Despite being one of the most important trade centers of the ancient world, Petra, in southern Jordan, remains largely shrouded in mystery to this day. Built by the Nabataean civilization some time between 600 and 300 B.C., Petra served as both the capital city and a commercial hub.
Mastering the desert
The Nabataeans' knowledge of the surrounding landscape enabled them to help shepherd caravans through the desert, guiding them to water and shelter for a fee. Their methods of water collection and irrigation are thought to be ahead of their time, National Geographic reported.
Remnants of these water systems can still be found by people on Asia travel trips today, both in Petra and throughout Jordan. However, not much other archeological evidence of the civilization has yet come to light. Though it is one of the most important historical cities on the continent, just 15 percent has been excavated. Not surprising for a place also known as the "Lost City," at least to the Western world.
A city in decline
In 106 A.D., the Roman Empire conquered Petra, and the city was never the same. After its subjugation to Rome, Petra's prominence in trade began to decline, hastened by natural disasters and growing reliance on sea trade, according to UNESCO. By 700 A.D., the city was a shadow of its former self. Petra changed hands several times and was sporadically inhabited for the next few centuries. Arab armies conquered the city in the 600s, then European Crusaders captured it and built a fort in the 1100s. The Crusaders soon left, and the city was returned to the local populace, but it never again approached its former glory.
Some time after its abandonment by European armies, the city disappeared from Western maps, giving Petra its "Lost" title. An explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt disguised himself as a pilgrim and snuck into the city in 1812, returning it to international attention. Since then, archeologists have been working to discover Petra's secrets, but the city guards them closely to this day.
Perhaps the city's most famous landmark is Al-Khazneh, the Treasury. Over 140 feet high, the facade is carved right into the pink cliffs surrounding the city. Although it is one of the city's most enduring icons, its true purpose was unknown until as recently as 2003, when tombs were discovered beneath its main chamber, according to the American Museum of Natural History.
Much of Petra has been destroyed by earthquakes and erosion, leaving the city filled mostly with enduring tombs. To protect the city and preserve its cultural treasures, motor vehicles are not allowed, according to the Jordan Tourism Board. Instead, travelers can walk or hire horses, donkeys and camels to ferry them through the mysterious ancient capital.