Little Petra: A lesser-known glimpse into Nabataean lifestyle

Little Petra
(Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN — Ten kilometers north of Petra hides the mysterious ancient site called Little Petra, a place of silence, peaceful breezes, and an enigmatic history. And a place where bedouin tell tales of generosity, knighthood, and romance.اضافة اعلان

The name “Little Petra” came from the site’s rock-carved facades, which resemble those in “greater Petra” and a small natural gorge, which is the main entrance. Another name used by locals for over centuries for the site is “Siq Al-Barid,” which means “the cool gorge”.

Historically, experts say that Little Petra was a suburb of Petra that was repurposed into a caravanserai, where hundreds of camels and merchants traveling the ancient world stayed and exchanged goods. This purpose is indicated by many structures visible in and outside the site.

Arriving outside Little Petra, visitors can start their tour at “Beer Al-Arayes,” a reservoir cut into the side of a mountain. Among the many reservoirs near Petra, Beer Al-Arayes is one of the largest discovered, with the capacity to store hundreds of cubic meters of rain water that drives down through rock carved channels, which ran from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Standing at the door of the reservoir, visitors can see stairs leading down into a great cave, which allowed individuals to follow the level of water and fill their buckets.

Just outside Little Petra, spacious fields are thought to have hosted hundreds of camels with some rock ramps that were used for loading and unloading goods.

At the door of the site, a façade welcomes visitors, with a recess that would have once held a statue of a Nabataean deity. 

The narrow siq leads visitors to a larger canyon flanked by two lines of facades that are decorated with Nabataean-style columns and capitals. These facades would have served as rest houses where merchants stayed and rested until their goods were exchanged. At the end of the canyon, an incredible facade contains fresco on plaster that exemplifies the wealth of the Nabataeans. 

Built during the first century AD, Little Petra helped enhance the infrastructure the Nabataeans needed to bolster their economy, which depended mainly on trading goods they either produced themselves, such as pottery and tar, or that they brought from across the world, such as damask and silk. 

In addition to trade, the Nabataeans excelled at water engineering and harvesting, which is clear from the reservoirs at Little Petra. Visitors can still see the water reservoirs that changed the arid landscape into an oasis with an abundance of water that was used for not only drinking but for large-scale agriculture as well. 

Little Petra, in addition to its archaeological value, is often hailed as a more relaxed, less crowded alternative to Petra itself. It provides a candid glimpse into life as it was thousands of years ago for the Nabataean people who roamed and cultivated Jordan. The site is a worthwhile addition to any tourist or local’s travel itinerary. 

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