Crossing from Israel into Jordan in a crowded “vintage” van was the stuff of cinema. Picture miles of barren mountains, beautiful stone outcrops, baked ochre and umber, eroded canyons with neither a town or a structure on the long curving single lane road. Add driving rain, arrive at the border filled with concrete block buildings and men with guns everywhere, barbed wire, perhaps a city block long no man’s land where we waited an hour, our passports having been taken by the van driver–dismal, boring.
Once into Jordan the landscape stayed the same but the road devolved into potholes, cracks and floods of muddy water. At long last we came to Amman where the traffic crawled and where there was a fortress to visit and some very unique sculptures to be found
A white marble slab maybe 12″ x 18″” had an exquisite abstract relief of a delicate feminine face. Another sculpture featured a larger than life sized abstracted torso with two featureless heads. I’d never seen anything like these sculptures, wondered what they meant, where they were from–some, I discovered, were Nabataean–a culture I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of.
My short stay in Jordan included a Roman fortress in Amman and the stunning Roman city of JERASH with a huge well-preserved temple, a three story Nymphaeum (fountain) and a unique oval forum –huge and surrounded by a splendid colonnade–
that welcomed the caravansari that passed through this city and made it rich.
Nothing prepared me, however, for the utter magnificence of PETRA, a city lost for many centuries and hidden from exploration by the locals. Simply described, it is a canyon as deep and brilliantly colored as Zion National Park in the US, and it begins mildly enough with a dry river bed. I rode a horse down to where the excitement begins, where, for instance, the dam and water reservoir and water tunnels of the amazing water system really begin and where the canyon gets steep rapidly.
Here in the narrow sand pathway between steep sandstone cliffs one walks past caves, huge dressed cubes of rock, a facade with four Egyptian pyramids above a Corinthian columned Greco-Roman entrance and many niches carved into the cliff walls that have cubes to venerate. No one really knows the meaning of the worship of these rectilinear forms but they are evocative of ancient enigmas.
Some archeologists have claimed that the cubes represent the Nabataean gods
Dushara (God of the mountain ) and al-Uzza
( goddess of the evening star, a pre-Ishtar/ Aphrodite goddess) and perhaps the white sculpture I saw in Amman was al-Uzza.
These early structures were but prelude to the awesome vision presented by the Tomb Facades that fill the main site of Petra. Innumerable, multi-storied, some as tall as 120 feet and carved into the rock face from above, the tomb facades look like Greek and Roman buildings with multiple arched entrances like those at the Library of Ephesus. In the Treasury at Petra dancing Amazons flank sculptures of Isis/Tyche (Egyptian fertility/good fortune goddesses) while in the lower archways the Roman twins Castor and Pollux grace the aediculas (the name of the “small houses” that are on the facades of Greek and Roman temples). Seemingly innumerable facades are everywhere you look as the canyon widens into the site of an ancient city complete with homes, temples and even a Byzantine church ruin with excellent mosaic floors.
Beyond the main city and high up the far end of the canyon you can hike or ride a donkey up to another large facade, called the Monastery, and here I climbed to the very top of the mountain that overlooked Israel and where I met a lean and stern Bedouin reputed to be my young guide’s uncle.
The day in this stunning place ended by galloping up and out of the canyon with perhaps 30 Bedouins all on donkeys and laughing and asking if i’d like to marry a Bedouin today.
A trip I couldn’t replace for anything in the world…