Still Crazy After All These Years

The ancient Nabataean capital of Petra (a.k.a. the rose-red city half as old as time) satisfies on so many levels. For an obsessive list-maker such as myself it’s status as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, as determined by a world-wide vote, creates a very gratifying CHECK. In addition, there is the Hollywood cool factor: the treasury was a key location in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And if all the above was null and void it would make absolutely no difference at all. Petra would still be one of the most fascinating places on the planet.

You enter the site via the kilometer long Siq, a winding ravine (which actually isn’t a ravine, geographically speaking, but it feels like one). After twisting and turning, anticipation building, the moment when you emerge into the city and are greeted by the treasury’s famous facade does not disappoint. It’s breathtaking.

You think, wow, I’ve seen Petra. Well done, now what? But the fact is, you’ve only seen a fraction. There are so many more, less famous, unrecognizable buildings carved into the pink stone. Somehow, of all of the re-discovered ancient cities in the world, this one seems the most human. I picked out the carved out niche that I would have lived in. I would maybe carve a bit of decoration around the entrance, you know, personalize it a little.

The ancient Petra may be so easy to envision because it isn’t dead and buried and put on a pedestal. It’s bustling and alive! Locals do a brisk business in camel rides and trinkets and drinks, right along the main street, carved right into the cliff, just as they would have two thousand years ago. The potential customer has changed a bit, from Romans and Greeks to Canadians and Brits, but then the Nabataeans were always very internationally-minded. Some people may complain, what a travesty, can’t I just look at these carved tombs in peace! But not me, I like Petra the way it was meant to be: a living, breathing crossroads of the world.

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