Sunday, August 24, 2003

Science, trade thrived

The city of Petra in the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan is a hotbed of archaeological and religious treasures. Carved by hand from the rose-colored cliffs of the southern Jordanian desert - several centuries before the birth of Christ - Petra was a natural fortress along an international trade route.

The nomadic Nabataeans who built the city were an early Arabic tribe with a distinct Semitic language and gifts for agriculture, architecture and hydraulic engineering. From the second century B.C. to the third century A.D. the city prospered.

"The Nabataeans, who evolved from nomads to city dwellers in a relatively short period of time, built one of the great urban complexes of the ancient world," says Glenn Markoe of Cincinnati Art Museum, co-creator and co-curator of the exhibition. They developed and maintained an elaborate system of damming, terracing and irrigation that allowed them to maximize the agricultural potential of the surrounding plateau.

The Nabataeans were prosperpous, living well on taxes levied on travelers moving merchandise along the ancient trade routes. The city used the money to build a marvelous metropolis of monuments.

A massive earthquake in A.D. 363 destroyed much of the city, and although partially revived, Petra was never the economic powerhouse it once was. Much of the technological infrastructure that had made life in Petra possible fell into disuse, and eventually the city was abandoned.

In 1812, the "lost city" was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. After hearing tales of a fantastic city built of rock, Burckhardt walked into the city disguised as a Muslim trader and later described his find to the world.

- Marilyn Bauer

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