ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View


Exploring the Ruins of Petra


Determined tourists travel thousands of miles to see the remains of old civilizations. They trek across deserts, jungles, and continents to visit places like the Inca stronghold of Machu Picchu, Mayan relics in Chichen Itza, and ancient Pompeii. But for archeological aficionados the ruins of Petra in Jordan have always topped the list. This city was carved into the golden sandstone cliffs by the Nabateans -- nomadic Arabs who settled in Jordan more than 2,600 years ago. Our adventurer, Joan Reinhardt Reiss takes us halfway around the world and back in time to Petra.

Exploring the Ruins of Petra
By Joan Reinhardt Reiss

Listen with RealAudio: Exploring the Ruins of Petra

A visit to Jordan was a chance to walk in the footsteps of my ancient ancestors. I'd heard the ruins in Petra in Jordan are truly spectacular, rivaling Pompeii and the Incan stronghold of Macchu Picchu. It's only since the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that tourism has thrived in the region. So we lined up a private tour complete with van, guide, and driver.

I'm now taking you to the Aquaba border where we will be crossing over to Jordan. This procedure is like this, when we get to the border the security will stop us before entering.

Ruins of Petra We bump our way across the brown semi-desert in a new van. The Red Sea stretches out to the south and dead ahead the resort city of Aquaba shimmers in the sun. We're dropped at a white wooden single story building without air conditioning. There are about 100 other tourists milling around. Crossing from Israel to Jordan is a high security experience.

Do you carry kind of weapon, ammunition? No, No.. May I see the passports please, I just want to see that you have one.

"Thank you"

Finally, we're in Jordan. The first thing I notice is the music -- it's everywhere -- in our van, during meals, even lurching through a scenic day long desert tour in World War II jeeps.

Muhammed, our guide to Petra, seems impervious to the desert. Without sunglasses, hat, or water bottle, he can walk and talk longer than any of us. If we were inattentive, or talked over him, he had a phrase,


"Excuse me please!" becomes the trip mantra.

As we approach Petra, the desert foothills gradually become high cliffs and slick rock that resembles Utah sandstone. My expectations rise as we walk into the "Siq," a narrow path between the red and golden, eroded rock cliffs, which tower 600 feet above us.

This narrow path is partly why the ancient nabateans built Petra here...a small force could defend the hidden fortress city against a much larger army...much of Nabatean history is still guesswork, but we do know their kingdom rose in the 6th century BCE and they flourished by controlling Middle Eastern trade routes stretching over a thousand miles from Damascus Syria to southern Saudi Arabia. In return for protection from bandits and access to water, the Nabateans imposed heavy tolls on merchants trading silk, ivory, spices and animal hides. Even today, nomadic Bedouins still make their living from travelers by selling transportation.

"Donkey? Want to ride donkey here? Donkey ride?

"Like to ride a camel? No, thank you!"

Even the lovely song in the background translates to "How about a donkey?"

Ruins of Petra The Siq narrows even further until suddenly through the large opening between the irregular rock cliffs the sun illuminates our first look at the Treasury -- Petra's most famous building.. The exquisite golden temple, high above us has unbelievable Greek columns and statues carved directly out of the rock. The building served as both temple and tomb - one of the many Petra tombs. The statues are a bit worn and headless but the temple is in remarkable shape for something built about 2,000 years ago. You may have even seen it in the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

"Excuse me please, please. Now we are passing the Treasury."

Rumor has it that the "protection tax" paid by trade caravans didn't always work. After the downfall of the Nabatean Kingdom, bandits robbed merchants and hid their looted gold here earning it the name Treasury.

Muhammed explained that one Nabatean King used some buildings as guesthouses for friends, and a later, less hospitable king buried defeated enemies here.

Most tourists stay and explore the lower tombs in the flat sandy area in front of the Treasury. But there are many buildings and tombs above the cliffs and only the more hardy souls venture up!

Petra is a huge complex of buildings as we can see from the 890 stone steps up to the Monastery. We're accompanied by a Bedouin who's herding his goats along the same path.

Like all Petra ruins, the Monastery is carved directly into the rock. We walk inside and discover the back of the building is the mountain itself.

"Excuse me Please!"

"I think it's good to climb here to see the Monastery."

"Oh it's beautiful! Oh yeah!! Can see a huge carved about 48 meters height with 54 width."

The Monastery was carved more than three centuries before Christ was born. Yet, archaeologists have found crosses within, indicating that later the structure was a Christian church. As we start to walk down, I wonder how many more centuries and transformations Petra will see.

In Petra, Jordan, this is Joan Reinhardt Reiss for the Savvy Traveler.


[ Features Index ]


American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy