Weekend Art: Petra
|Petra , dubbed "a rose-red city half as old as time" by Burgon, is an ancient city in Jordan that served as the capital of the Nabataeans. It was situated at a trade crossroads and prospered due to providing water and protection to caravans making their way across the inhospitable terrain. The most famous sites within the city are literally carved out of the surrounding cliffs, in an amazing display of craftsmanship and artistry.|
Petra fell under Roman rule in 106 AD and gradually declined in influence, then was substantially damaged by an earthquake in 363 AD and never rebuilt to its former glory. The population shrunk and eventually knowledge of Petra was lost to the outside world, until the Swiss traveler Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812. Today Petra is a World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
A few quotes from this American Museum of Natural History exhibition about Petra below, but check out the whole thing.
The Nabataeans provided shelter and water—for a fee—at strategically placed settlements along the caravan routes. Foreign traders also paid tolls and customs taxes in exchange for safe passage both within Nabataea and beyond its boundaries. This income helped finance the Nabataeans' commercial empire, enabling these former nomads to create a spectacular capital city with lush gardens, ornate houses and elaborate monuments.
There is one final myth about Petra that should be mentioned, especially after Indiana Jones' recent visit: the nature of the real archeological fieldwork involved.
It should be noted that the above dates from 1991, before the discoveries mentioned in the AMNH quote.
When looking at any ruins, there is a tendency to wonder about the people who lived there so long ago, to ponder their daily lives and speculate as to their ambitions. There are two obvious questions: did they see their decline coming, and did they consider what their civilization would leave behind for prosperity? At the height of their influence, did the people of Petra imagine their city would be a hollow shell of itself in a few hundred years? Did they know their monuments would inspire such wonder thousands of years later?
Then, of course, we turn our gaze inwards -- what will we leave behind? With so much information online, will the record of our day-to-day lives and the hardcopies of our efforts and achievements endure? Will some future scientist study the wreckage of our skyscrapers, the remnant scraps of our highways? Or do we think that our civilization simply cannot decline and disappear as did so many ancient cultures?