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Petra (pēˈtrə), ancient city, in present-day Jordan, known to the Arabs as Wadi Musa for the stream that flows through it. A narrow, winding pass between towering walls leads to the flat, open valley upon which stood the ancient city. The valley is surrounded by hills in which tombs have been carved in the pink sandstone. The site includes some 800 structures, the best known of which is the Khazneh el-Farun (or so-called Pharoah's Treasury), a mausoleum, monument, or temple with a two-story facade and Hellenistic split pediment.

Petra was early occupied by the Edomites (see Edom), and the city is indentified by some with Sela in the Bible (2 Kings 14.7). The Nabataeans (an Arab tribe; see Nabataea) had their capital there from the 4th cent. B.C. until the Roman occupation in A.D. 106. Under the Romans in the 2d and 3d cent. it was included in the province of Arabia Petraea.

Petra was for many centuries the focal point of a vast caravan trade but declined after an earthquake in A.D. 363 and with the rise of Palmyra; it did, however, remain a religious center of Arabia. An early seat of Christianity, it was conquered by the Muslims in the 7th cent. and in the 12th cent. was captured by the Crusaders, who built a citadel there. Petra was unknown to the Western world until its ruins were visited by Johann Burckhardt in 1812.


See M. I. Rostovtsev, Caravan Cities (1932, repr. 1971); I. Browning, Petra (1974); M. G. Amadasi Guzzo and E. Equini Schneider, Petra (2002); J. Taylor, Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans (2002).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ancient city and fortress in southern Jordan. The area was probably first settled at the end of the second millennium B.C. In the first millennium B.C., Petra was the capital of the Edomites, and from the end of the third or the beginning of the second century B.C. to A.D. 106 it was the capital of the Nabatean kingdom. Later it became part of the Roman province of Arabia. Changing trade routes caused the city gradually to lose importance, and in the fifth century it fell into neglect.

Studied by archaeologists since the beginning of the 20th century, Petra is the site of a complex covering more than 3 sq km and comprising rock-cut structures dating from various periods. The complex contains more than 1,000 burial vaults, including the Khazneh and the Deir; sanctuaries; temples; dwellings; and public buildings, including three markets, the temple Qasr Firun, and a theater from Roman times that seated 3,000 spectators.


Kaufman, S. A. “Ob arkhitekture drevnego arabskogo naroda nabateev i ee roli v razvitii antichnoi arkhitektury.” In the collection Voprosy vseobshchei istorii arkhitektury, collection 1. Moscow, 1961.
Kennedy, A. B. W. Petra, Its History and Monuments. London, 1925.
Kammerer, A. Pétra et la Nabatène, parts 1-2. Paris, 1929-30.
Harding, G. L. The Antiquities of Jordan. London, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an ancient city in the south of present-day Jordan; capital of the Nabataean kingdom
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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