Biblical Sela. The rock city of Petra in Jordan
(Edomites. Nabateans. King Aretas and the Apostle Paul)

Tombs on the way into Petra before entering the Siq.
Notice two (of three) square free-standing tombs on the right.

A number of relatively obscure references are made to place names throughout the Old Testament. While little known to us, they would have been well known to the original readers and hearers, in some cases for many generations following. One such place is called Sela in Isaiah.

Isaiah 16:1-2 Send lambs as tribute to the ruler of the land, from Sela, across the desert, to the mount of the Daughter of Zion. 2 Like fluttering birds pushed from the nest, so are the women of Moab at the fords of the Arnon. (NIV)

Isaiah 42:10-11 Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. 11 Let the desert and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. (NIV)

This desert place, Sela, is a location known today as Petra - located approximately 50 miles (80 km) due south of the eastern side of the Dead Sea. As a highly defensible location it was the capital of Edom, whose territory stretch northward to the Dead Sea. Located in a semi-landlocked valley, access to the site is generally through the eastern ridge via the Siq/Sik ("cleft"), a narrow, winding geologic fissure through the rock, five meters wide at its narrowest and towering up to 200 meters above.

The cliffs of the Siq

The widest part of the Siq (niches for gods carved in walls)

While some have tried to say that the following passage could refer to a different Sela, claiming that a defeat in the Valley of Salt (Dead Sea) would have little to do with a capture fifty miles away, the reverse is true. If the major military force of Edomites were defeated at their northern boundary, it would have been virtually a straight (and logical) march to their capital city.

2 Kings 14:1-3, 7 In the second year of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel, Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Jehoaddin; she was from Jerusalem. 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash. ... 7 He was the one who defeated ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and captured Sela in battle, calling it Joktheel, the name it has to this day. (NIV)

This passage in 2 Chronicles provided additional narrative of this same occurrence. Notice that the Edomites were also called "men of Seir." In stating that Amaziah also brought back the "gods of the people of Seir" it is highly likely that these were taken from Selah (Petra) where their prominent hand-crafted false gods would have been on display.

2 Chronicles 25:11-15 Amaziah then marshaled his strength and led his army to the Valley of Salt, where he killed ten thousand men of Seir. 12 The army of Judah also captured ten thousand men alive, took them to the top of a cliff and threw them down so that all were dashed to pieces. 13 Meanwhile the troops that Amaziah had sent back and had not allowed to take part in the war raided Judean towns from Samaria to Beth Horon. They killed three thousand people and carried off great quantities of plunder. 14 When Amaziah returned from slaughtering the Edomites, he brought back the gods of the people of Seir. He set them up as his own gods, bowed down to them and burned sacrifices to them. 15 The anger of the Lord burned against Amaziah, and he sent a prophet to him, who said, "Why do you consult this people's gods, which could not save their own people from your hand?" (NIV)

Moving back even further in history, the people who were to the west of Edom, the Amorites, used Sela as a boundary location.

Judges 1:35-36 And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. 36 The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond. (NIV)

Some of the rock hewn tombs/buildings lining the valley of Petra

God decreed judgment on Edom, those "who lived in the clefts of the rocks". This was a good description of how the people lived in Petra. Sela (Hebrew) and Petra (Greek) both mean Rock. The line just referenced (coming from the passage to follow) could equally be translated as "who lived in the clefts of Sela". It was a direct reference to a specific place at the heart of the Edomite kingdom.

Obadiah 1-4 This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom - We have heard a message from the Lord: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, "Rise, and let us go against her for battle"- 2 "See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, 'Who can bring me down to the ground?' 4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down," declares the Lord. (NIV)

It is believed that Amos is also referring to Petra (in Edom) using the name Bozrah, meaning "fortress."

