It can take a lot of hard work to get a place noticed. Various destinations around the world have tried hard to get their touristic area of choice on the map. Ad campaigns, celebrity endorsements and the occasional catchy slogan have all been employed by towns and cities looking to grasp the lucrative dollar of the foreign traveller. The real way to get your destination noticed though is simple: appear in an iconic moment in a really popular Steven Spielberg movie.
That’s what the perennially ignored rose city of Petra did and it’s never looked back since.
The stone city – known as the rose-coloured city in Arabic – was built by a cheery group of Arabs known as the Nabateans, way back in the first century BC. The high walls and surrounding mountains meant it offered some pretty perfect protection from potentially pernicious raiders who might seek to plunder the city’s wealth.
And the city of Petra had plenty of possible enemies.
There was the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus who occupied a couple of Nabatean cities for a spell in its early days. Then the Romans had a go at conquering Petra and promptly gave up when Marcus Aemilius Scaurus accepted a bribe to take his army, weapons and silly name back home.
Petra flourished for the next couple of centuries. The war like Nabateans relaxed as they matured and began to enjoy more cerebral pursuits and the city became a cosmopolitan marketplace, full of all sorts of fabulous togas and overly stylised haircuts (probably). Alas, by the fourth century, the once great Petra city had descended into penury and the Nabateans land was divided between various Middle Eastern tribes. The great stone metropolis was soon forgotten.
Remarkably for a site that has been voted one of the must-see destinations in the world, it wasn’t discovered again until 1812 by a fabulously bearded Swiss explorer by the name of Johann Ludwig Buckhardt. Buckie was on a mission to discover the origin of the Nile when, while wandering through what is now modern-day Jordan, he discovered the lost city of Petra. Unsatisfied with what he found, he kept trying to reach for his rainbow – or the start of the Nile – until he eventually died of dysentery in 1817. Indiana Jones would have been proud.
A lot of people had heard of Petra in the intervening 170 odd years but it took Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to make it truly famous. In the final Indian Jones film (before the terrifically ludicrous 2008 return) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indie sets out to rescue his father from the Nazis while also stumbling on the Holy Grail. He successfully manages both, the latter of the two he uncovers in a certain rose-tinted town in Jordan.
Today the city of Petra is visited by some 5,000 people daily, none of whom have yet uncovered the Holy Grail, perhaps because it doesn’t exist or maybe because long ago people realised the true way to immortality wasn’t through drinking from an ancient cup but from appearing in a very popular Hollywood blockbuster.