Petra, The Definitive Guide
Al-Beidha (Little Petra)
Around thirty million years ago there began a series of cataclysms that tore open the face of our planet, throwing up wild mountains on either side of a deep depression. The effects of this ancient turbulence remain – the Great Rift Valley, that long groove in the earth’s crust, runs southwards from south-eastern Turkey, through the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth) and the waterless Wadi Araba, rising to sea level at Aqaba, then plunging beneath the waters of the Red Sea before striking deep into the eastern side of Africa as far as northern Mozambique.
Hidden in the russet convolutions of sandstone and porphyry east of Wadi Araba lies Petra, famed for the prodigious monuments which the ancient Nabataeans carved into the faces of the rock using primitive and inadequate tools. At the stroke of a million chisels they made Petra their own for all time, levelling mountain tops to form terraces for the worship of their gods, cutting grand processional stairways to reach these high places, grooving channels in the rock to direct water into their city from miles around – redesigning nature with Olympian insouciance. Above all, they carved strangely beautiful architectural façades in honour of their dead, creating as they did so an art gallery of Nabataean style in the living rock.
Yet Petra is not only a memorial to the Nabataeans. For countless millennia before their advent, the region was inhabited by Stone Age people, and by the Edomites; and, in the centuries after the fall of the Nabataean empire, Romans and Byzantines held sway here for a time, and the Crusaders passed through fleetingly much later. All have touched this magical place with their own distinct color. So too have the present-day people of Petra – Bdoul, Liyathna and Amareen – who have inhabited the area for who knows how many centuries.