Monday, May 17th, 2010
On the shores of the Red Sea. Photo: Leah Ibraheem
The first people known to explore the Red Sea were the Ancient Egyptians, who explored the area c. 2500 BC while looking for commercial routes southward. So how did the Red Sea get its name? Theories abound, but no one knows for sure.
It could be from the red-hued “sea sawdust,” a type of bacteria that grows near the water’s surface. Some historians believe the Red Sea is named for the Himyarites, a group who once lived along it’s shores. Others believe that the “red” in Red Sea is actually a designator of the Sea’s location relative to the ancient Mediterranean world – to the South. In ancient languages, the colors black, red, green, and white referred to North, South, East, and West, respectively.
Wherever the name comes from, visitors to the Red Sea today can take advantage of fantastic snorkeling – more than 1200 species of fish have been found in the coral reef ecosystem of the Red Sea; more than 100 of these have not been located in any other body of water.
If this sounds good to you, join Smithsonian on our Ancient Civilizations of the Red Sea program for a chance to go snorkeling in Ras Mohammed National Park.
What’s your favorite place to go snorkeling? Share your story.
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
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.