Amos 1:11-12 This is what the Lord says: "For three sins of Edom, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked, 12 I will send fire upon Teman that will consume the fortresses of Bozrah." (NIV) (See also Genesis 36:31-33)

A few centuries after Amos who wrote (circa 760-750 B.C.), around end of the sixth century B.C. (some say fifth), a nomadic tribe known as the Nabateans migrated from south western Arabia and settled in the area of Petra. It appears as though this Nabatean migration was gradual, provoking no hostilities between them and the native Edomites. As such they merged with the Edomite people. As the Nabateans abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and settled in Petra, they grew rich by levying taxes on travelers to ensure safe passage through their lands. The easily defensible valley city of Petra allowed the Nabateans to grow strong and maintain influence over the historical Edomite territory and beyond. Biblically, when the prophet Malachi (circa 420 B.C.) spoke of Edom (Malachi 1:4) he would have been referencing both native Edomites and the Nabateans who come to be a part of them.


A cuneiform tablet recording a contract between two Arameans and an Edomite, Quas-Shama.
Written in the first year of King Darius, likely Darius I (520 B.C.)

Looking up from the main valley of Petra.
Notice the tomb in the background, just left of center, carved into the rock...

The Urn Tomb, with its open terrace built over a double layer of vaults.

The Urn Tomb entrance.

Inside the Urn Tomb. The room measures 20 by 18 meters, and the patterns in the rock are striking. The black on the ceiling is not the rock, it is from campfires inside through history. In the front of the room, where the people are standing, three apses were carved for later church purposes that were not part of the original royal tomb. The tomb was converted, according to a Greek inscription, during Byzantine times, by Bishop Jason in 447 A.D. The holes in the walls supported a wooden second floor during church uses. The acoustics are incredible for singing.

The level area outside the front entrance of the Urn Tomb commands an impressive view of the main valley, where most freestanding buildings once stood. The valley is about three square kilometers.
Rock carved buildings and tombs can be seen on the opposite side of the valley.
Note the white roof at the far right covering the ruins of an ancient church (photos below)


Fans of the recently popular Left Behind series of books, amongst others, will also claim Petra to have future prophetical reference in Scriptures. The dubious premise of Petra being a refuge of the Jews during the final Tribulation was one that intrigued me as I prepared this article, mostly because there are absolutely NO direct references to Petra in end-times prophetic passages. This doesn't stop dispensational theologians and authors from reading the name Petra into hosts of passages. Some favorite passages include:

Revelation 12:14-16 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert [read in Petra here], where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. (Comment ours. NIV)

Luke 21:20-21 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains [read in Petra here], let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. (Comment ours. NIV)

Matthew 24:15-16 "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand- 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains [read in Petra here]. (Comment ours. NIV)

Their additional proof texts often include Revelation 6:15, Daniel 11:41, Isaiah 26:20-21, and Isaiah 2:2-3, 10, 19. For the record, this is how one website deals with this latter passage...



Isaiah, chapter 2

2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house (Petra has in general always been a holy place of worship, even though the worship was not towards our Lord and God most of the time) shall be established in the top of the mountains (Petra lies at an elevation of 2,700ft/810 meters and the mountains in the Jordan area are about 3000ft/900 meters high), and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:10 Enter into the rock (entering through the "Siq" of the City of Petra is like entering into solid rock, at places the cleft is less that 3 meters/9ft wide and the rock walls end about 90meters/300ft above), and hide thee in the dust (the pathway through the "Siq" is covered with sediments and fine sand and the streets of Petra are still covered by several feet of dirt which is constantly being removed as part of ongoing archeological excavations), for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.

2:19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth (Petra has in fact been referred to as "the city of the dead" as it has a large amount of tombs, caves and holes all over the city; reportedly there are between 500-3000 tombs in the area, including the so dubbed "temples"), for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (earthquakes are normal in the Jordan area, as the Arabic and the African continental plates meet right in that area; their movements have caused at least 2 major earthquakes which almost destroyed the city of Petra: May 19, 363 AD and one in 747 AD)

(Emphasis and comments theirs. As found 08/17/2006 on the website:

This last cited "exposition", of one supposed passage regarding Petra, shows the extent of most: speculation upon speculation while playing a word association game. The bottom line is that belief in Petra as being the fulfillment of these end-times prophetical conjectures is completely unfounded in Scriptures. This being said, I was curious as to where this notion came from, seeing as most modern authors on this subject come by their beliefs based on defending traditions versus authentic Biblical scholarship.

