Famous "Lost" City of Petra, Jordan
In 1812 a young Swiss explorer named John Burkhardt disguised himself as an Arab (he spoke perfect Arabic) and hired a Bedouin guide to take him into the Arabian Desert. Under pretext of making a sacrifice at the Shrine of Aaron, Burkhardt entered the desert with a greater ambition: he'd heard talk of a mysterious city within impenetrable mountains, and he suspected it was Petra, lost city of the Nabataeans.
Nearly two hundred years later, I followed Burkhardt's route through winding, suspense-building Siq gorge to gaze upon the Treasury and other monuments of Petra. Although Petra is anything but a lost city these days, I experienced the same awe and excitement and sense of discovery that Burkhardt must have felt all those years before.
The city of Petra was founded in the 1st century B.C. by the Nabataeans, ancient Arab nomads who settled in the area because of the abundant water, natural fortification provided by the mountains and the gorge, and strategic location along the spice route.
The Nabataeans levied safe-passage tolls on virtually all trade that passed from the East to Europe and Africa. They grew rich in the process, and were also influenced by a variety of different cultures, as evidenced in their unique blend of architectural styles.
There are over 800 tombs, dwellings, and other structures in Petra, and only a few of them are freestanding. The rest were carved by hand into the sheer faces of sandstone cliffs.
Nabataean architecture is represented perfectly in the Treasury. Over 45 meters tall, the Treasury was carved out of the red and yellow sandstone in a top-down fashion by men who must have been equally skilled at rock climbing as they were at carving. Built as a tomb for a Nabataean king, the Treasury gets its name from a long-held belief that it contained a great stash of riches in the urn at its apex. Hundreds of bullet holes in the façade, fired in hopes of dislodging this ancient cache, appear to discredit this theory.
The Royal tombs are equally impressive, notable for the brilliantly-colored sandstone they were carved in, some of it blood-red
Rerouted into Obscurity
This period of prosperity didn't last long. As Roman control increased in the area, alternate trade routes were developed and Petra gradually fell into obscurity. By 1,000 A.D. the city was known only to the local Bedouin tribes
Take a Hike
The Journey is the Destination
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Anecdote about Jordanian hospitality
After our second day at Petra my friends James, Scott and I took a cab back to our hotel. The trip cost one Jordanian Dinar ($1.50).
Later that evening we saw the cab driver at a restaurant. He approached us with a serious look on his face and said, "Who was sitting in the front seat?"
"I was," James said.
"I found this one Dinar coin on the front seat," the driver said. "I think it might be yours."
James checked his pockets. "You know what? I think it is mine. Thank you."
The cab driver handed him the coin and smiled.
Although just a small gesture, that was the single most profound act of honesty and hospitality that I've encountered on this trip. In fact, I don't think I've encountered anything like that at home. Furthermore, I'm not sure if I would have given that money back.