Petra, known as the “rose-red city,” is located in today’s Jordan. In the fourth century BCE, the city was the capital of the Nabataean people and the center of a thriving caravan trade in the Middle East. Rock formations which require people to enter the city through a narrow passage (Siq) or through other equally difficult passageways made the city a natural fortress. A massive earthquake in 363 AD accelerated the city’s decline which had begun to occur with the rise of the Roman empire.
The city was “rediscovered” by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 (Burkhardt posed as an Persian traveler when he traveled in this area). Burckhardt’s “discovery” fascinated nineteenth-century Europeans and Americans, many of whom possessed an in-depth knowledge of classical history. Frederick Church, one of the foremost landscape painters of the nineteenth century, traveled to Petra in the 1860s. Church painted this view of El Khasne (Al Khazneh) in 1874 and then installed his painting in the Persian-style house he built high above the Hudson River in New York State. Visitors can still see it there today.
The painting is a depiction of El Khazneh or the Treasury as seen through through the Siq, a narrow passageway which leads into the city.