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A purely analytical perception...


 

Jordan does not have much of a history, because it hasn’t existed in its present form for very long. On the other hand, there is a farming town near the Ain Ghazal Spring, near Amman, Jordan’s capital that dates back over nine thousand years. At that time, it already had 2,000 inhabitants who were prolific in making statues from limestone and plaster, many of which now reside in the Amman museum. About 5,000 years later, Jebel al-Qala’a, a hill above Amman, was fortified for the first time and a village was created there. Moreover, this was an area where a lot happened in biblical times. Lot, the guy whose wife turned to salt, was from this area, and so were Ammonites. King Og fought in these hills, and even King David had his messengers deliver condolence cards to relatives of people who died in the neighborhood. Indeed, this was the land of the Old Testament.

 

There was a lot of fighting that went in these parts during these many thousands of years, but we can say with some authority that Alexander the Great conquered everything as far as the eye could see in 323 BC. Ptolemy II, who succeeded Alexander, rebuilt Rabbah and named it Philadelphia. The Romans followed the Macedonians into the area and named the general vicinity Syria. Philadelphia continued to prosper, and under the Arabs, it became a major regional center in 635 AD, when Philadelphia’s name was changed once more to Amman. By this time, Amman’s influence in the region was at its height, but then a series of deadly earthquakes almost sent the entire area back into the Stone Age. The Ottoman’s hung out in these parts for hundreds of years and didn’t real pull up stakes until they were forcibly thrown back north to Turkey by the end of World War I.

 

One of the truly extraordinary places on earth is the country of Jordan. It is an outgrowth of the partition of the British Protectorate of Trans-Jordan. It would be difficult to identify any place on earth that is literally so bleak, and yet, the country has been competently administered by a caring government controlled by a royal family put on the throne of Trans-Jordan by none other than Lawrence of Arabia.

 

The country of Jordan has literally nothing going for it. Moreover, what would you do if you ruled a nation consisting of primarily transplanted Palestinians who don’t do much other than sit around all day and complain about their lot in life and what they left behind. However, that isn’t the whole problem, because your neighbors are such friendly nations as Iraq, Syria and Iran, along with the omnipresent Israel, so your only way to survive may the palliation of your larger neighbors.

 

In spite of the current government’s consistently doing a great soft shoe routine, Jordan has consistently seen attempts to carve them up, first by the British and then by Syria, while their very best friend in the region, Egypt almost destroyed them with lies about what had happened to their air force during their war with Israel. Having lost faith in its neighbors and their being no one else to depend upon in the region, Hussein even took up with Iraq before the Gulf War. Now that they have exchanged ambassadors with Israel, Jordan has made the bet that they can accomplish economically, what they couldn’t come close to doing militarily.

 

Not that they don’t have a great army and not that it isn’t well equipped; its just that it isn’t a match for countries who have oil as their prime natural resource, such as Iraq and Iran Neither are they a match for countries that have substantially larger populations and are client states of Russia such as Iraq, or little Israel who could send them to Nirvana in an instant by pressing the red button that releases its atomic bomb. Indeed, Jordan with the majority of its population being highly militant Palestinians, they are a land that has been in trouble from their inception, both from within and without.

 

For the time being, this little country is stuck with an uneducated labor force, an indigenous population that has little interest in education or bettering themselves, an economy that does not manufacture literally anything of consequence and exports nothing of quality and an agricultural industry that produces little more than the barest necessities for the feeding of its population. The country is now, and has been for the last several years, suffering one of the worst droughts in its history. It has no supply of fresh water and is constantly getting into confrontations over the subject with both Syria and Israel. Its population is revolutionary in nature, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the Jordanian police are very effective, the country would long ago been overrun by its majority population, the Palestinians. One would think that a country such as this would have had a succession of leaders as their predecessors were dispatched, the hearty family running the country seems to have unbelievable resiliency and longevity.

 

The dawn of modern day Jordan began in 1916, when the British and French determined that it was in their best interests to carve up the Middle East from the rapidly receding Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman’s it appears, had made the grave error of going to war on the side of Germany during World War I, which pretty much sounded the death knoll of its empire. The "Great Arab Revolt" began in earnest when, on June 10, 1916, the British agreed to support the Arabs in their bid for independence in exchange for their help in defeating the Ottomans. In the trade for Arab help, Sharif Hussein was to get a mandate over what is now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Jordan, a tidy enough parcel of land.

 

However, in typical underhanded British and French fashion, they signed what was called the Sykes-Picot Accord, effectively giving the French, Syria and Lebanon, while Britain acquired Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. In an even more traumatic move, the British Government in 1917 signed what they called the Balfour declaration, which effectively called for a Jewish State to be created in Palestine. In one fell swoop the Brits hung their friend Sharif Hussein out to dry in exchange for his help on their behalf, then hung the Zionists out to dry with the Balfour declaration, a document that is worth about as much as a wooden nickel. The British theory was that you can say whatever you want publicly and sign whatever documents you want privately, but the only thing that means anything lasting is, what is the best interests of England when the chips are down.

 

Knowing that the British were more than a little kinky in their international deals, the Emir Abdullah, Hussein’s second son, met with Churchill in Jerusalem and secured recognition of the state of Trans-Jordan. The Balfour Declaration, corrupt to begin with, now became utterly worthless because Trans-Jordan, which contained Palestine, was to be excluded from the agreement. Pretty cute, those British, and they fancy themselves to be statesmen. Abdullah became the first ruler of the Trans-Jordan, but it wasn’t until after the end of World War II that it became a sovereign nation, with full independence being granted on May 16, 1946. Naturally, the Emir was overjoyed with his appointment and logically nominated himself to become the country’s first king, and since no one seemed interested in disputing the point, he promptly anointed himself as the country’s monarch. Especially when they saw those bearded people with muskets and carbine rifles sitting on horses right behind him. Yes Sir, King!

 

Almost simultaneously, the displaced Jews from World War II were lobbying for a homeland, and naturally, their first pick was Palestine, where someone seemed to remember that they had been promised their own country by the British three decades earlier. In the meantime, the area now called Israel was a Protectorate of the British, and although they diligently worked at keeping the Jewish war victims from even reaching the shores of that country, many were successful at entering and most came with loaded weapons.

 

It didn’t take long for the Jews to start giving the British the time of their lives in Israel. At the same time, the United Nations was becoming very serious about partitioning the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and handing a piece of it over to the Jews. This didn’t sit well with the Arabs, the Palestinians or the despised British, who were now becoming desperately worried about where their oil would come from if they kept their word to the Jews. In spite of the fact that no one seemed to care about these folks that had gone through the horrors of World War II in frightening fashion, in 1948 the United Nations ceded the territory for a Jewish homeland. This action, incidentally, was the last time that the United Nations voted favorably for anything having to do with Israel. Israel was never even given the right to become a member of the Security Council, something ever other nation belonging to the United Nations had as an inherent right, because they did not belong to a particular block, a prerequisite.

 

By this time, the British, who had been shot at, blown up and kidnapped, had enough of this hellhole and pulled out, and the Jewish settlers moved right in. Two things transpired next: first, one million Palestinians grabbed their belongings and headed for Jordan, creating one of the most unnatural exoduses in modern history and a major hardship on this poverty stricken country, which literally didn’t have a dime in its treasury. However, if you thought this was bad, things soon got even worse for Jordan, due to the fact that the Arab countries declared war on Israel and Jordan was elected by proxy to lead the charge. Jordan’s army was literally shattered in that action, and as the victor, Israel now laid claim to Galilee, the Negev Desert, the Mediterranean coast and almost all of Jerusalem. Other combatants gave up no ground, and Jordan was the only loser in terms of land, lots of land.

 

If that wasn’t bad enough, on July 20, 1951, as King Abdullah was entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Friday prayers, a shot was fired at him. His grandson, the future Hussein, flung himself in front of the bullet, which hit one of the numerous medals on his chest and was deflected right into the heart of his grandfather. Hussein achieved the throne when both of Abdullah’s children (Hussein’s father and uncle) had to be ministered to for serious physical aliments. He was just eighteen years old at that time and a student in England. Some initiation for a kid that age, and now how was he going to hold this thing together? If that option had been available to me at that age, I think I would have opted for the Peace Corps or the Taliban instead.

 

Hussein had over the years survived assassination attempts, coups against his family, wars against his kingdom, droughts, plagues, famine and disease. Clearly, he was a genius, both militarily and in terms of being able to successfully govern and survive in this very difficult place under these harrowing conditions. The mere fact that he endured forty plus years as king should attest to his intelligence, his guile and maybe, most important of all, the esteem in which he was held by the people he ruled.

 

Nevertheless, while he was still a young monarch, another crisis lay just around the corner. In 1964, at a summit in Jerusalem, the Palestine Liberation Organization ("PLO") was formed. Its sole reason for existence was publicly stated as the liberation of Palestine from the Zionists. With the majority of their population being Palestinian, Jordan signed an alliance with the PLO, but this really annoyed Israel and caused them wreck more havoc on Jordan. On the other hand, what was this poor king to do, since he was cooked if he did, and roasted if he didn’t sign on with the PLO.

 

The next crisis for Jordan occurred in May of 1967, when the highly unreliable and egocentric President Nasser of Egypt on a lark ordered the United Nations Emergency Force from the Sinai, where they hadn’t been doing much of anything anyway for the last 10-years. While on a roll, he also took a shot and banned Israeli shipping from the Straits of Tiran, the mouth of the Red Sea. Moreover, Nasser looked tough to Hussein, who was still a bit wet behind the ears, and he signed an alliance with Nasser agreeing that each country would come to the other’s aid, should they be attacked by Israel. The kid never saw it coming and had been sold a whole bunch of snake oil.

 

Israel was definitely not pleased this time, and they attacked Nasser’s pride and joy, his air force. They hit all Egypt’s warplanes on the ground, and the war was over for all practical purposes before it even began. The only trouble was that the sadistic, Nasser figured that since he would be taking all these lumps, he would see to it that his friends the Syrians and the Jordanians got beat up a little as well. He told his allies that everything was fine and that his air force was dealing with the Israeli’s air force in fine fashion. Israel proceeded to hold the Syrians and Jordanians in place while it literally carved up the entire Egyptian army and crossed the Suez Canal. If it wasn’t for threats from the Russians and cooler heads in Washington, there was a straight path for Israel to be in downtown Cairo the following morning with no one standing in their way. On the other hand, the Israelis were well aware of the fact that if they captured Cairo, they would have to feed all of those Egyptians and didn’t believe that this was their problem.

 

Having dispensed with Egypt, the Israeli’s turned their highly mobile army on the intransigent Jordanians and the Syrians. When it was all over, thanks to Egyptian leader Nasser, the Jews now controlled the Golan Heights and all of Palestine sending another unwanted exodus of refugees scurrying across the Allenbe Bridge into exile in Jordan. Here was a country that did not have enough money to feed its own people and now was getting its second major inhalation of poverty stricken refugees, about 200,000 who fled with only what they could carry on their backs. Jordan lost 6,000 brave men, thanks to being totally misled by their good friends in the region, but who was Hussein to argue when Egypt was 10 times Jordan’s size and the unquestioned leader of the Arab Block. Hussein, always the diplomat, kept his temper and never said a bad word about the man who had caused so much hardship for his country.

 

This came at the most inopportune of times for the Jordanians for other reasons, for what little agriculture they were producing was coming from what now is called the West Bank and had fallen to Israel. Their agriculture stopped dead in its tracks. No agricultural production, no manufacturing and no money, the Jordanians were in some pickle. Moreover, they had just started to cultivate somewhat of tourist trade. War breaking out on a regular basis in the area, with Jordan seemingly always losing, curtailed most tourism. Once again, they had shot themselves squarely in the foot.

 

Hussein grew up and started to become very wile very quickly and was able to extract himself beautifully when the PLO hijacked four planes with their passengers and crew and set them down at Amman’s airport. A younger Hussein might have been tempted to storm the planes, kill the PLO and then worry about the passengers and crew; but the more mature Hussein negotiated the hell out of the PLO, and before it was over, he looked like, pardon the expression, Solomon. He had gotten the PLO and Egypt to sign an agreement that either the PLO would conform to Jordanian laws, or they would release the planes, crew and passengers and pack up their tents and leave. The PLO did some tent folding and left.

 

The rapidly evolving King Hussein was also smart enough to stay out of the October war with Israel in 1973. The Arab League cried foul. Nevertheless, while they were once again having their heads handed to them, Hussein was not even being bloodied. Well, that wasn’t quite true, because he had the foresight to have sent a small force to help his enemies in Syria fight the Israelis. Not big enough to annoy the Israelis, mind you, and not too big to be of much help to the Syrians. The Syrians and Egyptians tried to turn public opinion in the neighborhood against King Hussein, but over time, Hussein was able to convince his Arab brethren that his heart was in the right place and surely must have been temporarily out of his mind to not declare war on Israel. After a series of open confessionals, he was once again allowed back as a card-carrying member of the Arab Coven.

 

Hussein had now learned how to deftly play two ends against the middle by sitting on his hands and talking the good game. However, his skills became seriously tested, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. This didn’t just annoy the Western countries, it enervated them. The largest force in Saudi Arabia since the Second World War was assembled to defend the West’s friendly oil pipelines. In case you didn’t know it, it was Hussein’s relatives who were in charge of Iraq, so he should not be faulted for being a tad overly friendly with his wacky cousins. Besides, his Baghdad relatives were sending some extra oil now and then to Jordan in exchange for his good wishes, and nobody else seemed to really give a damn. It seemed like a good port in a storm, but how could Hussein know that Iraq would invade Kuwait.

 

Just picture the King of Jordan finding out about Iraq’s transgressions in Kuwait from his top aid and saying, "They did what?" This clearly must have sent the poor King, who was now getting up in years, into trauma. He had become craftier than a fox in his old age, but his Baghdad cousins had really gotten him wading up to his ankles in alligators this time. With nothing better in mind, the King put on his traveling uniform and spent the next several years telling everyone that would listen how sorry he was about everything that those people in Iraq did while continuing to accept their largesse in oil. Eventually they listened, not because they believed that he was one bit sorry for anything, but because he had done for his country what he had to do, but because he had just picked the wrong side. The Western Countries were willing to forgive him because without Hussein, there would probably be a revolution, and who in their right mind including the Arabs would want a real Palestinian state sitting in their midst anyway.

 

Jordan’s next move in 1993 was to recognize Israel, in what; at the time was one of the really weirdest scenes in history. On the White House Lawn were Yaser Arafat, King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands. Hard to believe, but that really happened. In 1994, a formal treaty was entered into with Hussein logically believing that he had tried his best to become a good Arab, but he had been screwed by his supposed friends just about enough. Any more help from his Arab brethren and Jordan would become the only Stone Age country on earth. This time, of course, Hussein was looking to work out an economic arrangement with Israel that would put his people to work, calm the region, bring back tourism and pacify the PLO. Some of this worked and most didn’t but nobody was worse off for the deal but the intransigent Syrians.

 

However, not all of the Jews were excited by an alliance with Hussein, and Yitzhak Rabin was soon murdered for his efforts by a Jewish radical. Eventually though, negotiations began with Yaser Arafat and his friends at the PLO that could lead to statehood for the Palestinians if the Sun was positioned correctly in the sky. Talks didn’t make much progress under a right-wing Israeli Government, but when that government fell, a more charismatic Israeli leader, Barak, thought he could make some serious headway with the Palestinian Statehood issue. He received a Parliamentary mandate to take certain very aggressive initiatives, but in the midst of what looked like an historic breakthrough, orchestrated riots broke out on the West Bank and Gaza, temporarily breaking off talks. Hussein, suffering for some time with cancer, died during this crisis, and his meticulously groomed son Crown Prince Hassan ascended the throne.

 

In the meantime, disaster almost struck again when the usually reliable Mossad botched a hit-job in downtown Amman. It turns out that Khaled Mishal, an official of a radical group of Palestinians, Hamas, was in town for a social event, or so he said. The Mossad believed that dead men don’t tell tales and determined to do away with this fanatic. The hit was bungled and Khaled screamed bloody murder. Jordan once again was put in position where they had to extract something from someone to survive because they had allowed the Mossad on their territory, an unforgivable event in Arab lore.

 

Through adept negotiation, they got their newfound friends from Israel to release the hated spiritual leader of the Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, from a jail where, under normal conditions, he would have rotted for the next 200 years whether he lived that long or not. This was purely done as the price for continued diplomatic relations. Some well informed people say that in reality, Amman told the Israelis that if they really wanted to maintain diplomatic relations with Jordan, in the future, they had better carry out their hits in the dark of night and leave no evidence when they go after the Hamas. They punctuated their remarks by indicating to the Israelis that they should not send amateurs to do a man’s job anymore. No country knows better how to get out of town quietly after totally screwing up with more panache' than the Israeli intelligence unit and the skulked inaudibly away.

 

Shortly thereafter, many of Jordan’s newspapers were forcibly closed so that the coming elections could be conducted without adverse propaganda to the reigning government. In this instance, the government did the intelligent thing of closing on opposition publication, a really smart move. However, this enervated the Human Rights Watch, which issued a damning report on the state of human rights in Jordan, and especially the treatment of women. Naturally, all of the opposition candidates were soundly trounced in the election, as were the nineteen ladies who had run for office. The Human Rights Watch claimed a psychological victory because they had been right but that didn’t do them any good.

 

Interestingly enough during the same period, the old guard in both Morocco and Syria also passed the mantel to a younger generation by passing away. Hussein’s son is showing that he has many of his father’s charismatic traits, and he has been going out among the population in disguise to see learn more about them and find out about their needs. Nevertheless, while there is no question, he already knows what they need, but it never hurts to mingle; you get to look like a regular guy. He has already become both a prince among men and a king of his country, something that few ever achieve. In Morocco, new leadership is already bringing major changes to that country, which because it is the breadbasket to the Arab countries, this new leadership is going to prove very important in terms of regional considerations.

 

Syria may or may not be a different story. This young man has followed an uncharismatic father who basically did what he had to do to survive as a member of a minority tribe in a backward country. He was obliged to rule with an iron fist, or he would soon have soon become chopped liver. Hating the Israeli’s was only a smoke screen to give the people someone else to loathe, other than their totally despotic leader who was known to destroy whole villages because he woke up with a stomach problem. In addition, he came from a minority party in Syria and from a small town. Not a great forum to build from.

 

There is hope in the Middle East that with this new highly educated and enlightened leadership, things will improve, but some problems just won’t seem to go away. No one ever said that peace will necessarily bring prosperity, and it sure won’t make the Palestinians disappear, at least anytime soon, especially with their having one of the highest birthrates in the world. Sadly, in this region everything is a game of show and tell, and your neighbors must be made to believe that what they think they see is what they are going to get. Hopefully, this region’s leaders may soon be able to see beyond this haze; then again, who knows, nobody has been able to make it work before? However, there is currently a bill before congress that would put Jordan in a special category, at least as far as the United States is concerned. If the bill is enacted it will give Jordan the same status that has been awarded, Israel, Canada, and Mexico; a total free trade treaty. That would really help and at the same time, repay Jordan for being one of our staunchest allies in the world.

 

 

Petra

 

 

When we were vocalizing about the tourist trade and how it could affect Jordan, we were really discussing the future effects on the economy of the ancient city of Petra. Petra, which means "rock" in Greek, is located several hours drive ride from Jordan’s capital, Amman, and could well have hoards tourists streaming into the territory, if only the regional and internal difficulties would calm down for long enough. Petra is something very special in the annals of the world ‘s architecture.

 

Petra was a highly traveled oasis in ancient times, conveniently located among rose-colored sandstone cliffs, and geographically positioned at the focal point of critical trade routes that stretched through this part of the Middle East. Because of this fact, Petra became one of the wealthiest towns on earth because the inhabitants were able to extract an enormous toll from travelers needing right of way, shelter, food and water on their way to their various destinations.

 

These caravans were carrying valuable myrrh, frankincense (at the time, worth more than its weight in gold) and numerous other metals, exotic foods, building materials and the like. Mind you, not that these people were in the extortion business, they were just gatekeepers, and they charged what the traffic would bear and would add a substantial surcharge onto the this, because they controlled the only road that lead anywhere in this part of the civilized world. Keyed by their splendid success in shaking down everyone within a massive geographical area, the Nabateans, as the inhabitants of Petra were called, rolled out their economy and entered sea born piracy as well.

 

Being, basically desert nomads, they were not as adept at handling large ocean going craft and they also were not very good at boarding commercial ships at sea. These were basically landlubbers who had egos as big as the whole outdoors and they had indeed, for once, over-reached themselves. The Egyptian Navy becoming concerned that these strange folks from Petra would soon control not only the there critically needed land routes but their sea routes as well. The authorities in Egypt could not countenance eventuality and soon dismembered the Nabatean’s naval activities. The Nabateans did not cotton to being brought to heel and upped the tariff on all products headed to and from Egypt from that point forward and there was nothing that the Pharaohs and their minions could do about it.

 

However, their land based toll-collection activities permitted Petra’s citizens to engage the finest artisans to create for them all of the amenities that anyone of that age could ever require. It is also well accepted that the Petra City Fathers had significant talent in delicately carving solid rock. It is interesting to note, however, that there is no evidence available that would indicate what, if any, tools were used in one of the most sophisticated remodeling jobs in history making this accomplishment even more outstanding. But they didn’t just make pretty objections with their advanced carving techniques; they created a way of life. The mountains surrounding Petra were remodeled from the top down rather that the bottom up. The process was painful but successful. Groves were carved into the sandstone, and then moistened wood was placed into the groves and allowed to dry. As it dried, the wood expanded allowing the artisan to create shapes and figures that would make up whatever masterpiece he was currently composing.

 

Eventually the resident’s of Petra lived in homes gracefully carved out of the mountains that surrounded the city. When a traveler first gazed upon this amazingly unique spectacle, they were typically thunderstruck by the magnitude of what they saw. As their wealth grew, the inhabitants of Petra wanted to demonstrate that in spite of their origins as desert cowboys, they had some class as well. They wanted to show the world how far they had come but having no natural resources available they were stymied. Ultimately the city fathers came to the conclusion that they would carve magnificent edifices right out of the mountain cliffs surrounding the city. And carve they did, creating theaters, homes and burial grounds out of solid sandstone. Not only that, but they were able to do with an elegance that startled the world. The Nabateans imported materials for their city from all over the world with most coming from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. When all the carving and remodeling was completed, over 800 monuments and buildings had been created with the city’s walls.

 

From a military point of view, the town of Petra was quite impenetrable. Since there was literally only one way in and one way out, if you weren’t an invited guest, you couldn’t come. The road didn’t allow more than one or two people to comfortably pass through the town’s entrance simultaneously. In addition, Petra was built into the surrounding Shara Mountains that encircled it, creating a most magnificent panorama. Weary travelers must have believed that they had found the kingdom of heaven when they arrived. On either side of the narrow entranceway were artisan-produced massive waterfalls surrounding what looked like a magic city, whose face was one of incredible beauty.

 

The reason the city’s buildings were carved out of the surrounding mountains is simple enough, for the people that settled here saw the advantage of location, location, and location. There were no trees or quaryable rock in the near vicinity, and hence building their living quarters by conventional means was not an option. By chiseling their way into the solid rock that abutted the city, they addressed a number of issues simultaneously. The sandstone of the area was rather soft and permeable, which made it easy to shape it into the desire configuration; on the other hand, anything built into the rock walls would be virtually indestructible. In addition, this type of construction would afford maximum protection against the elements, mainly storms, floods and earthquakes, and the invading hordes that would inevitably surge through the region.

 

Moreover, the people of Petra were great irrigation managers. They developed the ability to store vast amounts of water during the winter wet periods and then have it available for drinking and their crops during dry times. In addition, the town was built on a flood plain, so when it rained for any prolonged period and the ground had absorbed everything it could, a tidal flood would develop capable of wiping out all life it its path. However, because of the technical skills of Petra’s inhabitants, they created an ingenious solution to this problem: whatever water came cascading out of the mountains or up the narrow Siq was absorbed in massive cisterns surrounding the city for its eventual use. This allowed the creation of gardens, vineyards and olive groves. When completed, the city of Petra contained an extremely intricate system of aqueducts, water tunnels, natural springs, clay pipes, and cisterns that for its time was far advanced for anything heretofore seen on earth.

 

Through a complex system of aqueducts and water storage structures, the people of Petra were even able to create indoor plumbing. In addition, a technically advanced system of irrigation allowed the simplified maintenance of a system of farms along with gardens, which supplied all of the produce consumed by the population.

 

"Water in the Middle East has always been a primary resource, and part of the success of Petra was because the Nabateans were excellent hydrological engineers. They constructed an intricate matrix of dams, cisterns and clay pipes to not only supply the city with water, but also to provide the city with protection from the flash floods which are common in a semi-arid environment during the rainy season (November to April in Jordan). Ultimately, their expertise would also be their downfall, as it was by capturing their sole water source on which the city was dependent at the Spring of Moses and holding the water supply hostage that the Romans finally conquered the city."

 

While water was the Nabateans salvation, so it eventually was the potential demise of the city in any number of respects. The first problem was the fact that the Romans were able to cut the water supply and, thus, take over the city. The second problem is far more complex:

 

"One of the causes accelerating decay was the Nabateans themselves. Their hydraulic system carried collected water to cisterns, underground galleries, gardens and irrigation systems. Today, water flows unhindered, naturally, and because it is not managed and stored today as it was when occupied, the water table of the area is actually much higher at the dawn of the 21st century than it was at the dawn of the last millennium. As water runs throughout the site, it often pools and sometimes floods, as (it) therefore has for over 1,500 years given a rich mineral bath to the stone structures at the site. Given the relatively porous and conductive nature of sedimentary rock, the minerals in solution in the water travel deep into the stone, where they are deposited and crystallize as the water eventually evaporates. These crystals are the cause of spalling, the "shedding" of layers of stone. 1,500 years of baths is a great deal of accumulated crystals, which work to breakdown the stone from the inside. Then there is the abrasion factor. Water and wind have worked very diligently over the years to scrub away particles, which have reached their goal of again becoming sand and which once loose and carried by wind or water are additionally abrasive."

Some biblical scholars articulated that it was just above Petra where God ordered Moses to produce water for the Israelites by speaking to a rock. Many say that it was this water created by Moses that caused the cavern cut between the rock formations, called the Siq. If it were not for a water bypass being construction by the Jordanian Government, the Siq would be downright dangerous. Twenty tourists were drowned in flash floods in the 1960s.

 

Moses’ brother Aron is supposedly buried on the mountain overlooking Petra, and King David took the place over lock, stock and barrel in a battle. His son Solomon diverted the money that had been flowing to Petra from the trade routes into the Israelite’s own treasury. When the Israelite kingdom retrenched, the Nabateans moved in. Instead of robbing the tourists as others had done, these folks legitimized the business and called it the collection of tolls, much in the way that the State Highway Commissions charge tolls on highways built with taxpayer funds.

 

The Nabateans, until this time, had historically been nomadic and traveled between Syria and Arabia during the 7th Century BC. Ultimately, they turned south and, during their journey, they were able to gain converts and weapons, making them much more of a factor in the area. Eventually, in their travels, they ran across the Edomites in what is now Southern Jordan and dispatched them with aplomb. The Edomites resided in the land that included Petra, and that city at its zenith had trade routes that covered a distance almost as vast as that of the Roman Empire, which bothered Rome endlessly but for a time they couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Indeed, the Nabateans were the only people on earth that Rome had to pay tribute to. This was because of the fact that when Roman goods went through Petra, they were forced to pay the same toll as anyone else.

 

Diodorus Siculus, a Roman Historian of the time, reported that the Seleucid ruler of Syria Antigonus tried to capture Petra in 312 BC. However, would you believe that when his soldiers arrived, no one was there? The town was unoccupied except for a few women and children, who were easily dispatched. Once that task had been accomplished, the Seleucids loaded as many valuables as could conveniently carry on their beasts of burden and then proceeded to cart most everything off. When the Nabateans returned, a short time later, (someone must have accidentally tripped the electronic alarm) and they were really infuriated. They mounted their waiting horses and just like in the old westerns; they caught Antigonus’s men at the pass, slaughtered most of them and recovered their booty.

 

Having more brawn than brains, the Nabateans attempted to rub a little salt in the wounds; a messenger was sent to Antigonus apologizing for all of the bloodshed. A short time later, Antigonus sent them back a message of his own, a slightly larger force, which was also badly mauled by the Nabateans. Antigonus was now really fit to be tied and ordered a national conscription, something that had not been heard of in these parts for years. However, cooler heads eventually prevailed because it was generally agreed that Antigonus could do the Petrans in if really had a mind to. The Nabateans realizing that they had overplayed their hand backtracked and asked Antigonus what it would cost to pay for his loses. Antigonus asked his accountants to prepare a statement of damages, both actual and punitive, another concept that was unheard of at the time, but which made sense under the circumstances. A large sum was named, a deal was struck and Antigonus felt much better (also much richer). This was indeed capitalism at work in its truest sense.

 

The Nabateans did not seem to believe in god in the same sense that other organized religions of the time practiced it. The people of Petra seemed to have attempted to have their religion feed to them in an artistic blend of whatever might have been in at the time. Their people were travelers and they brought back stories of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations. They all eventually left their mark in some manner on Petra. On the other hand, as in the rest of the region, at least until the first century A.D., sacrifice, human and otherwise was practiced and the Nabateans seemed to prefer boys and girls. The Nabateans created carved monuments throughout Petra but there purpose seems to have been obscured by time and today no one is sure of their meaning.

 

In the meantime local combatants, Syria and Egypt were going at each other hot and heavy. While their neighbors were otherwise involved, the Nabateans started grabbing a little land here and little land there. Before you knew it, they had gained control of Damascus and points north, a far piece from their roots. To give you an idea of what was going on at this time we give you someone else’s learned opinion:

 

"The Nabatean capital grew fabulously wealthy on its profits from trade, standing at the pivot between Egypt, Arabia and Syria, and between East Asia and the Mediterranean. Traditional commodities, such as copper, corn and Dead Sea Bitumen (used for embalming in Egypt), were losing ground to spices from the southern Arabian coast – myrrh, balsam and frankincense, the last of which was central to religious ritual all over the Hellenistic world. Pepper, ginger, sugar and cotton arrived from India for onward distribution. Chinese documents even talk of imports of silk, glass, gold, silver, henna and frankincense from a place known as Li-kan, taken to be a corruption of "Reqem." Nabatean power seemed limitless, and even when Pompey sent troops against Petra in 62 BC, the Nabateans were able to buy peace from the Roman Empire for the price of three hundred talents of silver. Petran prosperity grew and grew."

"From then on, Petra was at its zenith with a settled population of perhaps as many as 30,000. The Roman author Strabo describes it as a wealthy cosmopolitan city, full of fine buildings and villas, gardens and watercourses, with Romans and other foreigners thronging the streets, and a democratic king. "The Nabateans", reported Strabo, "are so acquisitive that they give honors to those who increase their possessions, and publicly fine those who lose them." However, the writing was on the wall. The discovery of the monsoon winds had begun to cause a shift in trade patterns: overland routes from Arabia were being abandoned in favor of transport by sea. In addition, Rome was sponsoring the diversion of inland trade away from the upstart Petra, instead directing it into Egypt and via the Wadi Sirhan into Syria, presaging the rise of Palmyra. Pressure on Nabateans to come to heel was inexorable. The last Nabatean king, Rabbel II, tried moving his capital from Petra north to Bosra, but eventually had to strike a deal with Rome. On his death in 106 AD, the entire Nabatean kingdom passed peacefully into Roman hands."

 

Petra was never the same after that, although it continued to play an important part in regional economics for some time. Their leaders socialized with all of the right people and still had money enough in their treasury to buy pretty trinkets, but the city-state’s time had come and gone. Over the a following centuries, a sizeable earthquake or two took a chunk out of this and chunk out that, and finally at 9 P.M on May 19, 363 A.D, the mother of all earthquakes struck Petra fully destroying most of the city that was still standing. The Nabateans sadly determined that Petra was no longer habitable and pulled up stakes. By the 7th century A. D. the area was only populated by wandering nomads and the mystique had died. The Crusaders thought that the mountains surrounding Petra offered cover and built a couple of small forts in their occasional forays into the vicinity. In 1276, Sultan Baybrs the Mamluke, who was on his way to suppress an uprising in Karak, proceeded to enter Petra, "amidst most marvelous caves, the facades sculptured into the very rock face." When he left the city, he was probably the last person to visit it for the next 500 years.

 

In 1812, Jean Louis Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer became the first Westerner to visit the city in centuries. At the time, this was still piece of the Ottoman Empire, and the nomadic inhabitants were not exactly friendly to strangers. Jean was forced to disguise himself as an Arab in order to get into the city. He made copious notes of his trip and reawakened the western world to the magnificence of this most unusual metropolis. British Navy personnel visited Petra a few years later, but Leon de Laborde in 1826, along with British artist David Roberts in 1839, both thoroughly scrutinized the city, and both brought back sketches that were soon grabbed up by wannabe explorers from Europe.

 

In spite of the hardships involved, Petra soon became somewhat of a tourist attraction, and the Ottoman’s were all too happy to oblige. To a minor degree, they spruced up the city and made neighboring accommodations available. From that time forward, it has been the number one location on every traveler’s wish list, at least those who did not need deluxe transportation and accommodations. However, any hardships in getting to Petra are a small price to pay in exchange for viewing one of the most amazing monuments man has ever created. Can you imagine what would happen if Jordan could just get some positive public relations going:

 

"Michelangelo said that when he looked at a block of marble, he saw a figure trapped within it. Nabataeans of southern Jordan were a bit more ambitious. Two thousand years before Michelangelo ever picked up a chisel, the nomadic Arab tribe looked at the cliffs of stones and saw and entire city. Without tractors, jackhammers or even picks as fine as the Italians, they set upon the hillsides and began carving deep into them, hollowing out two-story temples propped on Corinthian columns, tombs bedecked with obelisks and statues of gods, courts, reservoirs, staircases, aqueducts and homes of stony grandeur. More than 800 examples of their towering handiwork sprawl across 36 square miles of a hidden valley in Jordan’s desert that attracts thousands of tourists every years."

 

Jordan determined to make tourism in the area work and immediately started out on the wrong foot by telling the Bedouins who dwelled in the caves surrounding Petra to gather their belongings and leave. These folks had been making a subsistence living, selling polished stones, camel rides and postcards to the visiting tourists. The Jordanian Government didn’t believe that it was good for the tourists to believe that Jordan had people living in caves in the 20th Century. Nevertheless, in 1984, the government built them modern housing near the site so that the visitors wouldn’t talk. The Bedouins still sell the same garbage to tourists as they did before, but they do from nearby garden apartments that have the most modern accoutrements.

 

This area is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and that was exactly what the early citizens of Petra had in mind. While one may not have any trouble getting into to Petra, getting home may be something else again. A tourist would pick up tickets in the nearby town and then start walking to Petra, as for some time it was the only way to get there. The walk wasn’t too bad because, although one wasn't aware of it, it was downhill. It is not a bad grade when walking the approximately two miles and simultaneously descending about 350 feet. On the other hand, after one has spent the day searching the city’s many secrets, on the walk "home," the grade is now ascending and one is required to walk uphill for two solid miles. Although it would totally destroy the landscape, a tram or monorail would probably make life a lot easier for senior citizens. In addition, Petra’s buildings are spread out over an area of nearly 40 square miles; thus, it could take a substantial period of time to visit everything of great importance. While one can be awed in a day, a week’s stay could be overwhelming.

 

As one eases along the narrow pathway, there comes what some call the lunar landscape of white rock domes and horizontal sandstone cliffs known as the Gate of the Siq, or Bab as-Siq. The Siq is an impenetrable area that anyone wanting to attack Petra was forced to navigate. There was really no egress unless no one was home; that happened once, but that wasn’t going to happen again:

 

"The bed of the Wadi Musa, carrying water during the winter and early spring, curves along side. In all but the bleached-out midday hours, the light is soft enough to pick up earth tones of browns and beiges in the rock, but it’s only with the last rays of the sunset that there’s any hint of the pink that Petra is famous for. Almost immediately, you can see evidence of Nabatean endeavor: three huge god-blocks, six to eight meters high, loom next to the path just round the first corner, carved probably to serve as both representations of and repositories for the gods to stand sentinel over the city’s vital water supply. Twenty-five such god-blocks exist in Petra, deemed by the locals to have been the work of jinn, or genies, and so also termed jinn-blocks; another name is sahrij, or water-tanks (i.e., tanks holding divine energy next to flowing water). The middle one has a shaft graves cut into it, implying that it may also have served as some king of funerary monument. Opposite the god-blocks are some additional carvings, one of which has an obelisk carved in relief, representing the soul, or nefesh, of a dead person. Such carved shrines abound in every corner of Petra’s mountains, and for those with time to explore, the small side valleys off this section of the Bab as-Siq are filled with tombs, water channels, niches and shrines: behind the blocks, the area of domes known as "Ramleh" is cut through two parallel wadis (one of which is Wadi Mathlim) and are equally explorable."

 

"If there is one place on this planet that is guaranteed to make a person feel like Indiana Jones, it’s the Siq – the knife-blade-narrow canyon that leads into the ruins of ancient Petra in the desert wilderness of southern Jordan. The Siq also will convince you that the Nabateans – the vanished people who were sovereign here 2,000 years ago – had Hollywood beat when it to special effects. Some places beg to be described in clichés, and this is one of them. Petra is breathtaking…it is like stepping into a cathedral: The Siq simply feels silent. Light sifts from above like dust, and you want to lower your voice in respect, if not flat-out awe."

 

The change of instantly going from sunlight to shadow, from the intense heat of the desert to the coolness the morning is part of Petra’s captivating charm. For those that are claustrophobic, the narrow passage between the two hundred foot cliffs can be more than tantalizing.

 

From here, it is on to the tombs, which are carved into the rock face, also known as the King’s Wall. The first tomb is called the Urn Tomb, a well-preserved mausoleum that faces a double row of vaults. This in turn fronts on an ornate room measuring an enormous 70 feet in each direction. The walls had the most beautiful of hues from the carefully laid sandstone and the precision molded corners. However, there is nothing within the room, no bodies, no coffin, no nothing.

 

Continuing on from tomb to tomb, one finds some are badly damaged by the elements and some are so protected by the rock surfaces that they appear as virginal as the day they were created. The tombs themselves, along with the countless stories each has to tell, would make a fascinating story. Even the Roman governor of the city who ruled Petra during the time of Hadrian in 130 AD, Sextins Florentinus, is buried within the confines of the city. Somewhat further out there is a badly needed reconstruction of the city’s defensive walls taking place.

 

Upon arrival into the city proper, the first building that gets one’s attention is called the Treasury. It played a prominent roll in the Indiana Jones movie, "The Last Crusade." It was the building that was carved right into the cliff that absolutely stunned the audience during the picture, so now easily hundreds of millions of people have undoubtedly seen this building. The name "Treasury" was picked because on the top of the building is an object that looks like a giant urn. The urn according to legend held a vast treasure. The only treasure in the "Treasury" is its awesome beauty; in reality, it is just another tomb, as are most of the buildings left in Petra."

 

The strangest part of the place is that with all of these tombs one would think there would be some bodies. While occasionally the remains of someone who went to his final resting place here is found, for the most part it is a massive cemetery without any dead. The "Treasury" is 130 feet high, and the magnificent columns that surround the building are only a tad smaller. Within the building’s chambers, the sandstone walls have been well worn by the ages, but it has a peach red look, as though the color had been purposely painted on.

 

This building was created in the Second Century, AD, and took almost 100-years to finish. Gertrude Bell, an early visitor to Petra, almost a century ago, described what her impression was upon first seeing the Treasury:

 

"We went on in ecstasies until suddenly between the narrow opening of the rocks we saw the most beautiful sight I have ever seen; imagine a temple cut out of solid rock, the charming façade supported on great Corinthian columns…and carved with groups of figures almost as fresh as when the chisel left them."

 

Around the corner from the Treasury is the area of town where the rich folks lived. This was the city’s best neighborhood. The entrances to the houses are well above the ground, which afforded the inhabitants some protection against robbers and flooding. On the other hand, this created quite a problem if a resident had been at the local pub a bit too long. The only way in or out was through the use of a ladder. The last person into the house pulled up the ladder. Thus, if no one was in the house, a "safekeeper" would stow the ladder for the resident, but if the little woman was waiting up until 3 am, but the man of the house stumbled up to the house at 4 am, well, she might not let down the ladder.

