“Across the desert and through the mountain to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, to the temple where the cup that holds the blood of Jesus Christ resides forever.” – Indiana Jones
In the summer of 1989, the most famous archaeologist in cinematic history blazed into theaters on a Last Crusade to reclaim the Holy Grail. And thus was born this writer’s obsession with the filming location of Petra, Jordan.
For those of you who don’t know, Petra is one of the most unique places on the planet (probably the reason that Spielberg and his location managers chose it for the final resting place of the grail and the obligatory scene during the climax of the best of the three Indiana Jones films). ‘The Rose City’ is famous for its architecture: buildings cut literally into the sides of the rocky canyons. It’s breathtaking on screen and even better in person.
The city became the capital of the Nabateans around the third century BC and has become (since 1989) Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. Don’t ask who the Nabateans were though – nobody really knows for sure. The city was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer who described the area as ‘half as old as time‘ itself. In 2007, Petra was chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (also on the list: Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal, Roman Colosseum, and the Great Pyramids – the only remnant from the original 7 Wonders)., and it isn’t a stretch to figure out why. Additionally, Smithsonian Magazine named it one of the 28 Places to See Before You Die.
My first impression of Petra was the general filth at the admission booth and entrance gate (both under construction); however, my excitement for what I’d find inside the canyon resulted in a kind of tunnel vision and I was thus quickly able to shrug off this minor inconvenience. It’s difficult to explain the level of excitement I was feeling at the chance to dive into one of my favorite childhood films.
As soon as you pass through the gate, you’re met with a 1-2 km hike through a winding pass that dips deeper into the mountains, during which time, you’re treated to a few appetizers before you reach the WOW moment (see photos above).
The narrow passage leading to Petra’s main attraction, the Treasury, is referred to as the Siq which is essentially Arabic for narrow pass. It’s appropriately named. To adequately convey my feelings the moment I passed through the canyon and saw the Treasury for the first time is damn near impossible. Overwhelmed is a good word, but words aren’t enough. Energy welled up from inside me and shocked my nervous system, almost to the point of collapse.
I felt as if every unfulfilled childhood fantasy had rolled up into this singular moment and instantaneously burst out of me in both climax and resolution (to use screenwriting terms).
For me, this event was the pinnacle of all my world travels up to this point and I’d be hard pressed to top it in the future. As I wrack my brain, I fail to come up with another location that might end up having the same impact on me as the Petra Treasury.
Even now, I find my eyes watering up and I’m at a loss for words. We spent a great deal of time lingering around the Treasury (about a half hour or more), doing nothing except soaking in its majesty. I was as speechless then as I am now. I only wish for every one of my readers to experience the same feeling in their lives.
The remaining few hours in Petra were interesting, but a let down by comparison to the beautiful and awe-inspiring Treasury. We saw some marvelous colors naturally occurring in the rocks and more carved facades as well as cave homes and tombs (apparently many ancient cultures dwelled in caves – who knew?). The photos speak for themselves and I’m glad since I’m out of words.
Until Next Time…
– (Indiana) Justin