Petra [key], 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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