The earliest origins I could find of this belief stem from the 1920's, a time in history when new dispensational end-times speculations were multiplying rapidly. One published book (booklet?) is entitled, The Man from Petra, by Joseph Hoffman Cohn of the American Board of Missions to the Jews. The circa world-war II booklet incorporates a number of easily refutable errors concerning Petra - Petra is not a mountain, it is a valley. Another pertains to the huge numbers of people he professes lived there historically (267,000) and the huge number he claims could live in comfort there now (100,000) using existing buildings. These numbers are wild exaggerations! Though Cohn's booklet came later, it was he that referred to an earlier adherent and proponent of this belief, named W.E. Blackstone (circa 1920s). An excerpt will help...

The one man who first proposed this whole thought to me was the noted saint and Bible student, W.E. Blackstone. ... he had just sent $8,000 to a Jewish missionary in Palestine, and that that Jewish missionary had made up a caravan of donkeys and camels and had carried thousands of Gospel tracts, New Testaments, and Gospels, clear down through the desert of Transjordania and up into the mountain height of Petra. And there he distributed these New Testaments and tracts in small packages, in the caves and in the empty houses, to bide the time when the refugee Israelites will flee there for escape from the Anti-Christ. Then they will find these New Testaments and they will understand what is going on, and what their Messiah is doing for their deliverance! I will confess that I had a feeling of astonishment, and I thought within myself that this was surely something fantastic. But here was a man known to be sober in judgment, a good Bible student, and he had taken of his own money the sum of $8,000 to make an investment of this sort. Who then was I to gainsay? (The Man from Petra, Page 16)

This is the problem that has allowed so much error to continue and be promoted in the church. Because the claim is fantastic and because someone prominent buys into it wholeheartedly, others feel no right to question what is taught. In fact, by the reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (Scriptures Alone), every believer must be willing to study and question all teachings (and teachers) on grounds of God's Word.

Even cults such as the former Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism) meshed their false prophecies with this Petra theory. In 1956, Armstrong published a booklet entitled 1975 In Prophecy, through which he predicted the return of Jesus in that year (... also one of the years the Jehovah's Witnesses falsely predicted the same). In the Good News magazines of April 1962 and October 1963, Worldwide Church members were shown pictures of Petra in Jordan, said to be their "place of safety", the place where they would live during the tribulation after God warned them to flee there. When you start with fanciful speculations, the extension of such beliefs can take you just about anywhere.

Having exhausted the true and specific Biblical references to Petra (except one indirect reference regarding Paul which will be considered below), and having laid to rest a little prophetic speculation, the remainder of Petra's history comes from extra-biblical sources (including the apocrypha). It is still of interest to the Bible scholar because it pertains to the geographic, political and religious climate surrounding Bible history - Petra was and is a neighbor of Israel.

Two legends are oft repeated about the area surrounding Petra. The first is included in the name of the area's principle water source Ain Mousa (Spring of Moses), and the place Wadi Mousa/Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). This legend is a local Islamic legend without substance of Scriptures. The belief is that this "Spring of Moses" is the one created when Moses struck a rock with his staff.

Numbers 20:9-13 So Moses took the staff from the Lord's presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them." 13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he showed himself holy among them. (NIV)

This event, by Scriptures, was before the people had even attempted to enter Edomite territory (read the passage which follows, Numbers 20:14-21). This area around Petra was solidly in the midst of Edomite territory so the Arabic names are completely in error. The next legend falls for virtually the same reason.

