Featured artist: Gabriela Stachurska Goseva
It was 1994, and we entered Jordan through its only coastal city, Aqaba, famously nicknamed also as The Bride of the Red Sea. The purpose of our visit: myself and my friends wanted to see Petra, the ancient Nabataean city prominent for its unique architecture, sculpting out of the pink-hued cliffs in the middle of nowhere.
Little did we know that reaching Petra would be a challenge itself, but something deep inside myself was telling me that any obstacle in getting to our desired destination will pay off. Which eventually did.
As we distanced from our ship which docked at the ports of Aqaba, we took a moment to see bits of the city. Then, we looked for a taxi driver who was willing to take us to Petra. We found one, but as he didn’t know any English, we hardly understand any word he was saying.
Somehow, we negotiated the deal. We hopped in the taxi and we slowly started to move inside the crowded streets of Aqaba. Just as we thought we are speeding up, the car stopped and the driver left us to wait… we had no idea where. Supposedly, he went to take special permission, some documents, to get us to Petra. The weather was not helpful while we waited the hour. The sun was burning our skin and water did not help our thirst.
Eventually, we moved from the dead point. It was some two hours drive from Aqaba to Petra, and as soon as we left the city behind, we started passing through a terrain mostly composed of desert and rocks, no trees, nothing. The more we moved inside Jordan, the more it looked that this place was the ground zero of an atomic bomb which had diminished all life on Earth.
Slowly, the terrain started to change and the first signs of reaching Petra were there: a real wonder of the world which stood lost and forgotten for centuries, secluded only to the Bedouin who made this place their home. It would be only in 1812 when the famed Swiss explorer, Jean Louis Burckhardt accidentally stumbled upon this site and made the discovery.
Just five years before my arrival to Petra, in 1989, this ancient city had already gained a world fame as one of the filming locations of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While indeed I was anticipating something majestic as the film sequences showed on the big screen, in reality, the experience of Petra was out of this world. As the taxi driver left us at the last point to which cars can approach the area, we were greeted by the Siq.
Siq, the first place to take your breath away: a massive canyon with extremely tall walls which towered all the way to the skies. Whoever didn’t want a donkey to move through the passage snaking inside this canyon, needed to walk the 1.2 km its length so to reach the heart of the ancient city.
Certainly, one of the most remarkable features of Petra (not on the photos though) is the Al Khazneh or as locals love to call it, the Treasury. It is the piece that usually ends up on the front page of any travel magazine that tells of the lost city of Jordan. For some great reasons too.
The Treasury’s smooth columns that make for a facade of a Greek temple are nothing but a flawless craftsmanship example of the ancient Nabataean architects. Or perhaps the stories related to it – there is one about an Egyptian pharaoh who supposedly hid his treasures here, inside a facade urn, while seeking the Israelites.
In the proximity of the Treasury, there is also the Sacred Hall. Some consider that both these places related in regards to ritual practices that were performed there. The Sacred Hall for one counts as one of the most accessible points of all Petra’s “High Places.” Perching atop the Jebel Madbah, it can be accessed by a flight of steps that start just before the ancient Theatre.
If you happen to roam downhill from the Theatre, you will end up at a larger roadway. And in this part of Petra, are lurking some of the most impressive burial places to be seen around, the Royal Tombs. At other corners of the ancient city, the sights of Obelisks dedicated to the Nabatean gods Dushara and Al-‘Uzza are not the least striking. Just one more reminder of the epic scale of remarkable architecture composing Petra as it is.
To our utmost surprise, we quickly realized that Petra was much more than just the Treasury. At the same time, it was also a place where people used to live for ages, just moments away from the immediate attention of visitors who happened to awe at any of the ancient city highlights while setting their first steps around. But these people were there, still inhabiting the caves inside the rocks. A time warp to some different era, perhaps even a different planet.
Editors: Stefan Alijevikj, Julija Miova
Photographer and narrator: Gabriela Stachurska Goseva