An Arabic Prayer

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Petra Falls Silent

Obscurity clouds Petra's final years as an urban center. Athenogenes, bishop of Petra in the late 500s or early 600s, makes the last historical reference to the city and its Byzantine population. The ensuing silence in Byzantine and early Islamic sources suggests that Petra's cultural and religious importance had ebbed.

In the early 600s, Muslim Arabs arrived in Petra from the south, near Mecca; the impact on Petra is unclear. An early clash did occur between the Islamic forces of Muhammad and the Christian Arab population at Mu'ta, about 50 miles northeast of Petra. But transition to Islamic rule in southern Jordan seems to have been largely peaceful, reflecting Islam's historical tolerance of Christianity.

In AD 1276 a sultan named Baibars stopped briefly at Petra. More than five centuries would elapse before another outsider--the adventurer Johann Burckhardt--came to the site. His tale rekindled the interest of the wider world, drawing us once again to Petra's hidden canyon.