Because you're worth it, I knocked myself out putting together a new photo album for you armchair travelers to Jordan:
Even the most sophisticated of travelers would probably name Petra, The Rose Red City in the south of Jordan, one of the most spectacular attractions in the Middle East, if not the world. In 1985 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And just last year it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Many Americans have seen images of Petra, even if they don't quite realize it, because Steven Spielberg filmed parts of his 1989 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade there. In the photograph montage at the top of this blog post are Queen Noor of Jordan (nee Lisa Halaby of the United States) and her royal offspring with Harrison Ford during the filming. If you are a fan of that film, there are additional such photographs on Her Majesty's Web site (http://www.noor.gov.jo/main/albfilm.htm).
The precise historical origins of Petra are unknown, but some sources say it began circa 6th century BC. The Nabataeans--nomadic, tribal Arabs who dominated the Transjordan area and controlled the frankincense trade routes of the region in pre-Roman times--carved this city from towering sandstone walls, deliberately choosing a venue concealed from the outside world. Later the Romans passed through and added a colonnaded street, baths, and their usual flourishes. By the time of the birth of Islam in the 7th century AD, but for a few local Bedouins, Petra had passed into obscurity. And that's where it remained until an enterprising young Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812.
It is almost understandable that Petra would lie dormant for so long. Access to the ruins is just past the Djinn Blocks, the Obelisk Tomb, and the Bab As Siq Triclinium, then through As Siq, a narrow, winding tectonically-produced cleft in the rock that is only about six feet wide but 600 feet high in places and is just under a mile long. Walking through it is like passing through a birth canal for Brobdignans. At the distant end of As Siq is Al Khazneh (The Treasury), where the above photographs of Queen Noor and Harrison Ford were taken. And, from there, the full glory of Petra waits to be explored. Al Madbah (High Place of Sacrifice) and Al Deir (The Monastery) require some conditioning and hiking to reach, but are well worth the effort. Most of the rest of the 800 registered sites, including 500 tombs, in Petra are easy to reach and can be viewed by walking along the well-worn but rocky footpaths or by renting a camel, a donkey, or a horse from one of the Bedouins.
One of the reasons I've posted so many photographs of Petra in my photo album is because, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, it changes moods depending on the weather, the amount of light, the time of day, and other variables. I find Petra most beautiful in the early morning and the late afternoon, when the sandstone appears to be a deep, rusty red. At mid-day, the intense desert sun causes it to take on the greyer, washed out hues you'll notice in some of the photographs.
The first time I visited Petra was shortly after the bombing of Iraq in 2003. Most expatriates and tourists to Jordan had fled to safer lands, so I had the site almost to myself. The ratio of Bedouin vendors to tourists was about 50 to one. The Jordanian Ministry of Tourism is looking to capitalize on Petra's relatively fresh status as a New Seven Wonder, though it hasn't yet built up the infrastructure to support heavy tourist volume. The sandstone is so fragile, a huge part of me is hoping it's never built. Now would be a very opportune time to go, if that's an option for you. But pay attention to the seasons, for it does snow in Jordan, and the desert winters can be bone chilling.
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