A second legend pertains to a nearby 4800ft (1460 meter) mountain which is called Jabal Haroun (Mount Aaron) or Jebel Nebi Harun (Mountain of Aaron). This one goes back to at least the first century historian Josephus, who testified that this mountain near Petra was Mount Hor where Aaron, the brother of Moses, was buried.

Deuteronomy 32:50 ...just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. (NIV)

Now when this purification, which their leader made upon the mourning for his sister, as it has been now described, was over, he caused the army to remove and to march through the wilderness and through Arabia; and when he came to a place which the Arabians esteem their metropolis, which was formerly called Arce, but has now the name of Petra, at this place, which was encompassed with high mountains, Aaron went up one of them in the sight of the whole army, Moses having before told him that he was to die, for this place was over against them. He put off his pontifical garments, and delivered them to Eleazar his son, to whom the high priesthood belonged, because he was the elder brother; and died while the multitude looked upon him. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 4.4.7)

Josephus was in error regarding this mountain near Petra as being the Biblical Mt. Hor. This can be proven on grounds of Scriptures, as the Israelites had been denied passage into the Edomite territory.

Numbers 20:17-21 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king's highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory." 18 But Edom answered: "You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword." 19 The Israelites replied: "We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot - nothing else." 20 Again they answered: "You may not pass through." Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them. (NIV)

In fact, this mountain near Petra was nowhere near the southern border of the Edomite territory (required, as per Numbers 20:23), so there was no way Aaron and Moses, let alone all the people, could have been there. In fact, this counterfeit Mt. Hor is far too rugged an area to have allowed the people to come and watch (i.e. Numbers 20:27). It is obvious that the actual location of Mt. Hor had fallen into obscurity by the time of Josephus leaving him to speculate or incorporating a recent, yet inaccurate, legend. Unfortunately this legend has been carried into the modern era and incorporated into the Arabic names.

Josephus correctly references Petra as being the chief and capital city of all Arabia at the time of Moses and the people coming into the Promised Land. His description embellished the account found in Numbers 31:7-12.

Chapter 7 - How The Hebrews Fought With The Midianites, And Overcame Them

1. Now Moses sent an army against the land of Midian, for the causes forementioned, in all twelve thousand, taking an equal number out of every tribe, and appointed Phineas for their commander; of which Phineas we made mention a little before, as he that had guarded the laws of the Hebrews, and had inflicted punishment on Zimri when he had transgressed them. Now the Midianites perceived beforehand how the Hebrews were coming, and would suddenly be upon them: so they assembled their army together, and fortified the entrances into their country, and there awaited the enemy's coming. When they were come, and they had joined battle with them, an immense multitude of the Midianites fell; nor could they be numbered, they were so very many: and among them fell all their kings, five in number, viz. Evi, Zur, Reba, Hur, and Rekem, who was of the same name with a city, the chief and capital of all Arabia, which is still now so called by the whole Arabian nation, Arecem, from the name of the king that built it; but is by the Greeks called Petra. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 4.7.1)

Besides writing about Petra, in Josephus' earlier history speaking of the region, he cites the area as being called "Nabatene" by its inhabitants.

When the lad was grown up, he married a wife, by birth an Egyptian, from whence the mother was herself derived originally. Of this wife were born to Ismael twelve sons; Nabaioth, Kedar, Abdeel, Mabsam, Idumas, Masmaos, Masaos, Chodad, Theman, Jetur, Naphesus, Cadmas. These inhabited all the country from Euphrates to the Red Sea, and called it Nabatene. They are an Arabian nation, and name their tribes from these, both because of their own virtue, and because of the dignity of Abraham their father. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 1.12.4)


The 8000 seat amphitheater. Originally thought to have been built by the Romans after their defeat of the Nabateans in 106 A.D. it is now believed that the Nabateans cut the theater out of the rock around the time of Christ, cutting through many caves and tombs in the process. The Romans enlarged upon the original.

