Located at the crossroads of the flourishing overland caravan trade routes,
Petra prospered as the capital of the Nabataean empire from 400 B.C. to A.D. 106. The Nabataeans engineered an impressive system of pipes, tunnels, and
channels that carried drinking water into the city and reduced the chance
of flash floods.
The Romans annexed Petra in A.D. 106, and its position as a commercial hub slowly deteriorated. The Byzantines made the city the seat of a bishopric
in A.D. 379 before earthquakes and an economic lull took their toll. By the end of the Byzantine Empire (circa A.D. 700), the hydraulic system and the
once dignified and gracious buildings in the center of town had
deteriorated to near ruins.
In the centuries that followed, Petra disappeared from most maps and was known only through ancient lore. In 1812 Swiss traveler Johann Burckhardt stole into the mythic city disguised as a Muslim trader and told the world about what he found. Today most of the Bedouin people who once lived in the area of the ancient city have been relocated to houses provided by the Jordanian government. Efforts to protect Petra and its artifacts continue even as tourism grows at a steady pace and excavations uncover more of the long-lost city.
Cant make it to Washington, D.C.? Explore images from the exhibition (right).