That’s what I kept asking myself as I was watching the PBS Nova episode Petra, Lost City of Stone, which I somehow missed when it first aired six years ago.
This amazing archaeological site in Jordan competes in quality with many others that I have visited in the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern regions. Over the past fifty years I’ve enjoyed the ancient world of Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt—so why not Jordan?
Good question! Why not Jordan? It can’t be because I have some sort of suppressed prejudice against the Muslim world, as I’ve loved traveling to Turkey and Egypt. It can’t be because Jordan isn’t safe, as it’s surely safer than Israel. It can’t be because my academic studies never included anything about Jordan, as…—No, wait! Maybe that’s it! The other four countries I mentioned in the previous paragraph all played a prominent role in my education, but not Jordan.
Anyway, when and if it becomes possible to travel again, I’ll add Petra to my list. In the meantime, go watch the Nova show if you have access to it, either through PBS or YouTube or your local library. Of course this is a well-put-together documentary—what else would you expect from Nova?—but it’s much more than that. It’s a captivating account of one of the wonders of the ancient world, along with videos that show a successful modern attempt to re-create the astonishing achievements of the Nabataeans, who not only did the carving you can see in the image (look at the size!) but also built an entire city that provided plenty of water in the middle of the desert. Here, to whet your appetite, is the NOVA blurb:
More than 2,000 years ago, the thriving city of Petra rose up in the bone-dry desert of what is now Jordan. An oasis of culture and abundance, the city was built by wealthy merchants whose camel caravans transported incense and spices from the Arabian Gulf. They carved spectacular temple-tombs into its soaring cliffs, raised a monumental Great Temple at its heart, and devised an ingenious system that channeled water to vineyards, bathhouses, fountains, and pools. But following a catastrophic earthquake and a slump in its desert trade routes, Petra’s unique culture faded and was lost to most of the world for nearly a thousand years. Now, in a daring experiment, an archaeologist and sculptors team up to carve an iconic temple-tomb to find out how the ancient people of Petra built their city of stone. Meanwhile, scientists using remote sensors and hydraulic flumes uncover the vast city and its sophisticated water system. The race is on to discover how these nomads created this oasis of culture in one of the harshest climates on Earth. (Premiered February 18, 2015)