WASHINGTON, February 20, 2012 –If you need one more push to tour Jordan’s unique and amazing holy and nature sites, here it is: this year is the 200th anniversary for the “re-discovery” of the ancient rose pink city of Petra by western explorers, and it’s the 50th anniversary of the Lawrence of Arabia epic film release. A lot of the movie was shot in the beautiful desert and mountain landscape of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan.
Petra the Great
During the time of Jesus and the Apostles, one of the eastern Mediterranean’s busiest trading centers was in the southern Jordan city of Petra, the Nabatean Kingdom of lush gardens, temples and Roman-style villas cut from pink limestone rock and expansive valleys.
Petra flourished from the third century B.C. to the early second century A. D. and was mentioned in the Old Testament under several possible names, including Sela and Joktheel (2 Kings 14:7).
Tradition says Aaron, the brother Moses, died in Jordan and was buried in Petra at Mount Hor, now called Jabal Harun in Arabic (Mount Aaron). A Byzantine church and later an Islamic shrine/tomb of Aaron was built on the summit of the mountain which today attracts pilgrims. Aaron was the first High Priest of the Bible. Petra may have also been the last staging post of the three kings who took gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. King Aretas (Cor. 11:32) was a Nabatean king who ruled Petra at the time of Jesus.
By the 12th century, Petra had been conquered by Muslim armies and faded from western awareness. But rumors of an ancient “lost” city persisted for about six centuries – until 200 years ago in 1812 when a young Swiss explorer – Johann Burckhardt – “rediscovered” the magnificent city and western explorers began to return.
What they found were temple remnants, churches, monumental facades and tombs carved from hillsides – pieces that had survived earthquakes, floods and wars. In the past 200 years, archaeologists have learned enough about Petra and its glory days to catapult it to world prominence. In 2007, it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Petra can be enjoyed on many levels. It’s a favorite with adventure travelers who want to hike and climb its hillsides and with cultural travelers who revel in its history and natural beauty. A comprehensive tour of Petra requires days – it’s a big place. Most visitors stay a day or two. They enter through the Siq to access the iconic Treasury monument which was most likely a tomb. Further on, one comes upon the Great Temple, which may have been a major seat of Nabatean power.
A number of church ruins have been found in Petra. During the Christian era at Petra (third and fourth centuries), tombs were turned into worship centers. In 1990, Kenneth W. Russell discovered a Byzantine church on the north slope of the Colonnade Street across from the Great Temple. Lying there are mosaic floors, marble screens, a baptismal tank and a room that was filled with scrolls, now known as the Petra Scrolls which are kept at the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman.
Larger than life certainly applies to T.E. Lawrence, the British army officer whose activities during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18 and role in joining Arab irregular forces against the Ottoman Turks earned him the Lawrence of Arabia moniker.
Myth and legend surround Lawrence, and the 1962 film starring Peter O’Toole romanticized many of his activities in the Middle East during the World War I era and beyond. Among the missing facts are Lawrence’s archaeological explorations of the Middle East prior to the outbreak of war.
But the film released 50 years ago this year has its place in movie history. It won several Motion Picture Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Much of the film was shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan’s expansive and beautiful desert valley near the Gulf of Aqaba. Its cinematography and storyline are unmatched.
Visitors to Wadi Rum often choose camel and jeep safaris. Some also spend the night in traditional Bedouin tents at desert camps where staff serves campfire meals under the night stars. It’s a great way to get into the Lawrence legend, lore, and history because the landscape is timeless and so is the Bedouin culture that continues to survive the centuries.
For more information on travel to Jordan, visit their website.
More of Ruth Hill’s faith travel columns are at Contemporary Christian Traveler in the Washington Times Communities.
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