Monday, April 2, 2012

The Treasury Petra, Jordan

Petra is one of the most amazing places in the world.  It was the center of the Nabatean Kingdom, and was, amazingly, unknown to the outside world until 1812.  The Nabateans were traders whose caravansary worked the area from the Dead Sea down to present day Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.  Their power came from these trade routes, which started out from oasis to oasis, but then evolved to a complex network of man-made oases, where cisterns were dug into the rock and thus the annual rains would collect in these cisterns, and then the caravans would use them as watering stations for their camels.  In a way, they made the desert their fortress, because without the knowledge of where these watering holes were, the invaders and bandits were out of luck. They, and they alone, could get the goods from one spot in the desert to another.  They were FedEx before FedEx was FedEx.

Petra was carved from the sandstone of the Jordanian desert in the 300 B.C. era, and was remarkably unnoticeable from the surrounding countryside.  It really amounts to a canyon, with its own water supply (controlled by a sophisticated aqueduct system) and inhospitable surroundings which made invaders more reluctant to pick a fight.  Out of this sandstone canyon were carved spectacular buildings, most of which had Greek-inspired architecture, and the most spectacular of these is The Treasury, which is, as one of our playas pointed out, known as Al Khazneh in Arabic.  There are lots of yarns about why it was called the Treasury, but I'm pretty sure the real reason why is that the Swiss archeologist who discovered it probably labelled it according to his own sensibilities. (Hey, he was Swiss; the Swiss really, really love their banks, and so you see where I'm going with this...)

One of the Indiana Jones movies was shot there, as another playa pointed out, and the area outside the actual historical site is replete with Indiana Jones souvenir shops.  You can take camel rides, but the rides are sort of like the pony rides we used to take as a kid, with the actual Jordanian camel driver leading your camel past all the historic sites, before they drop you off at their cousin's souvenir shop.  They are pushy, but in a roguish, fun sort of way.  Their kids can work a crowd for money better than Barack Obama, and the mothers usually sit in the shadows, scowling at the western women who are immodestly dressed.  Culture meets commerce.  

Of course, the dromedary camel is the ship of the desert, and although they have a face only a mother could love, they are pretty cool.  They take their time going where they are going, grumble loudly if prodded, and act up for no apparent reason.  Instead of calling them the ships of the desert, it's more like "teenagers of the desert".  

Well, my brain has had a break, so it's back to derm mañana, but many of you hoovered up two points on an interesting little side trip on our road to knowledge.

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