Posts Tagged ‘jordan’

Five Things You Might Not Know About Petra

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

The Treasury at Petra is not a treasury at all.

Petra, in Jordan, is on almost everyone’s lifelist. The ancient city carved by the Nabateans has entranced travelers for years. Here are five things you might not know about the so-called “rose-red city.”

1)  The Treasury is not a treasury. Al Khazneh, as the locals call the Treasury, is a tomb. Its masons carved into the mountain directly, starting at the top, making footholds for themselves as they worked their way down.

2)  Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, “discovered” Petra in 1812. Since the local people were loathe to give away its location to foreigners, Burckhardt assumed the look, persona, and language of a Bedouin and traveled the area under the name Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah.

3) Through a complicated system of cisterns, dams, and aqueducts, the Nabateans were able to save water for times of drought and minimize the impacts of surprise floods. The city prospered due in part to the sale of water, which the Nabateans were able to store effectively. Much of their work can still be seen today on a visit to Petra.

4) Petra’s amphitheatre originally sat more than 6,000 spectators for rituals, plays, speeches, music, dance, and all manner of public gatherings and spectacles.

5) It’s not over yet. Digging still goes on at Petra today, where archaeologists continue to unearth more of the city.

Ready to see it for yourself? Click here to find Smithsonian Journeys tours that visit Petra.

Photo: Not Your Usual Mid-Winter Stroll….

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

After graduating from London University with a degree in biology, lan Felstead took a summer job helping British tourists find their way around in Tuscany. This work ignited a lifelong passion for travel, and he has worked in the travel industry ever since. Today, his work with our partner Cross Culture Journeys takes him around the world. Here, he discusses Petra.

Variegated sandstone burial chambers at Petra. Photo: Paul Cowan

This winter, swap your overcoat for a sun hat and take a stroll through the natural canyons of the 2,000 year-old rose-red city of Petra, Jordan. Carved out of the solid rock by the ancient Nabateans, it became a fabulously wealthy city–only to be lost to outsiders for more than a millennium, and re-”discovered” by Europeans in 1812. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most impressive tourist destinations in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

What was the fate of this hauntingly beautiful place? How did the Nabateans become so wealthy in the inhospitable desert? Why was Petra finally deserted, and left perfectly intact?

Learn about such destinations as Petra on our small-ship Red Sea cruise this coming January. Accompanied by Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Kenneth Perkins, as well as expert Egyptologists and guides, gain a new understanding of the history, the treasures, and the contemporary culture of the mesmerizing and contrasting lands of Egypt and Jordan.

So leave the hat and scarf behind, and enjoy a sunshine-filled tour of discovery this winter–and if you book by December 15, receive a free airfare bonus!

Click for our Ancient Civilizations of the Red Sea tour.

Which UNESCO World Heritage Site would you want to visit?

Petra: A Journey Back in Time

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Leah Ibraheem joined Smithsonian Journeys in 2006, and manages the Journeys Blog, research, analysis, and a number of other projects for the organization. Leah is a graduate of Syracuse University and has accompanied Smithsonian travelers to Holland, Belgium, the Middle East, and across the U.S. Here, she shares her reflections on a recent visit to Petra with Smithsonian travelers.

Our group makes its way down the Siq at Petra. Photo: Leah Ibraeheem

Our group makes its way down the Siq at Petra. Photo: Leah Ibraeheem

I am always curious to know what piques our travelers’ interests, so whenever I staff a tour, I make sure to ask what brings people to a particular tour during our opening reception. During a recent voyage covering Jordan and Egypt, as we stood holding our wineglasses aloft and basking in the lovely breeze off the Dead Sea, I was expecting a variety of answersafter all, this two-week tour promised many unique experiences. This time, however, the answer was simple. One wordPetrawas nearly unanimous.

Petra sits along several ancient commercial routesto Gaza in the west, Damascus in the north, south to Aqaba on the Red Sea, and east across the desert to the Persian Gulf. As we made our way down towards the Siq, we came upon a small shop, stopping to hold frankincense and myrrh in our hands. Our guide Raad helped us to grasp the full significance of these commodities, explaining the true difficulties of transporting them by caravan, resulting in their phenomenal expense.

In Egypt, we later learned about Hatshepsut’s journey to Punt (exact location still disputed), and how archeologists believe she cultivated her own frankincense and myrrh trees after this trading voyage. Back in Petra, we started to make our way down the deep slice in the sandstone called the Siq to discover the first of the caves and aqueducts. (more…)

Petra – City in Stone, Culture in Motion: Dispatch 15 from Extraordinary Cultures

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is fifteenth in a series. To see the other posts, click here.

Dateline: Petra

The famous Treasury at Petra is most likely the tomb of a Nabatean king. Photo: Richard Kurin

The famous Treasury at Petra is most likely the tomb of a Nabatean king. Photo: Richard Kurin

The so-called “Treasury” of Petra—seen in many movies including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, is more likely a tomb and memorial to a king. Indeed, Petra as a whole, extending 20 square miles is a vast ritual complex of cave tombs, memorials and monuments, monasteries and churches that grew over hundreds of years in the southern Jordanian desert. The scale is impressive, and the terrain foreboding and harsh, as sandstone of every color, striation, and pattern forms canyons, rift valleys, mountains, hills, and natural outcroppings worthy of awe and reverence. Indeed, the name given to the place—“Petra”—means “stone” in Greek.

Managing this site couldn’t be easy. A ceramic tile irrigation system carried water down the main siq or canyon. Cisterns held rainwater. Well-engineered streets and paths cross the site. Caves, with pillars, columns, statues and ornamentation were carved out of the soft sandstone. Earthquakes were not infrequent, and building techniques had to account for their impacts.

Mosaic from the Byzantine church at Petra. Photo: Richard Kurin

Mosaic from the Byzantine church at Petra. Photo: Richard Kurin

Almost unimaginably, wheat and grapes for wine were grown in this arid soil. This city of the dead was also a trading center for caravans moving between the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean Sea. It was built and occupied by the ancient Nabeteans, and later subject to Roman and Byzantine influence—apparent in the architecture and in mosaics. Some 30,000 people may have lived in Petra at its peak. We are still learning more about the city and its development and decline as a result of ongoing excavations and projects, including a long-term one run by Brown University’s Martha Joukowsky and reported in Smithsonian magazine in June 2007.