In The Footsteps of Indiana Jones
Have you ever felt the urge to go exploring lost worlds? To
discover the hidden mysteries of the ancients? To do battle with the forces of
evil in sinister temples amid the ruins of lost civilizations? To put it in a
nutshell, have you ever wanted to be Indiana Jones?
If you have, the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, is the
destination for you. You can do all these things there (though, to be fair, the
‘forces of evil’ you might meet have been scaled down a little since Indy’s
heyday in the cinematic 1930s – an angry donkey is probably the worst thing
you’re going to come across.)
Petra, which is about three hours’ drive south of the Jordanian capital, Amman,
hasn’t been inhabited on a regular basis for more than a thousand years. The
few native Arabs that still lived on the site were moved out a few years ago –
in return they got the rights to the refreshment and souvenir businesses that
serve the tourists who explore Petra. So the city certainly counts as the ruin
of a lost civilization. The people that built the city – the Nabateans – ran it
until around 100 AD, when the Romans took over.
But the Romans must have had a hard fight winning control of the
place – a fact you’ll appreciate the first time you enter the city. Petra is
entirely surround by mountains and impenetrable crags. The only practical way
in for all but the toughest and most resourceful is through the Siq – a long,
narrow, high-walled ravine that cuts through the crags to penetrate the hidden
valley where Petra lies. The Siq is around three-fourths of a mile long. Its
walls are hundreds of feet high and in places the narrow sandy floor is only
seven or eight feet wide. As you walk through its shadowy depths you really
feel like you’re stepping back into a lost world. You really feel like Indiana
If you get a sense of Dr. Jones-related déja vu it’s because this particular
bit of Petra was used for filming the final sequence of Indiana Jones And The
Last Crusade. As you reach the end of the Siq you’ll come across the vista that
was one of the most spectacular visuals in that film: the façade of the Khazneh
– the Treasury of Petra.
The Treasury probably wasn’t a treasury at all. Early explorers
assumed it was a major government building because of its impressive size and
huge façade. However, as it’s surrounded by tombs it’s much more likely that
the ‘Treasury’ was itself a tomb – or possibly a temple. Whatever it was it
remains spectacular. The wonderful columns and statues of the façade were not
built of bricks and mortar, but painstakingly carved out of a sheer rock face.
Although the local sandstone is relatively soft, this carving must still have
been a huge undertaking. The interior of the Treasury, while not exactly a
disappointment, is completely different: it is as plain and unadorned as the
outside is ornate. Some excitement remains, though. The present-day Indiana
Joneses who work on the site are convinced that the Treasury has a hidden
underground chamber that has been choked with falling rubble over the years.
Excavations are continuing to try to discover what this chamber of secrets
As you pass the Treasury, the hidden valley widens out and the remains of the
city proper are revealed. Probably the best view of the Petra ruins is from the
prominence known as The High Place of Sacrifice. Traditional Nabatean and Roman
animal sacrifices were carried out on this hill. If you climb the steps to the
top you can enjoy an uninterrupted vista of the city. Most of Petra is in ruins
now, of course, having fallen prey to time and the depredations of generations
of robbers and villagers who have made off with bits of masonry to construct
their own homes. But looking over the ruins of this huge ancient settlement,
it’s still possible to get just an inkling of what life was like here two
thousand years ago.
Staying at Petra couldn’t be easier. The main gate of the
compound which encloses the ancient city is by the outside entrance to the Siq.
Near the gate there are several hotels. Various discreet stalls are scattered
around the ancient city, selling souvenirs and refreshments.
If you’re going to do Petra justice you really need to spend a
couple of days there. Stay in one of the hotels and bear in mind that it’s very
easy to get heatstroke under the midday sun. Take plenty of water with you and
be sure to wear a hat. It’s best to be well-equipped when you’re stepping back