Petra: pearl made of stone

On the Israeli-Jordan border, the picture was unimaginable a few years ago: the desert heat cuts the snake of coaches and passenger cars from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. < / span>

The relaxation between the two countries initiated by the late King Hussein and Prime Minister Peres, results in the foreign currency taking on the Jewish tourists. Right after the check-in, the drivers reach for the screwdrivers and unscrew the boards with the Hebrew registration, attaching the "safe" Arabic boards in their place. Great sights of Petra are waiting - but it's better not to tempt fate.
The most picturesque road leading to the Petry is the narrow and sunken Sik gorge. Picturesque, because it runs between vertical rocks rising to a height of 160 meters and sometimes covering the sky.
In some places, the rock walls almost touch each other, allowing only one person to walk. The gorge is just 4 km long, but the height and the tropical spirit are doing their job. Tourists drag one leg leg by foot, pouring the hair with mineral water straight from the bottles. The real globetrotter themselves: Israelis, Japanese and a group of Americans from Denver wanting to include another miracle of antiquity.
The guide brings us to the last rock slope. He orders to close his eyes and, holding his hands on the shoulders of his predecessor, grasp the snakes, move forward. After a moment, we hear that you can open your eyes. If the guide was concerned with a specific suspense - he reached the goal.
The impression is amazing. Before us there is el-Kazneh in the sun, the most magnificent building of Petra. Contrast is all the greater because for the last two hours we dragged ourselves down a dark corridor. Now the eyes, which are glittering, slowly discover the entire majesty and color of the Nabataeans' treasure. A tribe who, two thousand years ago, decided to build its capital in this rocky retreat.

Eye to eye with the treasury
Above all, the perfect state of two thousand-year-old buildings is amazing. It looks as if the stonemasons gave it to use yesterday. The unusual symmetry of the façade itself can also be impressed. Apparently the builders forged el-Kazneh from ... mountains, dropping down on ropes. Nevertheless, all the pions, symmetries and carved details look as if they were first drawn in the rock by a super-accurate laser.
A similar impression was made by the famous British explorer David Roberts, who was the first European to be allowed to spend the night in Petra (the discoverer of the metropolis is entitled to the Swiss Orientalist and traveler, Johannes Ludwig Burchard, who arrived in 1812). The "Holy Land" published by Roberts, with its own illustrations, was very popular all over the old continent.
On March 6, 1839, Roberts wrote in his travel journal:
"I can not say whether I was more surprised by the temple itself or its unusual location, it rises in a huge rock niche, and the delicate color of the stone and the perfect preservation of the smallest details give it a look that was just finished ..."
Roberts also captivated the unique colors of this place. Also in this respect nothing has changed. Petra remains a variation on the theme of pink color: coming out in dozens of shades from the interior of the rocks, braided with veins of ore, burning with amaranth in the midday sun and going out of purple at dusk.
The façade, which is 40 m high and 25 m wide, has two floors. The lower portico with a pediment supported on 6 Corinthian columns. The space between them is filled with carved reliefs and a frieze with a centrally located lion with spread wings. The upper storey resembles an intricately decorated miniature temple with a conical roof topped with a urn. Her sanctuary owes her current name: el-Kazneh in Arabic means a treasury. Bedouin guides of Roberts were convinced that it hides the legendary treasure. They fired at her, believing that Nabataeans would pour gold out of the urn. You can still see bullet holes until today.

Pustynna Cartagena
Who were the inhabitants and builders of this extraordinary city who could afford such a gigantic undertaking?
Located in southern Jordan, Petra appears on the pages of the Bible under the name Sele. The Arabs still call it Wadi Musa, or the Valley of Moses. But the Nabataeans only brought it to the true power. This nomadic tribe arrived from northern Arabia during the reign of the Persians (4th century BC) has enriched itself on the control of caravan routes. They were transported myrrh and oriental roots from southern Arabia to Damascus, Alexandria and Gaza. They made their capital, and also the necropolis and the center of religious life, in a rock in a hard-to-reach place where three steep ravines crossed. The city hidden among the mountains, which leads only a few walks, has for centuries been a safe hiding place for the treasures and the inhabitants themselves.
At the height of its glory, Hellenized Petra survived in the first century AD, when it ruled over many surrounding lands, including Edom, Moab, the Negev desert and the Sinai oases. The slow twilight of the state began with the Roman occupation. The Romans changed the caravan routes to Egypt. As a result, competitive centers appeared on the map of the ancient world, such as Palmyra, and the Nabataeans themselves were forced to move their capital to Bosra. In later centuries, the city carved out of the rock was the capital of the Roman province of Palaestina Taertia and the seat of the crusaders. At the beginning of the 14th century, Petra was abandoned and fell into oblivion. This state lasted until the memorable expedition of Roberts.
Petra's magnificence does not end naturally on the treasury. The valley running further is filled with remnants of temples, public buildings, triumphal arches and ordinary living quarters. The latter most often consisted of a spacious chamber with a colonnade, richly decorated with frescoes depicting wine grapes and flowers. Petra's rock-crossing bearing was once the main, covered slabs, street of the city. The buildings surrounding it have not survived in such a splendid state as el-Kazneh, but they allow you to imagine a city as it was in times of its glory. And it was a self-sufficient city and one would like to say - complete.
The central promenade began near nimfeum with a water reservoir for the baths. Next, on the stone terraces, there were three marketplaces carved above them. Below you can see the baths, the triumphal arch and the multi-storey gymnazion, the place where the inhabitants indulged themselves in relaxation. One of the most monumental fragments is the rocky slope with the carved offices of the Nabatean aristocracy.
Hired by us, the guide Ahmed proudly shows double-edged double-sided rows of vaulted galleries "carrying" large terraces. It is hard to resist the impression that the builders of these luxury apartments for those times were not only motivated by practical motives. Probably Ahmed is right to emphasize that it was equally important, if not more important, to achieve an artistic effect.
Strengthening metropolis, soaring rocks served not only to build residential houses and temples - but also tombs. The most beautiful of them was carved along the slope of the Gebel el-Kubta mountain, west of the city. Equally magnificent cemeteries are located in the nearest extreme, eastern branch of the valley. This is the famous Palace Tomb and the Corinthian Tomb. Both with their theatrical architecture probably best reflect the Nabateans' attitude to the final things.

Potyczki z Herodem
Like in ancient Egypt, admiration must arouse unimaginable effort and artistic inventiveness of the builders of this stone pearl. The temples emerging from the slope, giant cubes, slender pyramids, details precisely carved in stone - all this gives an idea of ​​the strength and vitality of this forgotten civilization.
Attention is also drawn to unique technical solutions, rarely found in the periphery of the then world.
And so, the life-giving water flowing in the stream was led away to a 70-meter-long gallery carved in the rock, straight to the municipal aqueduct. A Roman masterpiece - but without Romans. There was also another, secret pipeline, which only the Nabatean elders knew about. Forged along the Sik crossing and invisible to the eye - it was an iron reserve of water in the event of a siege. And there were plenty of enemies to the Nabataeans. One of the most fierce and irreconcilable was the king of Judea Herod, with whom he fought - with varying success - fierce wars, shaking the southern edge of the Roman empire. Ahmed shows us a well-camouflaged rock gutter that was running through the water.
"If Herod knew about her," he smiles, "there would be no sightseeing today.
Tekst: Krzysztof Bochus Źródło: "Sukces" nr 10 (114) październik '99
30/07/2005     Wojciech Andruszkiewicz
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