Our next stop was in Aqaba, Jordan. Aqaba is the only coastal city in Jordan and the largest and most populous city on the Gulf of Aqaba. Situated in southernmost Jordan, Aqaba is the administrative center of the Aqaba Governorate. The city had a population of 148,398 in 2015 and a land area of 144.8 square miles. Today, Aqaba plays a major role in the development of the Jordanian economy, through the vibrant trade and tourism sectors. The Port of Aqaba also serves other countries in the region. Aqaba's strategic location at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea between the continents of Asia and Africa, has made its port important over the course of thousands of years. During World War I, the Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from Aqaba in 1917 after the Battle of Aqaba, led by T. E. Lawrence and the Arab forces of Auda abu Tayi and Sherif Nasir. The capture of Aqaba allowed the British to supply the Arab forces.
Aqaba's location next to Wadi Rum and Petra has placed it in Jordan's golden triangle of tourism, which strengthened the city's location on the world map and made it one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan.
According to “those in the know” (and our guide), if you haven’t been to Petra, you haven’t been to Jordan. So we rode another bus for two hours to reach the town of Petra, situated between the Dead and Red Seas. We arrived at the hilly town called Petra and had three options to get to the bottom of the ravine, which was surrounded by high cliffs of sandstone, to reach the “Treasury” (which was used as a backdrop for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”). The first option was to walk two miles downhill on a VERY rocky road built with rocks of all sizes (just to make walking really interesting) and lined with holes in the stones reportedly used as tombs and homes by the previous residents. The second option was to ride in a cart drawn by a very tired horse for a “small” fee. The third option was to use a golf cart (and driver) for $40 a person to take you down the hill, wait 10 minutes and then bring you back up. Keeping in mind that two miles down hill equals two miles UP hill; not a pleasant thought as I sit here typing this and remembering the pain, but I had convinced myself that I could do the walk. (Can you say “Dumbass”?)
The walk held very interesting sights, but any and all information spewed by our guide was totally lost on us. The “walk” turned out to be a “run” to catch up to our fast walking guide. Usually we were just catching up to the group as they were finishing being told about something that may or not may not had been interesting; we’ll never know as the group continued their walk down the road without us (HEY!! I was walking as fast as I could. In retrospect I should have paid the $40). Another rule of this road, MOVE to one side or another of the road when the horse or golf carts are charging down/up the road; especially the horses who did not seem to know or care which side of the road was theirs.
Also, you may have seen this in the local paper, IF your local paper was Italian or gave a flying whatever to what happens in Jordan: “An Italian tourist visiting Jordan died in a freak accident Thursday after a rock fell on him in the historic ruins of Petra, according to reports. The 35-year-old was struck near a narrow passage in the ancient rock-carved Rose City, local agency Roya News said, showing photos of a group of people crowding around a man collapsed on the ground. Medics were unable to save his life and he died at the scene of the tragedy. He had been touring the area with three other Italians, Italy’s Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata said. Officials believe it was an accident, with the Petra Development Tourism Region Authority saying the rock likely fell due to the heavy rainfall in the area Wednesday night.”
Before we talk about our next stop, here’s your history lesson of Petra. Originally known to its inhabitants as Raqmu, is a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan. Petra lies around Jabal Al-Madbah in a basin surrounded by mountains which form the eastern flank of the Arabah valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. The area around Petra has been inhabited as early as 7,000 BC, and the Nabataeans might have settled in what would become the capital city of their kingdom, as early as the 4th century BC. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who invested in Petra's proximity to the trade routes by establishing it as a major regional trading hub.
The trading business gained the Nabataeans considerable revenue and Petra became the focus of their wealth. The Nabataeans were accustomed to living in the barren deserts, unlike their enemies, and were able to repel attacks by taking advantage of the area's mountainous terrain. They were particularly skillful in harvesting rainwater, agriculture and stone carving. Petra flourished in the 1st century AD, when its famous Khazneh structure – believed to be the mausoleum of Nabataean king Aretas IV – was constructed, and its population peaked at an estimated 20,000 inhabitants.
Although the Nabataean kingdom became a client state of the Roman Empire in the first century BC, it was only in 106 AD that it lost its independence. Petra fell to the Romans, who annexed Nabataea and renamed it as Arabia Petraea. Petra's importance declined as sea trade routes emerged, and after an earthquake in 363 destroyed many structures. In the Byzantine era several Christian churches were built, but the city continued to decline, and by the early Islamic era it was abandoned except for a handful of nomads. It remained unknown to the world until it was rediscovered in 1812 by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
Access to the city is through a gorge called the Siq, which leads directly to the Khazneh. Famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system, Petra is also called the 'Rose City' because of the color of the stone from which it is carved. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. UNESCO has described Petra as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage". In 2007, Al-Khazneh was voted one of the New7Wonders of the World. Petra is a symbol of Jordan, as well as Jordan's most-visited tourist attraction. Visitor numbers reached a record-breaking 1.1 million tourists in 2019, marking the first time that the figure rose above the 1 million mark.
Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods, but archaeological evidence shows that the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought and enabled the city to prosper from its sale.
