Jordan 1996: Petra 1
Our first view of Petra, a magical city carved from stone. What look like great temples or palaces are actually tombs, with grand façades that conceal a room or a few carved into the cliff. The red stone is striking, even more so when carved like soap into all kinds of distinctive shapes. The Nabateans, whose culture predominated in Petra, have no modern descendants; their visual style cobbles together elements of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other Middle Eastern cultures, but it died with the artisans who built these tombs.
Petra was a rich city, a naturally protected haven on the old spice roads. From the lands on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula came myrrh and frankincense, valuable commodities in the ancient world. Petra rose in importance as camel caravans crossed the desert to trade these spices for gold and Mediterranean goods, exchanging cultural tidbits along the way. When the old spice road was abandoned in favor of sea transport, Petras importance waned, and little by little the city was abandoned, until in the 1800s most Westerners believed it had never really existed.
A typical tomb interior. The great tomb at the entrance to the valley (the one in the picture at the top of this page) was called the Treasury, for the mistaken belief that it had been used as a storehouse for gold. More recently it was used in the third Indiana Jones film, as the place where the Holy Grail was kept. The interiors, of course, were entirely invented.