|Treasury at Petra|
I well remember the first photos I saw of the ruins of the rose city of Petra, reflecting a two thousand year old Nabataean culture in Jordan’s desert. The most magnificent picture was of The Treasury, delicately carved into the sandstone, appearing to be the facade of a Greek temple. It looked mysteriously deserted. Directors of the movie, “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade”, filmed portions of the ruins and it was soon the major tourist destination in Jordan.
Around 312 BCE., Petra was selected as the capital of the Nabataeans, an Arab tribe that catered to caravans passing through the desert. These early lumbering modes of transportation contained up to 100 people and 1,000 camels and carried the era’s most precious commodity - spices - including the Biblical frankincense. They needed a “truck stop” that could protect the traders and water the animals. To provide this, the Nabataeans developed an hydraulic engineering system that diverted swollen winter waters, pumped water along stone pipes through the canyon and created areas of conservation. Following the adage “if you build it, they will come”, the caravan routes soon included Petra on their maps and its residents became wealthy.
|First glimpse of the Treasury from the siq|
|Carving of camel feet|
|Theater cut in rock|
|Floor Mosaics from Byzantine Church|
Our guide, a former archeologist, explained earthquakes caused the city to decline. At its peek, the Petra area was 70 square miles but today, only 1% has been excavated. Universities and countries around the world are funding and manning the search for more ruins.
|Surveying rock movement|
Jordan is trying to balance the need for tourist largesse and protecting the World Heritage Site. Other than the entry fee, visitors can spend money on horse, camel or carriage rides, pictures with costumed Roman centurions, guides, food, drink, or post cards and jewelry sold by children and Bedouin women. But we also saw archeological digs and a scientist monitoring the movement of an overhead rock in the siq to protect tourists below. Petra is no longer deserted but the excitement now is in what remains to be discovered. - a ruin that just keeps on giving.