Following the King’s Highway the traveller comes to Wadi Műsa the village spread along the dried wadi, an ancient Nabataeans settlement risen close to the mythical Ayn Musa (Spring of Moses) that today is fully devoted to cater hordes of tourists. From the hotel terrace the mountainous massif, where Petra is hidden in a deep canyon, seems a compact block of rugged sandstone hills of unusual colors.
The narrow mountainous tract that extends along the eastern side of Wadi Arabah from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea has been, since the xii century B.C, the home of the biblical Edomites later ousted by the mercantile Nabataeans. These Arabian nomads in the iv c BC acquired the control of the caravan trade of frankincense and settled down in Petra gradually shifting to an urban lifestyle.
The outstanding rock-cut tomb facades that make Petra unique in the world appeared first during the 9 BC-AD 40 period when from its origins as a tent encampment the city become the capital of the Nabataean state, a cosmopolitan urban centre, thanks also to the magnificent hydraulic system that transformed the place in a garden in the desert.
When the Romans built a new capital for the Arabian province Petra started to decline remaining only a caravan stop till the Byzantine period (vi century AD) when increasingly bypassed by shifting trade routes, Petra lost its power and remained forgotten to the west. In the early 600s, when Muslim arrived from the south skirted Petra that had already slipped into obscurity. For centuries Petra remained known only to the local Bedouins, sheep and goats grazed peacefully in once noisy squares until when the Swiss adventurer Johann Burckhardt rediscovered the site in 1812.
The site of Petra is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1985.
The described visit has been done in two full days, although more time would be advisable to enjoy the best of the site.