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Deep within the deserts of Jordan lies the ancient city of Petra. Through a narrow gorge it emerges into view, revealing awe-inspiring monuments cut into the surrounding cliffs. What is this astonishing city? Who built it, and why?

Two thousand years ago, Petra stood at a crossroads of the ancient Near East. Camel caravans passed through, loaded with spices, textiles and incense from distant regions--and through such commerce, the city flourished. Its people, the Nabataeans, harnessed precious water, enabling the population to soar to perhaps 20,000.

The Nabataeans also erected monumental tombs, memorializing their kings and leaders. But over time political control changed, and so did trade routes. Eventually the city fell silent, forgotten by the outside world.

Today archaeologists are discovering clues to Petra's past. The spectacular objects displayed here, many unearthed by recent excavations, shed new light on this extraordinary desert city.

Exhibition Highlights



Petra Rediscovered

Petra drew the attention of early 19th-century European travelers through the remarkable published accounts of a Swiss explorer named Burckhardt.



The People of Petra

The story of the city of Petra is veiled in mystery. It starts with a group of Arabian nomads called the Nabataeans, who led fruitful lives as desert traders.



Caravans and Commerce

Petra began as a gathering site for Nabataean traders carrying incense, spice and perfume along two major ancient caravan routes.



City of Stone

If shaping the natural world is a sign of civilization, the Nabataeans were one of the most civilized peoples of antiquity.



Daily Life

Despite the grandeur of its tombs and temples, Petra was above all a city of living people.



Icons of the Gods

Although much has been learned about the Nabataeans in the last 20 years, their religious world remains hard to define.



Under Roman Rule

For centuries Petra thrived in its remote valley, queen city of a rich and fiercely independent kingdom. But while it flourished, a superpower--Rome--gathered size and strength 1,500 miles to the west.



The Great Earthquake

Petra has suffered many earthquakes during its long history. A quake on May 19, AD 363 seems to have struck Petra an especially heavy blow.



The Byzantine Era

Two hundred years after Petra bowed to Roman rule, radical changes swept the empire.



Petra Today

With less than one-twentieth of the ancient city unearthed, new wonders constantly emerge at the hands of Jordanian, French, Swiss and American archaeologists.


Special Exhibition

The Bedouin of Petra

Evocative color photographs taken by photojournalist Vivian Ronay between 1986 and 2003 document the Bdoul group of five sedentary Bedouin tribes living around the archaeological site of Petra in Jordan.




Photo and exhibition credits.

In New York, Petra: Lost City of Stone was made possible by Banc of America Securities and Con Edison. The American Museum of Natural History also gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Lionel I. Pincus and HRH Princess Firyal and of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This exhibition was organized by the American Museum of Natural History, and the Cincinnati Art Museum, under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Air transportation generously provided by Royal Jordanian (


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