Looking down on the theater from up on the opposing cliff


During the inter-testament times, the Maccabean historical account references one Aretas as a ruler of the Arabs. This Aretas was one of the Nabatean rulers of Petra.

2 Maccabees 5:5-8 When a false rumor arose that Antiochus was dead, Jason took no fewer than a thousand men and suddenly made an assault on the city. When the troops on the wall had been forced back and at last the city was being taken, Menelaus took refuge in the citadel. 6 But Jason kept relentlessly slaughtering his compatriots, not realizing that success at the cost of one's kindred is the greatest misfortune, but imagining that he was setting up trophies of victory over enemies and not over compatriots. 7 He did not, however, gain control of the government; in the end he got only disgrace from his conspiracy, and fled again into the country of the Ammonites. 8 Finally he met a miserable end. Accused before Aretas the ruler of the Arabs, fleeing from city to city, pursued by everyone, hated as a rebel against the laws, and abhorred as the executioner of his country and his compatriots, he was cast ashore in Egypt. (NRSV Apocrypha)

During these inter-testament times, the Nabateans controlled not only much of the area south of the Dead Sea but also the eastern shore. The Hamonean rulers of Israel legitimately viewed them as a possible invasion threat, perhaps with an attack coming across the Dead Sea.

The major occupation of the site began in the Hasmonean period (second-first centuries B.C.E.), when the solid square building was built with a central courtyard and a tower in the corner. Following their military conquests in the second century B.C.E., Hasmonean monarchs colonized the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea coast with a chain of fortresses built to protect the Jewish state from incursions by the Nabateans to the east. Qumran was one of these forts. ... Qumran was not designed to resist invaders, but simply as a forward military observation and command post to warn of an impending attack (and also to supervise traffic on the Dead Sea). In addition to forts on the heights, the Hasmonean rulers built two fortified docks on the shore of the Dead Sea to protect sea traffic. (Qumran - The Pottery Factory, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2006.)

While in the Hasmonean period, we need to take note of the father of Herod the Great, Antipater. This Herod the Great was the one who appears in the account of the birth and early life of Jesus as being the one who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1, 16). Antipater's wife and Herod's mother, Kypros, was a Nabatean.

Tradition is not necessarily a sure guide for history, but it has sometimes been found to be carrying elements of truth. One such ancient tradition concerns the Apostle Paul and his journey into Arabia...

Galatians 1:15-17 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. (NIV)

Tradition holds that Paul went to Petra which was the capital of Arabia. This is probable, but not certain. One thing that is certain is that Petra was introduced very early to the gospel, quickly becoming a city with great Christian influence including the seat of a Christian bishop in subsequent centuries. Even if Paul did not go specifically to Petra, he was certainly aware of the ruler at Petra, king Aretas. Damascus was actually at the northernmost part of the territory ruled by Aretas, so to say that Paul left Damascus and went "into Arabia" was to say that he headed south, still on the eastern side of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, further into the territory of Aretas. Note that this is not the same Aretas referenced in the Maccabean account; rather it was a successor by the same name, Aretas IV.

 Ruins of two Byzantine churches at Petra, one early (foreground),
one late (in background).under the white roof for protection.

 Ruins of 4th century church. Center round opening is for a water cistern

 Ornate tile floor of 5th or 6th century church with animal and other scenes.
There are seventy square meters of tiling in the side aisles.
In December 1993, a cache of 152 papyrus scrolls in Byzantine Greek
 and possibly late Arabic were uncovered at this site.

Baptismal Font at 4th century church.


