Spectacular 2,000-year-old Hellenistic-style wall paintings have been revealed at the world heritage site of Petra through the expertise of British conservation specialists. The paintings, in a cave complex, had been obscured by centuries of black soot, smoke and greasy substances, as well as graffiti.
Petra was first established sometime around the 6th century BC, by the Nabataean Arabs, a nomadic tribe who settled in the area and laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into Syria. Despite successive attempts by the Seleucid king Antigonus, the Roman emperor Pompey and Herod the Great to bring Petra under the control of their respective empires, Petra remained largely in Nabataean hands until around 100AD, when the Romans took over. It was still inhabited during the Byzantine period, when the former Roman empire moved its focus east to Constantinople, but declined in importance thereafter. The Crusaders constructed a fort there in the 12th century, but soon withdrew, leaving Petra to the local people until the early 19th century, when it was visited by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
At its peak, the Nabataean Empire stretched from modern-day Yemen to Damascus and from western Iraq into the Sinai Desert … at least, according to some historians. No one is really sure how large their empire really was. That is how illusive and mysterious the Nabataeans were. While their caravans traveled widely, it is hard to be certain of the borders of their kingdom, or the extent of their travel.