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The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity during the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century.

The first European to describe them was Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt during his travels in 1812.

It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m (9.8–13.1 ft) wide) called the Siq ("the shaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa.

At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (popularly known as and meaning "the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

Another approach was possibly from the high plateau to the north.

Today, most modern visitors approach the site from the east.

There is no more building of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe, such as an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the Sassanid Empire. 130–270) grew in importance and attracted the Arabian trade away from Petra, the latter declined.

Petra is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir.

Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary has existed there since very ancient times. 37–100), describes the region as inhabited by the Madianite nation as early as 1340 BC, and that the nation was governed by five kings, whom he names: "Rekem; the city which bears his name ranks highest in the land of the Arabs and to this day is called by the whole Arabian nation, after the name of its royal founder, Rekeme: called Petra by the Greeks." The famed architecture of Petra, and other Nabataean sites, was built during indigenous rule in early antiquity.

The native dynasty came to an end but the city continued to flourish under Roman rule.

It was around this time that the Petra Roman Road was built.

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