Places of worship – Petra


Fazal Ahmad, London, UK

Petra is one of those unique places, with houses and temples carved into the rock. The area may have been settled since 9000 BCE and Nabataeans began to occupy the site from 400 BCE. Petra soon became the capital of the Nabataeans.

The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who were masters of trade and also quite advanced in technology like irrigation. Petra became their capital at a crossroads of trade routes linking Egypt to the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. The Nabataeans came into contact with Hebrew tribes, Romans, Persians and other great powers in the region. There are signs of the influences of several of these cultures as adopted in the architecture of Petra.[1]

Petra has many associations with religion. It is claimed that the local area known as Wadi Musa is where Moses (as) drew water after hitting the rocks. The Nabataeans themselves worshiped a pantheon of idols, perhaps many of them adopted through trade links with other cultures. Some of their idols included Lat, Baal, al-Uzza, Dushaira and Manat [2] who also appeared in Mecca before the dawn of Islam. They built temples such as Qasr el-Bint and the Temple of the Winged Lions in Petra.

At its peak under King Aretas IV (8 BCE-40 CE), there was significant construction in Petra, and the king also had influence. The king’s daughter had been married to Herod Antipas in Palestine, but when they divorced, it was Herod’s remarriage that earned John the Baptist (as) displeasure.

Petra was annexed by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 106 CE, then in the fourth century many buildings were used as churches under the Byzantine Empire, but following earthquakes over a period of time, the structures were left alone.

Petra resembles the People of the Rock mentioned in the Quran for having carved houses in the mountains.[3]

Some of Petra’s trade caravans also passed through Mecca in Arabia, and it is likely that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) also passed through or near Petra.

Petra declined as she was abandoned beneath quicksand. It was not until 1812 that the Swiss explorer Burckhardt rediscovered the pink desert city after disguising himself as a Bedouin and gaining their trust to guide him to the legendary city. The fact that the town fell into oblivion but was left untouched for future generations seems to suggest that these people and this town were preserved to act as a warning to future generations.

Petra is easy to visit today with most sites now excavated and clearly visible, including the iconic Khazneh, the various tombs carved into the mountains, and the Ad-Deir Monastery which takes almost an hour to climb the mountains to find out.

Location: Wadi Musa, Jordan

Creed: Nabataean

Date of opening: 400 BCE


[1] Mr Hatstein, Lost Civilizations (Bath, UK: Parragon, 2009), 52-53.

[2] Mr. M. Ulama, Petra – a wonderland of the past (Amman, Jordan: Feras Printing Press, 1999), 9.

[3] Holy Quran, 15:81-85.


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