houses. The problem with this is that there was very little room within the city proper for private housing. The great majority all of the buildings uncovered to date have been public buildings. As an example, consider the market places. For years, part of Petra was deemed as having upper, middle, and lower marketplaces. When archaeologists decided to excavate the lower market in 1998, they discovered a series of public pools, gardens, and waterworks.

Most archeologists, however, now believe that Petra was a large, urban center. The Petra Scrolls clearly tell us of the crowded living conditions within the city during the Byzantine era, but little is known of Petra during its purely Nabataean days from around 60 BC to 200 AD.

As the Nabataeans were nomadic people who traditionally lived in tents, it is assumed that for the first several hundred years of their occupation of the Inner Kingdom that they lived in tents, and did not erect stone houses. This is true in most of the Nabataean cities. It is only during the latter part of the Nabataean kingdom that suddenly the Nabataeans began constructing houses, and then they were often of incredible size, varying from 600 to 2000 square meters.

So, did people live in cities surrounded by the dead? The answer is not clear, but it may have been that most of the Nabataeans lived in tents scattered across the countryside, or in small centers such as Selah. Many also lived in smaller villages raising camels and horses. This would have required large tracts of grazing space. Others would be away with the caravans or trading ships.

So it only makes sense that they would cluster their public buildings around one spot, where the temples and Royal courts and tombs were located. As for housing, perhaps for many years, and particularly during public festivals, the majority of people lived in tents.

You can learn more about the Nabataeans by purchasing the book: The Nabataeans, Builders of Petra, advertised at the bottom of this page. Proceeds from the sale of this book go towards supporting this website.  

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