Petra, the real miracle, is without a suspicion Jordan’s greatest treasure and ultimate tourist lure. It is a gigantic, exclusive city, engraved into the steep rock face by the Nabataeans, an assiduous Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, spiraling it into a significant connection for the silk, spice and other trade methods that connected China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
It is one of the world’s richest and largest archaeological sites set in a dominating red sandstone landscape.
The architectural ensemble comprising the so-called “royal tombs” in Petra (including the Khasneh, the Urn Tomb, the Palace Tomb and the Corinthian Tomb), and the Deir (“monastery”) demonstrate an outstanding fusion of Hellenistic architecture with Eastern tradition, marking a significant meeting of East and West at the turn of the first millennium of our era.
Inside the Siq
Emerging from the Siq is generally considered to be one of the more memorable moments for visitors to the ancient city of Petra. It’s at this location the beholder stands in awe of the Al Khazneh (the Treasury), hewn out of the raw cliff in front of them.
Towering at nearly 140 feet, it’s only one of more than 800 carved monuments attributed to the Nabateans during their occupation of the site, from sometime before the third century BC to the late fourth century. The Treasury itself was carved into the sandstone cliff in the first century BC
The façade of Al Khazneh, one of the finest examples of Nabatean carving, is a mixture of Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and Nabatean elements. Many of the building’s architectural details have eroded away during the two thousand years since it sculpted, while others have been defaced, likely by Muslim vandals after the Islamic Renaissance (particularly the sculptures of various mythological figures associated with the afterlife).
The Myth Behind the Name
Al Khazneh al-Faroun means “the Treasury of the Pharaoh”—and a myth certainly goes along with the name:
The Pharaoh of Exodus, having mobilized his forces to recapture the fleeing Hebrews, had reached Petra (after his slight embarrassment at the Red Sea). But by then the weight of his treasury, thoughtfully carried along, had begun to slow the progress of his army. As a result, the story goes, the Khazneh al-Faroun was created, by magic, and the Pharaoh’s wealth deposited in the urn-like decoration on its top.
The Bedouin believed (for a very long time) that the 11-foot high urn at the apex of the structure housed this great treasure (be it from pirates or the pharaoh himself), and one can still see the myriad pockmarks of Bedouin bullets fired at the monument in the vain hope that Pharaoh’s gold would come spilling down.
Inside the massive doorway, the tomb chamber lacks the decor found by Indiana Jones—there are no Crusader statues, huge stone lions or inset seals in the floor—and represents instead the typical unadorned and barren interior design of Petra’s funerary monuments.