The Treasury at Petra, Jordan, is one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the world. The structure was carved from solid rock by the Nabataeans, who are thought to have been an ancient Arabic tribe. Very little is known about the Nabataeans. It is believed that they began as a nomadic tribe, wandering the northern Arabian Peninsula in search of water and pastures for their herds of animals. Over time they settled in the area now known as Petra, which was situated at the crossroads of caravan routes that linked China, India, and South Arabia with the Mediterranean world. Capitalizing on their advantageous location and intimate knowledge of the Arabian geography, the Nabataeans became master merchants and traders in the first centuries BC and AD.
Petra may have been the most important trading center of all. Located at the end of a three-quarter-mile long slot canyon known as the Siq, the entrance to the city was wide enough to allow a caravan of camels to pass but narrow enough to be easily guarded and defended. Traders who were allowed through must have been stunned when they rounded the final curve in the serpentine corridor and were confronted with The Treasury. The Nabataeans were eventually conquered by the Roman Empire and their culture gradually disappeared. Archaeologists theorize that they assimilated into Roman culture and lost their separate identity. The Nabataean culture may have disappeared, but their shining red city in the desert remains in all its glory. An early morning walk through The Siq virtually guarantees seeing the Treasury at Petra without crowds, but the true spectacle happens in late afternoon, when the sinking sun turns the rocks and structures fiery red.