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The ancient city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Jordan’s greatest tourist attraction and has drawn over 500,000 visitors each year since 2007. The President’s visit will recognize the importance of Petra to Jordan and the ancient history of the Middle East.
At the entrance of the park, the President will be greeted by Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Nayef Al Fayez, and several representatives of the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority. He will be guided through the site by Dr. Suleiman A.D. Al Farajat, University of Jordan Tourism Professor.
The ancient city of Petra was carved into the sheer rock face of the surrounding mountains by the Nabataeans, a civilization that settled in the area more than 2000 years ago. The Nabataeans made Petra the capital of their rich and powerful kingdom in the 1st century BC, establishing the city as an important junction for the trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. In 106 AD, the Nabataeans acquiesced to the Roman general, Trajan, and Petra became part of the Roman Province of Arabia. An ingenious water management system allowed extensive settlement of an essentially arid area during the Nabataean, Roman, and Byzantine periods. Papyrus scrolls, found in the Petra Church in 1993, indicate that Petra had a flourishing economic and social life throughout the sixth century AD. It was not until the seventh century, during the early Islamic period, that trade routes were redirected and Petra declined further.
The President’s walking tour of Petra will begin at the entrance to the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which winds between two soaring, 80-meter cliffs into the heart of Petra. At the end of the path, the Siq suddenly opens up onto the Treasury, the masterpiece of the ancient city, a 45-meter-high façade carved into the mountain. The Bedouins named this building the Treasury because they believed that the urns sculpted on top of the Treasury contained great treasures, but in reality, the urns represented a memorial for Nabataean royalty. Over time, historians have disagreed on the purpose of the Treasury. However, a recent excavation proved that a grave yard exists underneath it.
After exiting the Treasury, the Siq begins to widen gradually into the Street of Facades. On both sides, there are Nabataean burial chambers carved into the mountain, with decorated facades believed to represent princes and some senior officials.
As you enter the heart of the city, the Nabataean Theater appears on the left. It was built in the first century AD in the form an arc that is 95 meters in radius. Most of the Theater is carved into the rock, but the Nabataeans also sculpted the front. On the right hand side of the path just beyond the Theater, there are four large Royal Tombs carved high up in the rock face, known as the King’s Wall.
Further into the city, the path leads toward a Colonnaded Street, with structures on the left thought to be Nabataean baths and communal buildings, including the Great Temple. One of the best views of this part of the city is from a hill on the right-hand side. Also up the sloping path to the right is the Petra Church, converted from a tomb structure in the 5th century AD. USAID has provided funding for the restoration of the church and its mosaics.