PETRA (pē'tra). Translates sela‘, meaning rock, cliff, or crag, and, as a proper noun, seems to refer to one or two places in the OT (
PETRA pə’ trə or pĕt’trə (Πέτρα, rock). Ruins of an ancient city in Edom, near the Arabah.
The setting of these ruins is impressive, reached by descending the Wadi Musa and passing through a magnificent gorge with high and frequent nearly-touching walls, known as the Sīq. This gorge is over a mile in length, which provided an excellent defense for the city. The city was situated in an open basin, approximately a mile in length by three-fourths of a mile in width. The craggy mountains surrounding the area are formed of sandstone, in beautifully variegated shades of red color. Perpendicular cliffs are covered with tombs and other facades carved into the native rock. These date primarily from the Nabataean times, as Petra was their capital from about the close of the 4th cent. b.c. to a.d. 105, when it was incorporated into Rom. territory. The Rom. occupation is evidenced by a central paved street, ruins of baths and other public buildings, and a large theater.
The name Sēla seems to have been associated with the ancient settlement, but the only Edomite ruins are found at Umm el-Biyyara, a fortress built on the top of a high and nearly inaccessible mountain standing independently toward the northern part of the basin. References may be found in
G. Robinson, Sarchophagus of a Vanished Civilization (1930), 1-171; “The Excavation of the Main Theater at Petra,” BASOR, No. 174 (April 1964), 59-66; P. Hammond, “Excavations at Petra in 1959,” BASOR, No. 159 (Oct. 1960), 26-31; Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1967), 37, 224.