A Glimpse of Petra
Petra portrays an epic relic that I should reflect on in lyrics.
Thousands of years ago, outstanding sandstone aglow, attracted thousands of Bedouins from the Arabian peninsula, to a mountainside sidereal region in south Jordan. The rocky nature and the inscribed signature would ultimately give the city the shining name of Petra. The inherent insularity of Petra translated into business. The rocky restriction meant to control and exacting tolls from all the trade camel caravans marching through the city. Not only can you get your camel accommodation in Petra, but also and more importantly, you will go through the checkpoints of Petra. Petra is a rose-red city carved in the living rock. It is a stunning stone story of lost treasures and hidden glory. At the onset, I will give you a mnemonic that is laconic and iconic about the chronic tectonic movements that led to the formation of a fabulous fissure. Thanks to this remarkable rift, a formidable Arab tribe is no longer adrift.
The scintillating site of Petra remained an eastern mystery hidden from the west until 1812 when it reemerged from oblivion.
The rediscovery of Petra is tied up with a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a geographer and orientalist, buried in the city of Cairo. In his own words:
“I was particularly desirous of visiting WadyMousa, of the antiquities ofwhich I had heard the country people speak in terms of great admiration;and from thence I had hoped to cross the desert in a straight line toCairo, but my guide was afraid of the hazards of a journey through the
desert, and insisted upon my taking the road by Aqaba, the ancientEziongeber, at the extremity of the eastern branch of the Red sea, where hesaid that we might join some caravans, and continue our route towardsEgypt.I wished, on the contrary, to avoid Aqaba, as I knew that the Pashaof Egypt kept there a numerous garrison to watch the movements of theWahabi and of his rival the Pasha of Damascus; a person therefore likemyself, coming from the latter place, without any papers to show who I was,or why I had taken that circuitous route, would certainly have aroused thesuspicions of the officer commanding at Aqaba, and the consequences might
have been dangerous to me among the savage soldiery of that garrison.Theroad from Shobak to Aqaba, which is tolerably good, and might easily berendered practicable even to artillery lies to the east of WadyMousa; andto have quitted it, out of mere curiosity to see the Wady, would havelooked very suspicious in the eyes of the Arabs, I therefore pretended tohave made a vow to slaughter a goat in honour of Haroun (Aaron), whose tombI knew was situated at the extremity of the valley, and by this stratagem Ithought that I should have the means of seeing the valley in my way to thetomb. To this my guide had nothing to oppose; the dread of drawing uponhimself, by resistance, the wrath of Haroun, completely silenced him.”
The Rose Red City of Petra is un urban agglomeration of glamorous temples, tombs, caves, theaters, and elaborate water systems cut into solid rock two millennia ago. The carving of mountain cliffs and peaks speaks of a nomadic desert people at the pinnacle of health, wealth, and civilization. The Nabateans of Petra, the commercial capital of the ancient world, thrived on resource management and control of camel caravan routes. Around the time Alexander the Great entered the land of the Pyramids, the Nabateans were beginning to carve mountains into fountains, palaces, stables, tombs, and storerooms.
Thanks to Burckhardt, we are hot on the trail of the Nabateans, who created Petra. There is a sense of the Egyptian as we begin at the beginning. That is to say, from the east headed west in our quest, to find the fingerprints of ingenuity and the bright mind behind the fine carving of Petra. As we walk through the gates of time, we encounter the so-called abodes of the genies. The Arabs believed that every poet was connected with an inspiring genie. There are more evident Egyptian hallmarks than the mere natural orientation. We find an obelisk on the trail leading to Petra.
The first glimmer of this lost civilization is found in the 1.2 kilometer-long Siq. It is an iron-laden multicolored sandstone undulating path. Here, the Nabateans began to turn a dry mountain into a washing fountain. We catch a glimpse of a highly sophisticated water system that carried the precious resource all the way to the heart of Petra. A remarkable feat of Nabatean hydraulic engineering that supported 30,000 inhabitants. This crack in the rock is reminiscent of prophet Moses splitting solid rock with a rod to bring water to his people. As you approach the end of the Siq, you discover that the canyon can carry out a plot to blot out the sun.
It gets dark. But only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. That is how nature reveals the treasure, at her leisure, with pleasure, beyond measure. With unconcealed delight, we witness the treasury, Al Khazneh. It is the highlight of all highlights of Petra.
The treasury is a consummate summation of artistic and natural harmony carved in the living rock. It is a symphony of architecture turned into stone. Indeed, the Nabateans with effortless mastery managed magically to let stone set the tone. There is a fine line separating the ridiculous from the sublime, and a tall tale is attached to the name of the treasury. Legend has it that a pharaoh of Egypt in pursuit of Moses hid his treasure in the upper urn. Acting on the legend, treasure hunters over the centuries showered the urn with bullets hoping to shatter the urn and collect the coveted metal. Plinths, pillars, and alcoves form an unmistakable masterpiece of Hellenistic beauty.
Life in Petra must have been like a collection of tales from the thousand and one nights. Thousands of residents for thousands of years. Camel caravans trading in luxury items, expensive. Gorgeous gorge and a fascinating fissure, defensive. Elaborate water management system, extensive.
Five minutes walk from the Times Square of Petra, we reach one of the landmarks in the Street of Facades, which I call
the fifth avenue, a splendid theater completely carved out of solid rock that sat more than 6,000 spectators. On a magic corridor, a door to adore, gates of glory, and facades of fame, the Nabatean movers and shakers integrated the global icons of the world. They formed the Uber, Amazon, and Facebook of the day. This New York modern metaphor is no hyperbole; Petra is four times the size of Manhattan.
Top on the mountain, it looks as if nature had carved the first prototype of a TV screen. Yet, all good things *come to an end. *In 336 A.D. a massive earthquake, of the kind that might have led to the creation of the gorge, hit and ultimately hid the timeless city of Petra. It almost froze in time. Fortunately, the city has been resurrected. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the Jordanian people, government, and teams of international archaeologists.
In the next episode, we continue our climb to the High Place of Sacrifice and to infinity and beyond. We will describe the many temples, palaces, and tombs of Petra, such as Qasr Al Bint.
Qasr Al Bint, the Palace of Pharaoh’s Daughter
As the story goes, the inspired daughter of pharaoh challenged her most persistent suitors to find a way to supply fresh water to her palace. Since the winners in their prime, managed to deliver the precious dowry of life at the same time, the royal princess picked the one who attributed his successful design to the divine. Speculation and folktales aside, this story is remotely reminiscent of the Tale of the Doomed Prince from the golden age of the 18th dynasty in ancient Egypt. A fragment survives in papyrus. It tells the story of a prince who managed to convince a foreign potentate to marry his daughter in an abode beyond the boundaries of his country. The pharaoh’s son succeeds. Thanks to a remarkable feat of physical endurance, a climb.
Today, the local inhabitants of Petra continue to climb and live up to the splendid traditions of Arab hospitality. They still take the time to prepare fresh juice and luscious dishes for the tourists.
As the tectonic force splits
The city rocks with glamour and glitz
While every element the grammar fits.
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