|Petra (from "petra", rock in Greek; Arabic: البتراء, al-Bitrā) is an archaeological site in Jordan, lying in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Wadi Araba, the great valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It is famous for having many stone structures carved into the rock.
The chief god of Petra was Dushara, i.e. the lord or owner of Shara he was worshipped under the form of a black rectangular stone. Associated with Dushara was Allat, the chief goddess of the ancient Arabs. Sanctuary chambers may be seen at various points in the site of Petra, and many places of sacrifice open to the sky are met with among the tombs, marked by remains of altars. But most eminent of all was the great High-place which has recently been discovered on en-Nejr (or Zibb at 61). It consists of a rock-hewn altar of burnt-offering with a place for killing the victims beside it and a shallow court, perhaps intended to hold water, in front: the most complete specimen of an ancient Semitic sanctuary that is known. Not far off are two obelisks cut out of the solid rock which has been removed to the level of their bases; these were either idols of Dushara, and Allat, or more probably were designed to mark the limits of the izaram of the sanctuary. West of the obelisks are three other places of sacrifice; and on the rocks below worshippers have carved their names (Cf S. ii. 390-404). En-Nejr, with the theatre at its foot, must have been the sacred mountain, the original sanctuary of Petra, perhaps the very high mountain of Arabia called Dusare after the god Dusares referred to by Steph. Byz. . Christianity found its way into Petra in early times; Athanasius mentions a bishop of Petra (Anhioch. 10) named Asterius; at least one of the tombs (the "tomb with the urn?") was used as a church; an inscription in red paint records its consecration "in the time of the most holy bishop Jason" (447). The Christianity of Petra, as of north Arabia, was swept away by the Islamic conquest of 629 - 632. Under the Kingdom of Jerusalem Petra was occupied by Baldwin I and formed the second fief of the barony of Kerak (in the Lordship of Oultrejordain) with the title Château de la Valée de Moyse or Sela; it remained in the hands of the Franks till 1189; fragments of the Crusaders' citadel are still standing near the High-place on en-Nejr. The first Byzantine church was discovered by Kenneth Russell, an American archeologist, in 1991 with the assistance of Dakihlallah, a Bedul Bedouin living in Petra. Currently three churches have been excavated in Petra with the assistance of the American Center of Oriental Research and the Jordanian department of Antiquities.
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