Richard Nowitz

From their perch atop a rock-hewn mausoleum called el Deir (the monastery), a pair of Bedouin children enjoy a spectacular view of the ancient city of Petra in western Jordan. Founded in the fourth century B.C. by a tribe of seminomadic Arab traders known as the Nabataeans, Petra was once a center of the Near Eastern trade, especially spices, which financed its spectacular tombs, temples, theaters and colonnaded streets. The city was conquered by the Romans in 106 A.D., but remained a vital metropolis until the sixth or seventh century, when—for reasons that are still unknown—Petra was abandoned and sank into obscurity. Rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt (see the first sidebar to this article) in the early l9th century, Petra was mistakenly thought to be simply a huge necropolis. In recent years, however, archaeologists have begun to investigate Petra’s houses, roads and shops—revealing what daily life was like in this city of spice and stone.