Through a narrow gorge it emerges into view, revealing awe-inspiring monuments cut into the surrounding cliffs. What is this astonishing city? Who built it, and why? Two thousand years ago, Petra stood at a crossroads of the ancient Near East. Camel caravans passed through, loaded with spices, textiles and incense from distant regions--and through such commerce, the city flourished. Treasures from The National Archives. All Empires: Online History Community.