February 14, 2005

The Lost City of Petra

Petra has been inhabited since several thousand years BC. At a crossroads between the East and the West, with a local water source, it was a rich trading empire during the Iron Age. The soft sandstone mountains allowed the Nabataeans to carve out elaborate tombs for the richest amongst them to ascend to their afterlifes (note the staircase theme common on many of the tombs). With access to Greek and Egyptian cultures, columns can be seen along with obelisks in the architecture.

Eventually invaded by both the Egyptians and the Romans, the city later fell into obscurity with the fall of the Roman Empire. Interestingly enough, a relief in Egypt by Ramses the III says of this land: "I plundered the tents of their people, their possessions, their cattle likewise, without number. They were pinioned and brought as captives, as tribute to Egypt. I gave them to the gods as slaves in their houses." Mankind once took pride in the success of their warfare, for better or worse we play things much more gently now.

In any case, after the fall of far away empires, and because the city was since largely in disuse by any other than nomadic Bedouins, the original structures were not built-over by newer ones so the city was effectively insulated from the progress of time.

In the early 1800's an intrepid western explorer disguised himself as an Arab scholar and braved these xenophobic lands. His approach to the city was through the narrow siq (canyon), where one suddenly emerges before a monument whose presence is so unexpected it almost shocks the viewer (as seen in the picture above). This is the same route the tourist takes today. The amazing artifacts, and the quality of their preserve, were largely the reason it was chosen for the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

It is also a hiker's paradise. To see all of it you must not only walk a lot, but you must hike up several peaks. You can see in the following pictures me at the Temple of High Sacrifice, on the sacrificial alter, no less, and at the top of the Monastery Peak (video), a climb of 808 steps with a brisk donkey ride business below.

Although I jogged/hiked the peaks, I was not above taking a ride on a ship of the desert (video) just for fun one time in the lower area. The camels here are exceptionally well looked after, as are the horses and donkeys. There is a very large push by the locals to ensure quality health for their animals -- a refreshing site to see such healthy creatures in a role in which they are sadly often ridden to death.

The views are so large and sweeping, and there is so much to see, there is no way you can fit it all into frame for a picture -- so I panned around in these videos from the amplitheatre and from the temple of high sacrafice above it to help convey the idea. In all, an amazing place.

Posted by rick at February 14, 2005 01:05 AM