Sunday, 27 February 2011

Petra - A Rose Red City Half as Old as Time


by John William Burgon (1845)

It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
That crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago.
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.

We visited Petra in December 2009. I guess things have changed  there since J W Burgon wrote his famous sonnet over a century and a half ago. It is now a World Heritage Site with tourists from all over the globe, and legions of local people anxious to make a living out of them. And who can blame them. I would not have missed the chance to see this amazing place, but I would not go back there. Not a cool beer to be had for one reason, and the overpowering stench of horses' urine for another.  For the local entrepreneurs make a good living out of the visitors with pony traps which race up and down the siq - the steep gorge that leads down to the city. I didn't manage to get a photo of one of these poor creatures, but there were others:

Anyway, we were delayed somewhat by an impressive cavalcade of black limousines making its way towards the entrance, with heavily tinted windows. The guide muttered something about it being members of the Jordanian Royal Family, and very probably he was right. Those guys were being guarded, and how. But I suppose now they are watching their backs a little, after the events in Tunisia and Egypt.

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