In 2016, archaeologists using satellite imagery and drones discovered a very large, previously unknown monumental structure whose beginnings were tentatively dated to about 150 BCE, the time when the Nabataeans initiated their public building program. It is located outside the main area of the city, at the foot of Jabal an-Nmayr, but is facing east, not towards the city, and has no visible relationship to it. The structure consists of a huge, 184 by 161 foot platform, with a truly monumental staircase all along its eastern side. The large platform enclosed a slightly smaller one, topped with a comparatively small building, 28 by 28 foot, which was facing east toward the staircase. The structure, second in size only to the Monastery complex, probably had a ceremonial function of which not even a speculative explanation has yet been offered by the researchers.
People called Bidoul/Bidul (Petra Bedouin) who had lived in the tombs and caves of Petra were forcibly resettled from their cave dwellings to Umm Sayhoun/Um Seihun by the Jordanian government in 1985, prior to the UNESCO designation process. They were provided with block-built housing with some infrastructure including in particular a sewage and drainage system. Among the six communities in the Petra Region, Umm Sayhoun is one of the smaller communities. The village of Wadi Musa is the largest in the area, inhabited largely by the Layathnah Bedouin, and is now the closest settlement to the visitor center, the main entrance via the Siq and the archaeological site generally. Umm Sayhoun gives access to the 'back route' into the site, the Wadi Turkmaniyeh pedestrian route.
The site suffers from a host of threats, including collapse of ancient structures, erosion from flooding and improper rainwater drainage, weathering from salt upwelling, improper restoration of ancient structures and unsustainable tourism. In an attempt to reduce the impact of these threats, the Petra National Trust (PNT) was established in 1989. It has worked with numerous local and international organizations on projects that promote the protection, conservation, and preservation of the Petra site.
The Treasury, the building we all walked “forever” to see at the bottom of the hill, was probably constructed in the 1st century BC. As its design has no precedent in Petra, it is thought that it was carved by Near-Eastern Hellenistic architects. The purpose of the Treasury remains something of a mystery. One thing that is fairly certain, however, is that it was not a treasury. In reality, the Treasury is generally believed to be a temple or a royal tomb, but neither conclusion is certain. The tomb/temple got its popular name from the Bedouin belief that pirates hid ancient pharaonic treasures in the tholos (giant stone urn) which stands in the center of the second level. In an attempt to release the treasure, Bedouins periodically fired guns at it — the bullet holes which are still clearly visible on the urn. When the first Western visitors arrived at Petra in the 19th century, a stream ran from Siq and across the plaza. The stream has since been diverted and the plaza leveled for the sake of tourists.
Our next stop was Wadi Rum, known also as the Valley of the Moon and is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan 37 miles to the east of Aqaba. It is the largest wadi in Jordan. On a clear day, it is possible to see the Red Sea and the Saudi border from the top.
Khaz'ali Canyon in Wadi Rum is the site of petroglyphs etched into the cave walls depicting humans and antelopes dating back to the Thamudic times. The village of Wadi Rum itself consists of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants with their goat-hair tents and concrete houses and also their four-wheel vehicles, one school for boys and one for girls, a few shops, and the headquarters of the Desert Patrol.
We really didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up in the back of four-wheel drive pickups and were transported across the desert (as in “no roads”) to a series of high cliffs, a trip that took around 30 minutes each way. The guide warned us to take warm clothes as the trip into the area wouldn’t be too bad, but the trip out (when the sun is setting) would be a lot colder. And right he was. We froze our butts off coming back. For those tourists in our group not faint-of-heart (like Julieann), they could climb the bump in the desert (AKA “mountain”) to see the rest of the surrounding scenery. They also found out that the climb wasn’t worth the view they received.
One item of note for this totally useless land was the number of films made here, or made “partially” here. Filmmakers are particularly drawn to it for science fiction films set on Mars. The Location Managers Guild recognized the Jordanian Royal Film Commission with its LMGI Award for Outstanding Film Commission in 2017 for its work on Rogue One, which filmed at Wadi Rum. The RFC was previously nominated for its work with The Martian. Other noted movies were Lawrence of Arabia – David Lean filmed much of this 1962 film on location in Wadi Rum, Red Planet – Wadi Rum was used as the surface of Mars in this 2000 film, Passion in the Desert – The area was also used for scenes in this 1998 film, The Face – BBC Film, Rock climbing in Rum, featuring Wadi Rum pioneers Tony Howard and Di Taylor, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Wade Rum was represented as being in Egypt, The Frankincense Trail – scenes from train, and aerial filming too, Prometheus – scenes for the Alien Planet, May in the Summer – a film by Cherien Dabis presented at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Long shots of Wadi Rum set the mood for the film, it's a place where the main character finds peace away from the world and within herself, The Last Days on Mars – filmed for exterior shots representing the surface of the titular planet for this 2013 film, The Martian – filming for the Ridley Scott film began in March 2015, for shots that stood in for the surface of Mars with Matt Damon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, used for scenes set on Jedha, the 2019 live-action adaptation of Aladdin, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, used for the desert planet Pasaana and Dune (2020), used as a location for the desert planet Arrakis.
Except for these films the only other use I could see for these lands are for the “Star Gazers”. There are numerous tents set up for people to rent to commune with nature and stare at the stars in this peaceful, quiet location. We were told that most of the tents rent for an average of $250.00 a night.
Well, to each their own. We’re heading back to the ship that is pointed south where we look forward to warmer weather and five days at sea. More later….