National Geographic : 1907 May
VOL. XVIII, No. 5 WASHINGTON MAY, 1907 SATG AIJ IL THE ROCK CITY OF PETRA* BY FRANKLIN E. HOSKINS, D. D., OF BEIRUT, SYRIA The first of a series of several articles describing rock-hewn edifices of antiquity HE highlands east of the Jordan River are strewn with ruins marking the rise and fall of successive civilizations-Semitic, Greek, Roman, Christian, Mohammedan, and Crusader. These ruins have been pre served for the modern explorer by the tides of nomadic life, which have swept up from the Arabian desert; but at the southern end of this no-man's land, deep in the mountains of Edom, lies one of the strangest, most beautiful, and most enchanting spots upon this earth-the Rock City of Petra. Its story carries us back to the dawn of human history. When Esau parted in anger from Jacob he went into Edom, then called Mount Seir, and after dispossessing the Horites became the progenitor of the Edomites, who remained the enemies of the children of Israel for a thousand years. These Edomites had princes, or kings, ruling in the Rock City while the children of Israel were still in Egyptian bondage. Some of the darkest maledictions of the Old Testament prophets are those aimed at Edom. A GREAT "SAFE DEPOSIT" In the days of the Nabatheans, Petra became the central point to which the caravans from the interior of Arabia, Persia, and India came laden with all the precious commodities of the East, and from which these commodities were dis tributed through Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, for even Tyre and Sidon derived many of their precious wares and dyes from Petra. It was at that time the Suez of this part of the world, the place where the East and the West met to trade and barter. It was also in fact a great "safe deposit" into which the great caravans poured after the vicissi tudes and dangers of the desert. Its wealth became fabulous, and it is not without some good reason that the first rock structure one sees in Petra, guard ing the mysterious entrance, is still called "Pharaoh's Treasury." It must have been the Nabatheans who developed the natural beauties of the situation and increased the rock-cut dwellings and tem ples and tombs to the almost interminable extent in which they are found today. The palmy period of the Nabatheans extended from 150 B. C. to 1o6 A. D., when the Romans conquered the country and city, extended two Roman roads into it, and established the province of Arabia Petra. The Rock City was always to * An address to the National Geographic Society, December 21, I906.