A Visit to Jordan and Jerusalem
Now let's take a look at what makes a visit to Jordan so remarkable. We'll start with Petra, located a few hours drive south of Amman.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, a nomadic tribe of Nabateans migrated from what is now Saudi Arabia to a rugged, arid territory near the southern end of the Dead Sea.
In a narrow, isolated valley, using nearly vertical limestone cliffs as canvases, they carved dozens of colossal facades using the sophisticated style of Greek architecture. Drawing from the ancient Greek word for"stone," they called this place "Petra" and made it their capital.
I approached Petra through the Siq, a mile-long crevice no more than 30 feet wide and up to 400 feet high. Walking in the cool silence on paving stones laid down to serve Roman chariots, I paused to admire shrines, God figures, and giant camels carved into the sinuous walls. Here, and throughout Petra, the limestone is laced with nature's pastel colors: pale yellow, blue, purple, pink, and rose.
Turning the last bend in the winding passageway revealed, across a sunlit open area, the 140-foot tall facade known as the Treasury. Nabatean artists created this three-story structure in the first century B.C. Intended as a tomb, it has only one large room and three small side chambers inside. Above six massive columns and three alcoves housing statues of gods rests a stone urn believed to have held a pharaoh's treasure.
Past the Treasury, the Petra experience consists of following a path known as Colonnaded Street down a valley several hundred meters wide. I marveled at the Roman theatre built to accommodate 8,000, the Lion Monument, the Street of Facades, and dozens of royal tombs cut into the mountainside.
The largest and most magnificent edifice in Petra is a feasting hall more than 165 feet tall. Known as the Monastery, it is located a steep climb above the valley floor.
Invaders who swept across the rest of Jordan inevitably showed up in Petra. The Nabatean example was so powerful that it inspired Romans (who took over in 106 A.D.), Byzantines (fourth through seventh centuries), Arabs (until the twelfth century) and Crusaders to put their own craftsmen to work building additions.
Petra was then abandoned until rediscovered in 1812 by a daredevil Swiss explorer, Johann Burckhardt. Thereafter, Bedouins lived sporadically in the tombs until as recently as 1980.
I stopped for lunch in a very large Bedouin "tent" but, unfortunately, it seemed a little less than authentic. The cook stood behind the buffet table wearing a crisp white jacket and a chef's toque. My waiter wore a jaunty plaid vest.
As I departed Petra through the narrow Siq in a horse-drawn cart locally referred to as a "chariot," I thought how appropriate it was that part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had been filmed in this amazing place. Fantasy within fantasy.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication