I entered Jordan at the port of Aqaba on the Red Sea in February, 1989. From there I made my way to the village of Wadi Musa which is a base for visiting the ancient ruined city of Petra.
Petra was established by a people known as the Nabataeans and it was an important hub along trade routes running between India, the Arabian peninsula and Rome and Alexandria. From Yemen came incense and aromatic plants such as aloe and myrrh. Spices were transported from India and dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world.
Petra reached its zenith between the 3rd century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. The Nabataeans were experts in water engineering and they developed a very sophisticated system of reservoirs and irrigation channels. This allowed Petra to act as a watering hole for the spice trade between Asia and the Roman empire and become rich as a result. After the Romans annexed Petra in A.D. 106 it went into a gradual decline and was eventually forgotten about by all except the local Bedouin people.
The Nabataeans carved their buildings into the walls of the canyons that snake through the area instead of creating free-standing structures. The local sandstone is comprised of bands and swirls of reds, browns, and yellows which makes the plain interiors of Petra’s buildings come alive with a riot of colours. It’s this colourful rock that gives Petra the nickname of the Rose City.
Unfortunately, sandstone is easily eroded and the carved exteriors of buildings that are exposed to the wind have been largely worn away. It is only those structures that are sheltered from the wind by nearby rock faces that are still well preserved.
Before visiting Petra I had spent a month in Egypt where I got to see many majestic ancient sites. In that regard, Egypt is a tough act to follow. However, I was very impressed with Petra and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to wander around the city and its surroundings for 3 days and have it mostly to myself. I’m not sure if that would be possible now.