We know for sure that king Aretas IV (or at least his governing officials) were impacted by Paul's teaching and protests from Jewish subjects, stemming from that initial time in Arabia and Paul's return to Damascus (Acts 9:22-25). Paul directly cited this in a summary of events concerning his ministry.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (NIV)

Again, it is not improbable that King Aretas already was aware of this man Paul (formerly Saul) who had spent time in his kingdom and perhaps in the capital city. The Nabatean kingdom was one filled with idols, especially the capital city of Petra. Paul's message that these are not truly gods (Galatians 4:8) and that there is only one true God would have been an affront to the entire kingdom. This would have certainly encouraged the leadership to want to have him arrested, when prodded by the Jews. If you are thinking, "don't the Jews also believe that there is only one true God?", so why wouldn't they be a threat as well? There is a difference. The message of Christianity (and Paul) is that all people are commanded to repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30). The Jews, much as they still practice today, did not seek after proselytes or converts. If someone wished to convert that's fine, but for the most part they left the Gentiles to their ways (so long as they didn't try to impose pagan beliefs and practices on them).

While mentioning the false gods of Petra, it must be noted typical to the pagan lands surrounding Israel they utilized "high places" or outdoor religious sanctuaries. Petra's primary high place has been discovered, a fair climb/hike up onto the ridge surrounding Petra. Nabateans honored gods of stone as well as local and Roman deities and even the sun and moon.

Numbers 33:51-52 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. (NIV)

Niches in wall of Siq for gods. Some have stairs leading up to them.
The icons were meant to protect the entrance
and curse unwelcome visitors.

"god" carved right in the niche

Another god... see closeup below

Notice this idol has no mouth or ears. A god that cannot hear and cannot speak.


One of the most impressive and recognized monumental tombs in Petra is called "Al-Khaznah" or "The Treasury." While scholars debate the exact dating of this Nabatean edifice, some believe that it may have been the tomb of king Aretas IV (8 B.C. - 40 A.D.).

After winding 1.5 kilometers, the Siq suddenly opens to view one of the most impressive of all Petra's monuments "al-Khazneh" -- Arabic for "the Treasury". It is carved out of solid rock from the side of a mountain and stands over 40 meters high.
Notice people in the background for size perspective.

Although it really was a royal tomb, the Treasury gets its name from the legend that ancient treasure was hidden there -- in the giant stone urn which stands in the center of the top level. Believing the urn to be filled with ancient pharoanic treasures, the Bedouins periodically fired guns at it: proof of this can be seen in the bullet holes which are clearly visible on the urn. The barely distinguishable reliefs which can be seen on the exterior of the Khazneh are belived to represent various gods.

This a view of the Treasury, looking down from high on the cliff face opposite

Author, Brent MacDonald, high on the cliff face opposite the Treasury, taking the photo appearing two above. This photo was by his son, Scott, at maximum zoom on his digital camera.

It was believed that the Treasury was two (large) stories high until excavations showed that there was a floor below current ground height. The valley has filled in with debris washed there over the years. The metal mesh, above, covers the excavation of the ground floor.

Entrance into the ground floor (currently below ground height) of the Treasury


The Nabatean kingdom, which had been declining for at least a century, was still a threat to the Romans who wished to have absolute control over the entire region (especially following their final victory over neighboring Israel A.D. 66-70). While the Romans had treated the Nabatean kingdom as a client or subject kingdom since the time of Herod, it was a rocky relationship at best. The last Nabatean monarch, Rabbel II, struck a deal with the Romans that as long as they did not attack during his lifetime, they would be allowed to peaceably take over upon his death. With Rabbel's death in 106 A.D., the Romans (under emperor Trajan) subsequently claimed the Nabatean kingdom and set about transforming it into a Roman city, complete with the usual plan of a colonnaded street, baths, and other common trappings of Roman life. This Romanization did nothing to stem Petra's decline. Roman rule of the province of Arabia ultimately shifted elsewhere and even Petra's commercial importance was superseded by other cities.

The Obelisk Tomb, which once stood seven meters high. Five graves were found inside the tomb, four represented by pyramid-shaped pillars and the last by a statue between the middle pillars.
Located before entering the Siq.

