PETRA, Jordan — Nomads on the Arabian peninsula in the centuries before Christ’s birth, the Nabataeans ferried goods on camelback to ports on the Mediterranean coast. Eventually, they mastered a great business route.
Where the Spice Road and the King’s Highway intersected, linking Rome to India, the Nabataeans built their capital. At its height, 100,000 people lived in the grand but hidden city, now in southern Jordan.
More than two millennia old, Petra is Jordan’s most visited place, a ghostly metropolis of caves and stately facades carved into sandstone cliffs. For ready defense, the city had one way in and one way out — through a long, winding, high-walled canyon.
The architecture shows a blend of Arabic and Greek culture.
High above the city are various altars for animal sacrifice and other cultic activity.
About 80 percent of Petra is still buried below gravel.
Petra has a multi-layered history. By the time Jesus was born, it was occupied by Roman troops who had formed a peace agreement with the Nabataeans. By the 4th century, Byzantine era Christians were in charge and built churches, followed by Islamic peoples in the 7th century. Crusaders took refuge here in the 12th century. Bedouins later moved in, leaving in the mid-1980s when Petra became a national park.
In 1989, Petra was the setting of Raiders of the Lost Ark; that’s the first time many westerners saw it.