Visiting Jordan's hidden city of Petra

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

August 28, 2005|By JOAN FELDMAN | JOAN FELDMAN,Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Petra, the hidden city built by nomadic Arab traders called Nab-ataeans, had always been one of my fantasy destinations, so I was thrilled when my daughter, Marian, asked me to travel through Jordan with her before she participated in a workshop for Iraqi scholars.

More than 2,000 years old, Petra was the main attraction for us, and the site exceeded our expectations.

We approached the vast complex of ruins through the Siq, a narrow gorge winding through lofty cliffs for about three-quarters of a mile. It was awesome when we caught sight of the first and most impressive of the many tombs of Petra -- Al-Khazneh, also called the "Treasury."

It was as though a curtain had been drawn back, revealing the tomb's 130-foot facade, cut from a sheer, rose-colored cliff.

Exhilarated -- and ultimately exhausted -- by our explorations through the ruins, we decided to take donkeys to get to the more inaccessible locations. The climbs were always rewarding. There were spectacular vistas with ancient monuments set amid jagged mountain crags.

Yet, as wonderful as Petra was, we discovered that Jordan and its people were equally fascinating.

The desert of Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, afforded us a four-wheel-drive adventure where we explored remote rock formations and searched for ancient petroglyphs. We climbed Mount Tabor, where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land, and stood on the banks of the Jordan River where John the Baptist once walked.

Castles built during the Crusades, Muslim fortresses, Roman ruins, ancient mosaics and swimming in the Dead Sea were all highlights of our journey.

The food was delicious, especially the meze, a variety of small plates of Middle Eastern appetizers.

But most of all, we were delighted with the hospitality we received. "Welcome" was a word we heard everywhere. We were initially a little nervous about the reception we as Americans might receive in this volatile part of the world. However, though there was general distrust of our government's policies, this did not carry over to us as individuals.

Mohammed, our driver in Petra, invited us home to meet his wife, his 7-year-old daughter and his 4-year-old son.

Mansour, another driver, told us: "We Muslims honor Friday as our holy day; the Jews observe Saturday and the Christians celebrate Sunday. Why not all get together; then we can have a three-day weekend. You know, we all believe in the same God."

With these words of wisdom in our hearts, we look back fondly on our trip to Jordan.

Joan Feldman lives in Baltimore.

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