Petra: A world wonder ut not for the reasons one would think [Archives:2007/1047/Last Page]

May 3 2007

By: Craig Anderson
The Taj Mahal? The Great Wall of China? The Pyramids? Human innovations of quite exceptional beauty they unquestionably are, but are they deserving of my vote? Or perhaps more importantly, are they deserving of YOUR vote?

In my case, I'm afraid they're not, for it's the ancient ruins of Petra in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan that win my unequivocal vote in the forthcoming competition to decide upon the seven 'new' wonders of the world (

The colors of this “Rose red city, half as old as time” indeed exceed all superlatives when the afternoon sun pours light upon its innumerable facades. The sense of history hangs heavy in the air as you trace Nabatean, Roman and even Indiana Jones' steps along the Siq (the narrow canyon-esque entrance to the city), anticipating your first glimpse of the famed Treasury building of many a tourist brochure. However, it wasn't this, nor the natural drama of its location, the sheer extent of the city or the incredible level of preservation of its monuments that clinched my vote for Petra. No, my vote was won by its Bedouins.

Now, I'm not entirely sure whether the touts, guides and ticket-sellers of a place constitute the normal criteria for judging its merits, but the Bedouins of Petra are such a resourceful bunch that their role in anyone's visit to Petra can't be underestimated.

“One dinar, mister! Cheap as chips!” she bellowed at the slightly too large tourist straddling the slightly too small donkey up the more than slightly precarious gorge. The mention of dinars ought to have been an instant giveaway, but unlike the decidedly uninterested, even pained, expression on this visitor's face, for a moment I had to wonder where I was – a London market or the 2,000-year-old ruins of Petra.

A subsequent cry of “Air-conditioned taxi, sir?!” further confused my bearings as a young boy proudly advertised his donkey's taxiing services, keen for it to haul one shawarma-filled tourist after another along various rocky precipices.

And then there were the girls beckoning from some distant peak with cries of “Tea?! You want tea?!” – offers which, even if you were dying for a cuppa, would leave you quite literally dying once you'd scaled the peak from which they were calling and, more importantly, the tea would be cold.

Despite having been exiled from their cave dwellings to a decidedly less appealing village location some 30 years ago, the Bedouins of Petra, extracted largely from the Bdoul tribe, nevertheless remain a resolutely enterprising race of men and women.

From the camel owners able to spot a pair of weary foreign legs from a mile off, to the children selling Nabatean artifacts – whether they be 2,000 years old or circa 2005 – you'll find yourself unable to separate your memories of the imposing Petra Monastery or the view from the Nabatean High Place of Sacrifice from whichever Bedouin it was who was with you at the time.

Their often comical and enterprising ways unquestionably are a wonder, but are they and their rock-hewn home a wonder of the world? I know I certainly think so.