The capital city of Petra (which means `rock`) lies in a natural basin that accessed water through a permanent tract. The area was prone to flooding and the city dwellers used dams, wells, cisterns and water conduits to direct and store water. The Nabataeans (the inhabitants of Petra) lived in a natural oasis and enjoyed great prosperity. Some of their buildings were free-standing while others were carved from the natural rock. The Nabataens used sandstone to create complex structures such as vaults, domes and arches. The stone was cut from a local quarry and transported to the site by a sledge that was dragged over rollers. The Nabataens also used luxury materials such as juniper and olive wood, marble and limestone.
During the building process the craftsmen used pulleys, ladders and ropes to carve their monuments. Working from top to bottom they used picks, hammers and claw chisels on the outer surfaces. Influenced by the craftsmen of Alexandria, the Nabataens created a complex city compound that included houses, tombs, a treasury and an amphitheatre.
Petra was built on an important point on the trading route between Asia and Arabia. Because of this, Petra was a cosmopolitan and cultivated city that was well sustained by commerce, agriculture and water. The population, believed to have been about 20,000 people, was familiar with foreign migrants, their crafts and trading goods. Artistic merit is visible in the decoration of the elaborate buildings and tombs.
The Petra National Trust was established in 1989. Its aim is to protect this World Heritage Site. Petra is now recognised as one of the world’s most endangered archaeological centres. Not only is it damaged by flooding and salt erosion, but also by tourism. Planes and helicopters, once used for aerial tours, threatened the stability of the area. Thanks to the work of the Trust they have now been banned. The Trust deals with issues that concern the local inhabitants who use the site as homes, storehouses and stables.