The Byzantine era saw some Christian occupation of Petra, evidenced by inscriptions and architectural remains. This Christian influence remained, especially in the form of monasticism, until as late as the Crusades. An earthquake in 363 A.D. destroyed all freestanding structures and finalizes a major abandonment of the city. By the time of the Muslim conquests in the seventh century, there was little left. Another major earthquake in 747 A.D. again damaged the freestanding buildings that had been built since the last. During the early period of the Crusades Petra regained some strategic value and was refortified. Yet with the defeat of the Crusader forces at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 A.D., Islamic control came to the whole area and all official use of Petra ceased.

Ruins of a large building in the valley of Petra, one of the freestanding buildings destroyed by earthquakes.
Most others were completely leveled. This whole area housed the Roman era city.

For approximately seven centuries, the existence of Petra became not much more than a legend, a protected secret known only to the local Bedouins and Arabs. In 1812, a young Swiss explorer and professed convert to Islam named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard locals speaking of a "lost city" hidden in the mountains of Wadi Mousa. In order to find the site without arousing local suspicions, Burckhardt changed his name and disguised himself as a pilgrim seeking to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Aaron - a mission which would provide him a glimpse of the legendary city. He was successful and through his efforts Petra was revealed to the modern Western world.

Victorian traveler and poet Dean Burgon wrote a description of Petra, not many years after Petra was rediscovered, in 1845. Commentaries and articles often quote the last one or two lines, but those preceding are also worth reading.

"It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned,
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
That crowns the hill and consecrates the plane;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn
That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
Your Contributions which deemed old two thousand years ago,
Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time."
(From Dean Burgon's Newdigate Prize poem, "Petra", 1845)


Restoration/preservation work at Petra

Excavations continue at Petra, including restoration work. The ancient engineering at Petra is a marvel, as they had a system of dams and water works to divert and store flood waters from the Siq. This system included many cisterns, pressure control basins, and a vast system of pipes.

A primary (large) water diversion tunnel from the Siq
(see photos farther below for images through this tunnel and valley beyond)

Perspective of the Siq with water channel to left.

One of the water 'pipes' lining the Siq. This would have been covered.

A fragment of the cover that would have allowed water to flow down hill under pressure.

Another seqment with cover remaining

A built up and now partially covered section of the water pipe.
Notice far right how the top layer of stone would have covered this.

This was a well in the water pipe that would have served to
equalize increasing pressure for the down hill run

Another segment with some of the terracotta cover remaining.


Altar at the high place of Petra.
This Nabatean place of sacrifice was used mostly for animals
 but there is some evidence that there may have been human sacrifices as well.

A bird's eye view of one hillside full of tomb/room entrances.

Inside one tomb, high on the hillside. Now very weather-worn.

Recent excavation (2008) of the Great Temple by Brown University.
Click on photo for larger view (use browser back button to return)

Face-on view of Great Temple

Angie by the entrance hole to the great cistern at the Great Temple, above; see details below.

Elephant shaped captial at the Great Temple

Small theater at the Great Temple


After passing through the water diversion tunnel it narrows into a natural ravine
The Nabateans use dams and water channels to control the water flow to the city
Remains of one dam appear above

In the narrow valley from the water tunnel there are incredible views
Note the elephant shaped rock -- all natural

In the narrow valley from the water tunnel there are incredible views
Closer view of the elephant shaped rock -- all natural

In the narrow valley from the water tunnel there are incredible views
Angie in the water formed narrow canyon

Nabatean niches carved along the water tunnel canyon for their gods.

Author Brent MacDonald and wife Angie in the water-formed narrow canyon

In the valley going from the water tunnel canyon down towards the center of Petra, where most visitor never go,
there are numerous homes and tombs. This was one large rock-cut house

A view of the rock cut house in the photo above this, except looking towards the door.

An inscription identifying the home owner from the house in the two photos prior.

Still in the same valley, as the photos immediately prior. This is the tomb of Sextius Florentinus
See below for description and more photos

Look carefully to see part of the Latin Inscription at Sextius Florentinus' tomb

Ossuary niches in the rear walls of the Sextius Florentinus tomb.
The black on the ceiling is from campfire through the centuries.