In January of the present year, a private Swiss foundation launched a contest to select the seven ‘new’ wonders of the world. A report from AFP-Lisbon, Portugal says that "Nearly 100 million votes were cast by the Internet and text messages by Friday midnight (July 7, 2007), according to New7Wonders, the nonprofit organization that conducted the poll." The poll result showed that one of the 7 ‘new’ world wonders named was the centuries-old pink ruins of Petra in Jordan.
Unknown to the Western world for hundreds of years, the ‘rose-red’ city of Petra was once a thriving center for travelers along the ancient trade routes. Ringed by high mountains and approached through a narrow gorge, its remarkable carved buildings have remained virtually untouched.
The Western world’s discovery of Petra is historically recorded as follows: "On a journey from Syria to Egypt in late August 1812, the young Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt came upon a group of Arab tribesmen just south of the Dead Sea who had an enthralling story to tell. They spoke of ‘antiquities’ in a nearby hidden valley called Wadi Mousa – the Valley of Moses. Disguised as an Arab, Burckhardt followed his guide to a seemingly solid wall of rock, which, as they approached, revealed a narrow, deep cleft. After walking for about 25 minutes through a winding, almost sunless gorge, known as the Siq, he was suddenly confronted by the reddish-pink facade of an elaborately carved building 90 feet (30 meters) high. Stepping into the sunlight, Burckhardt found himself in the main street of ancient Petra – perhaps the most romantic of all ‘lost’ cities. It was a memorable moment, for he was the first European to set foot there since the Crusaders in the 12th century."
Petra’s inaccessibility has been its salvation. Today, travelers say it can still only be approached by foot or on horseback, and the initial impact of the city is breathtaking: depending on the time of day it appears red, tangerine or apricot, deep crimson, grey, or even chocolate brown. Archaeologists have now pieced together some of the city’s past and dispelled the 19th-century belief that it was merely a necropolis – a city of the dead. Firm evidence suggests that Petra was once a city of at least 20,000 people. Records show that the colonnaded main street – still visible today – ran parallel with the river bed of the Wadi Mousa, and was originally lined with shops; and the semicircular tiers of stone seats of the theater, built by the Nabataeans but later refurbished by the Romans, could accommodate 4,000 people.
Records reveal that by the fourth century BC, Petra was inhabited by the Nabataeans, an Arab tribe who cut many of the buildings out of the sandstone rock faces and lived in the numerous caves throughout the city. The site was a natural fortress; thanks to a series of channels and pipelines it had a constant supply of spring water, and it stood at the crossroads of two major trade routes: east-west joining the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, and north-south connecting the Red Sea with Damascus.
In AD 106, the city was annexed by the Romans, and continued to flourish until around AD 300, when the stability of the Roman Empire was beginning to crumble. Records show that during the fifth century AD, Petra became the seat of a Christian bishopric, but was captured by Muslims in the seventh century and subsequently sank into decline and oblivion as more accessible towns, such as Palmyra to the northeast of Damascus, grew up along the trade routes.