Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Five Things You Might Not Know About Petra

The Treasury at Petra is not a treasury at all.

Petra, in Jordan, is on almost everyone's lifelist. The ancient city carved by the Nabateans has entranced travelers for years. Here are five things you might not know about the so-called "rose-red city."

1)  The Treasury is not a treasury. Al Khazneh, as the locals call the Treasury, is a tomb. Its masons carved into the mountain directly, starting at the top, making footholds for themselves as they worked their way down.

2)  Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, "discovered" Petra in 1812. Since the local people were loathe to give away its location to foreigners, Burckhardt assumed the look, persona, and language of a Bedouin and traveled the area under the name Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah.

3) Through a complicated system of cisterns, dams, and aqueducts, the Nabateans were able to save water for times of drought and minimize the impacts of surprise floods. The city prospered due in part to the sale of water, which the Nabateans were able to store effectively. Much of their work can still be seen today on a visit to Petra.

4) Petra's amphitheatre originally sat more than 6,000 spectators for rituals, plays, speeches, music, dance, and all manner of public gatherings and spectacles.

5) It's not over yet. Digging still goes on at Petra today, where archaeologists continue to unearth more of the city.

Ready to see it for yourself? Click here to find Smithsonian Journeys tours that visit Petra.