 

While these folks did not have locks and keys, they had the next best things: doors that couldn’t be reached without the right implements. Once up the ladder, the elevated sidewalks allowed the townspeople convenient access to their neighbors. A friendly neighbor could help you out of tight spot now and again by letting you go up his ladder, but that meant waking the poor soul in the middle of the night. Inside the homes were a swirl of colors from rose to cream to black and blue. It must have been as though a great artist was regularly redecorating the décor, and it never rubbed off no matter how rowdy the kids became.

 

Not too far from where the rich people lived was the amphitheater, a massive structure seating over 8,500 people. It was built in the first century AD using a Greek design under the Roman influence, but not by their government. The Romans must have had something in mind when they assisted in its construction, since they took over Petra in the next several years, and they didn’t have a lot of fixing to do to make it to their liking. Up to this point, Petra stuck out like a thorn in Rome’s side because it was the only place they hadn’t conquered in the region.

 

Seats in the amphitheater went onto the stage, and it was the largest structure of its kind in that part of the world, dwarfing the theater in Amman by a wide margin. The fact that many of the seats were right on the stage did create some problems for the Romans, as the high-ranking dignitaries from Rome were always afforded the seats nearest the stage. When starving wild animals were released from the dungeons beneath, the first people that they went after were those in the best seats. Visiting dignitaries soon became happier sitting in the rear, where they couldn’t become a hungry animal’s lunch. The theater was also grafted right out of the mountain as well, probably making it among the best acoustical auditoriums in the world. Beyond that, the backdrop of the surrounding mountains above the performance must have been an awesome experience.

 

The "High Place of Sacrifice" is the next spot on our tour of Petra. It is exactly what it sounds like, a spot overlooking the town where the priests killed animals during their sacrifices:

 

"The High Place itself has been carved flat, and drainage channels have been cut into the rock to allow the blood of sacrificial animals to drain away. To the right, you can look down on the King’s Wall and the Royal Tombs, while looking straight ahead, there is an impressive panorama of the whole site. The Kane and the amphitheater are behind you, and to your right as you look north. The highest point is surmounted by an obelisk, and the path then continues downwards past this. As the path turns and descends – in some places quite dramatically – it passes some smaller tombs, notably the Garden Tomb and the Tomb of the Roman Soldier. The trail finally emerges onto the level ground of the Wadi Farasa, an area of sand and scrub crossed by barely-distinguishable paths. Along the way, some of the rock outcrops harbor rock dwellings, which are still inhabited by local Bedouin. From this area, a path leads north towards the center of the city in the Wadi Musa."

 

After the Romans took over Petra, the trade routes gradually began to shift and the city started going into a state of decline. The Romans had added their flourishes to Petra, the colonnaded street, the expansion of the theater and the baths, and for a time, this had indeed become a city fit for a Roman. However, Petra had seen its finest days and was no longer a critical component of the Roman Empire. Eventually, the Romans pulled up stakes; they in turn were replaced by the Byzantines who added their own flourishes to the area including several churches. (which are currently being restored).

 

Wrecked by earthquakes, marauders and a lack of travelers to gouge, in about 363 AD the people just up and left. As far as any historians are presently aware, this was about the end of Petra. When they up and left, the Nabateans didn’t leave a lot behind to tell us much about themselves. However, while Byzantine churches on the site were being excavated, a number of burned scrolls were found and were sent to the West be deciphered. They are now being worked on by teams from the University of Michigan and the University of Helsinki and the results should be forthcoming shortly.

 

Petra was named as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1985 during the Ninth Session of the UN Committee. The driving force behind this designation was Queen Noor of Jordan, who has a most interesting background. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in Urban Planning and Architecture and lobbied long and hard for protection of Jordan’s historic landmarks. The number of hotels in Wadi Musa, the jumping off spot to arrive at Petra stood at two in 1990, while today, there are 65 with a total of 1700 beds. The average stay has gone up as well, but the fact is that Jordan’s tourism industry is sadly tied to dismal conditions in the region, along with the country’s basic economics. However, Jordan’s peace with Israel brought some immediate results, and in the year the agreement was signed, over 200,000 Israelis visited Jordan, almost all of them headed for Petra. Hussein’s successor, King Abdallah, shares his mother Queen Noor’s vision for Petra and other Jordanian monuments, and he is a firm believer that tourism is one of the answers to Jordan’s economic problems.

 

If international assistance teams working on various projects concerning the restoration of Petra were added to the number of tourists, the overall statistics would be startlingly higher. Nearly everybody is concerned about the restoration of Petra, and the list of countries and charities involved in its reconstruction are significant. In the years to come, it is said that "Petra is one of the endangered sites of greatest importance, ranking with the likes of Pompeii and the Taj Mahal."

 

Most of those working on the city’s restoration believe that by restoring the original water system, the rate of erosion will diminish and the gardens that once flowered on this site will once again make the desert bloom. Petra could become the first stop in international tourism. Experts have said that only 2% of the city has been seen, but there are countless antiquities awaiting discovery. However, there soon may be some answers forthcoming, during a recent dig in the area, a church was uncovered. A Christian Church, as a matter of fact and apparently this church was destroyed by fire, which in turn carbonized scrolls that were uncovered. These written works are being painstakingly pieced together and it is hopped that some clue as to the lives of these people will emerge. Sadly, so far, the scrolls only seem to talk about the church’s budget. Simultaneously, Boston University is attempting to recreate Petra through a system of highly advanced computer graphics.

 

We can take the word of Lawrence of Arabia, a highly traveled explorer and adventurer, who in 1914 stated, "Petra is the most wonderful place in the world." Hopefully, that will economically save the day for Jordan, but then in this part of the world, who knows?

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