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Petra & the joys of Jordan, by MRT’s Charlotte Crow

posted on 26/01/17

I had always wanted to see Petra but nothing prepared me for the reality, which exceeded all expectation. Most visitors enter through the Siq, the narrow kilometre-long crevice through coral and ochre-striped rock that opens to reveal the classical Al-Khazneh building, known as the Treasury. Our arrival on a sunny morning in late November was different; we took a breath-taking mountain walk, approaching from the north, climbing steep steps hewn into the cliffs and following a winding path along the rock face above ravines with fantastic views of the craggy black basalt and pink sandstone ranges that secrete the Nabataean city.

The success of Petra, which flourished in the first centuries BC to AD, was down to the skilful engineering ability of the Nabataeans to capture the flash floods that beset the area, harnessing water to sustain an estimated population of at least 60,000. That humans were capable of such sophisticated endeavour and spectacular artistry at this early date leaves one in complete awe.

Now I can properly appreciate why our Essential Jordan tour allows two whole days here, with time to explore fully the incredible temples, public buildings and dwellings, including Ad-Deir, the monastery (see image) and the High Place of Sacrifice. Anyone who chooses to climb up the 800 or so steps past Roman ruins to this dramatic spot (the Nabataeans worshipped the moon) is more than rewarded for their effort. There is so much to appreciate.

A month before Christmas Alexa Berger (MRT's Chief Financial Officer) and I attended the 40th conference of the Association of Independent Travel Operators (AITO). The conference, co-hosted by the Jordanian Tourist Board, brought together over 100 representatives, associates and speakers including Sir Vince Cable and Edward Oakden, the British Ambassador. It seemed significant that AITO should choose Jordan to mark its anniversary, giving the conference the title ‘Perception Versus Reality’. This was also an opportunity to make our own judgements about the country and to see for ourselves a number of the historical highlights for which it is famous.

Certainly Jordan has suffered from a misperception, due in part to its position in a highly volatile region. Yet this well governed small country, characterised by its tribal networks and strong British associations, is one of the safest in the Middle East. It has a population of around 9 million (swelled in recent years by a large number of refugees from surrounding countries) formed of Muslims and a small number of Christians who co-exist without rancour. However, in the last few years tourism has dramatically declined, just when it is most needed to sustain economic and political stability. While this is problematic for a young country keen to thrive beyond dependence on foreign aid, it is a bonus for any traveller wishing to experience sites, such as Petra, currently devoid of the hordes.

Both Alexa and I felt relaxed and welcomed in Jordan. We even braved a dip in the Dead Sea! Experiencing first hand places that feature on Essential Jordan, such as the remarkable Roman ruins at Jerash and the excellent new museum in Amman, which houses several Dead Sea Scrolls, has kindled my enthusiasm. So much so, that I am excited to be planning a new tour for 2018, one which will explore the origins of the remarkable civilisations that stem from the vicinity of the Jordan Valley. If you would like more details of this tour when it is ready, please click here.

I asked Alexa to summarise her thoughts. She said:

‘I can’t wait to return. We Western tour operators are responsible for the future of tourism in Jordan. This country has a wealth of history and sites to share and we should seize the chance to experience them while being embraced by its warmest hospitality.’

 

By Charlotte Crow, Operations Supervisor.

 

Essential Jordan – the major Nabatean, Roman, Christian & Islamic Sites, led by Middle East historian Professor Hugh Kennedy, runs from 28 October to 5 November 2017, while a second departure runs from 4–12 November 2017, led by archaeologist Sue Rollin & Jane Streetly, co-author of Blue Guide: Jordan & Istanbul: A Traveller’s Guide.

 

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