From Indiana to Jordan

September 25, 2012

As a young boy, I remember watching in awe as a heroic adventurer named Indiana Jones came upon the staggering site concealing the mythical Holy Grail. The sheer scale and beauty of the place in which he entered seemed so fantastical that I would have been shocked to learn that it was indeed a real location. While the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade may have been a work of fiction, it succeeded in capturing the true sense of wonder evoked by the ruins of Petra, Jordan. Some places prove that seeing is indeed believing.

Over 2000 years ago a people called the Nabateans flourished in what is the present-day Middle East. They chose a geologically dramatic location in which to construct their capital, Petra, and shaped it with equally dramatic rock-cut architecture. An entire city was carved out of sandstone. Today, the most famous site within Petra is the one that Indiana Jones brought to the spotlight: the ancient tomb known simply as the Treasury.

No, the inside of the Treasury isn't filled with treasure, contain The Holy Grail, or look anything close to what is portrayed in Indiana Jones, but never fear. The sprawling site of the ancient Nabatean capital has so much more to admire for the rare soul who is not overawed by the Treasury. In fact, Petra encompasses such a huge area and is so filled with archaeological riches that many people who visit stay and explore for multiple days.

Hundreds of monumental tombs are carved into the rocky hills of Petra. While the burial places have long since been looted, their striking facades remain and serve as testament to the wealth and power of the civilization that was once anchored here.

At the far end of Petra lies a tomb that is every bit as impressive as the Treasury. Arriving requires a long slog through the valley under a hot sun, topped with an exhausting climb. Local bedouins are on the scene to ferry less mobile customers up on the backs of donkeys.

The effort to get to the top is well rewarded. Here stands the largest tomb in all of Petra, an astonishing monument referred to as the Monastery. I arrived at the end of the day, and there was hardly anyone else around. I had space to gape and snap photos to my heart's content.

As the sun neared the horizon, the last lingering tourists parted from the Monastery and headed back down to the valley floor. I was the only one left. For a split-second I fooled myself into thinking that I'd found this place all on my own.

After all, there are some places that even Indiana Jones himself hasn't yet discovered.


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