Trip Start Jan 05, 2011
Trip End Apr 26, 2011

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Aqaba, Jordan, Sunday, April 3, 2011 – Day 88


            The most important destination for most of the passengers aboard the Amsterdam is Petra. Having experienced but a small portion of it, I must agree that it is incredible. It is a city of twenty square miles, carved from stone that dates from approximately 4,000 BC when it was then inhabited by the Nabataeans, a nomad society that took up residency in the area. However, the area reflects artifacts dating from as far back as 80,000 to 40,000 years ago. Only a small percentage of the area is excavated. We saw perhaps ten percent of what has been excavated.

            From the port at Aqaba we traveled approximately 60 miles along the Kings Highway to the small town of Wadi Musa where the entrance to Petra is located. The Kings Highway is the oldest traveled road in the world and was built by the Turks. This entire area is steeped in Old Testament Lore.

            Wadi Musa has five star hotels built for Petra tourists. Usually there are long waiting lists for hotel rooms. With the trouble in the area, tourism has dropped by over ninety percent. Most of those we saw in Petra were from our ship.

            The bus dropped us at the Crown Plaza Resort Hotel near the entrance to Petra. Mary and I walked with our group and guide into Petra down the slope toward the Treasury, the most famous of Petra's monuments. Because of loose gravel and uneven stones, walking was somewhat difficult. The distance to the Treasury is maybe two miles. Instead of walking, horse carts and horses are available. But the operators are notorious for quoting one price before they take you down and another when you get there. Also, they move fast and you miss most of the interesting and important sights and the guide’s explanations. They earn their money by transporting people through Petra, so the more trips they make, the more money they make: and therefore, they go as fast as they can. Some of our folks walked down and took the carts back to the top.

            Petra is located in the Great Rift Valley, a long chasm or trench formed thirty million years ago by a series of cataclysms which raised mountains, leaving a deep gorge that goes through Turkey, Jordan, the Dead Sea, Wadi Araba, flattens to ground level in Aqaba, submerges below the Red Sea, and ends in Mozambique.

            The walls of the canyon are red sandstone resulting in the name "The Rose Red City." The city is scraped out of the sandstone using primitive tools.

            The first impressive sight is The Sig – a natural gorge over 1 kilometer long through which we walked. A tunnel was cut through the rock to drain water from the Sig so it would not flood the city. A drinking water system was built along each side of the Sig that takes water from the top by gravity flow. There are carvings in the rock of venerated figures. Many tombs of various sizes; cisterns cut into rocks; obelisks, alters, homes; large courtyards cut out of stone; stairways chiseled from rock; a theatre with seating for 5,000; drainage channels; and elaborate friezes, capitals, and columns are all merely a sample of what’s to be seen.

            We thought we’d seen an amazing feat of sculpture, architecture, and creativity by a tribe of people who had no history of such skills. They left no written history, no record of who or what they believed or how they lived. Virtually nothing explained their civilization . . . except what they had created in stone. What we’d seen was inexplicable. There was nothing more to expect.

             “Hold on there,” our guide said. “Before we go further I want you to close up and follow me slowly around this next bend in the Sig. You’re not going to believe what’s next.”

            We slowly turned the corner. Ahead of us framed by the high cliffs of the Sig was a full sized building exterior carved into the stone. It looked like a Greek or Roman temple. It was so incredible that at first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  As we followed him further the Sig ended in an open courtyard with high cliffs on every side. In front of us was a Romanesque temple. We stood there gaping until a group behind us broke the spell, and we moved further into the courtyard.

            From pictures I knew it was the “Treasury,” the fašade of which is cut into the rock. Its purpose is unclear but most think it is a temple. And this is just the beginning of the many things to see at Petra. The Monastery is an even larger building than the Treasury. Our formal tour ended here.

            Some of our group headed back. Five others departed for a hike to the Monastery which was several miles further. A third group, which I joined for awhile, left to go another mile to another area.

            The Nabataeans remained master of their own destiny off and on, reaching the height of their development of Petra around 40 AD when they became embroiled in Roman advances into the Middle East. Yet they still managed to remain relatively independent until around 106 AD. By 630 AD, the time Roman and Byzantine rule ended, Petra became lost in the darkness of the Islamic world. It was resurrected by the Crusades when it became a fort. Once the crusades ended, Petra was lost again and inhabited by Bedouins. It remained unknown to the world until it was discovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. In 1929 George Horsfield and his British team began excavations. Excavations by others continue to this day.

             Obviously, it is impossible to comprehend Petra in a couple of hours. Its significance is not simply what the Nabataeans created, but, in addition, its historical relationship to events in the Bible.  Perhaps it is not possible to comprehend it in a lifetime.               

            Again, like Luxor, we just touched the surface. But what a touch!  A biblical scholar named John William Burgon called it “A Rose Red City Half As Old As Time.”

            It would have been nice to see more of Jordan. There is something appealing about it that I haven’t felt in the other Islamic countries we’ve visited. Maybe there will be another time.     

            Now we are off to transit the Suez Canal on our way to Israel.



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