A rose red city half as old as time.
January 3, 2006 2:10 PM   Subscribe

A rose red city half as old as time. Petra, which means "stone" in Greek, is perhaps the most spectacular ancient city remaining in the modern world. The city was the capital of the Nabateans - Arabs who dominated the lands of Jordan during pre-Roman times - and they carved this wonderland of temples, tombs and elaborate buildings out of solid rock nearly 3000 years ago. By the end of the Byzantine Empire (circa A.D. 700), the once dignified and gracious buildings in the center of town had deteriorated to near ruins. For centuries, Petra fell into the mists of legend, its existence a guarded secret known only to the local Bedouins and Arab tradesmen. Finally, in 1812, a young Swiss explorer and convert to Islam named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard locals speaking of a "lost city" hidden in the mountains of Wadi Mousa. Burckhardt disguised himself as a pilgrim seeking to make a sacrifice at the tomb of Aaron. He managed to bluff his way through successfully, and the secret of Petra was revealed to the modern Western world.
posted by amro (30 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
You may recall the Treasury from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Petra has also been popularized by the Left Behind book series as a site of Christian refuge at the end of the world. Obligatory Wikipedia link. Also, a Petra interactive archaeological dig, previously discussed here.
posted by amro at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2006


shhhh! Lest the same fate as Machu Picchu befall it.
posted by shoepal at 2:20 PM on January 3, 2006


Great post!
posted by Elpoca at 2:20 PM on January 3, 2006


Petra
John William Burgon

It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labor wrought as wavering fancy plnned;
But from the rock as 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that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;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 yough 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.

(Winner of the Newdigate Prize for poetry, Oxford, 1845)
posted by BlueMetal at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2006


Of course you can't forget about Petra
posted by RockPaperScissors at 2:46 PM on January 3, 2006


I hope they have Petra playing in the Petra visitors lounge. Also it would be cool if you had to cross an invisible bridge to get to said visitors lounge.
posted by parallax7d at 2:51 PM on January 3, 2006


Do you mean to tell me this, complete with the pillars, was carved out of the side of the mountain?

Wow.
posted by marxchivist at 2:57 PM on January 3, 2006


Magnificent post. I could look at pictures of Petra all day.

Thanks for quoting an excerpt of the Burgon poem, BlueMetal. Oddly, the whole thing doesn't appear to be online (OK, it's several hundred lines long, but it does contain one of the most famous couplets in English poetry); equally oddly, the Wikipedia article for its author doesn't mention the only thing he's remembered for, this poem!
posted by languagehat at 3:12 PM on January 3, 2006


Do you mean to tell me this, complete with the pillars, was carved out of the side of the mountain?

Carved and built. Here's a panorama.

Petra, which means "stone" in Greek...

Yep, as in petrified. It is of course the basis of Jesus' joke in Matthew 16:18:
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
posted by pracowity at 3:16 PM on January 3, 2006


Petra is much more awe inspiring than any pictures can show. Thanks for this.
posted by signal at 3:18 PM on January 3, 2006


Languagehat: That's because the wikipedia article's directly lifted from the 1911 Enc. Brit. article on him. What is the couplet that's so famous?

Oh, and since I'm commenting, and I'm a Byzantium nerd... the Empire was just getting started in AD 700, it had a good 750 years to go.
posted by Kattullus at 3:25 PM on January 3, 2006


Of course you can't forget about Petra

And it looks like they're retiring:

December 2005 will mark the end to a ministry that has boldly and consistently proclaimed the gospel in the United States and abroad.

Which, for the curious, here's an example of the "Gospel" they proclaim, from their last album:

(Chorus) 
It's all about who you know 
It's all about who you know 
When you get to the end and you've got nothing to show 
It's all about who you know 
It's all about who you know
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:35 PM on January 3, 2006


What is the couplet that's so famous?

"Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime:
A rose-red city, half as old as time."

One of the many, many brilliant passages in Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era is about this:
A line that survives to this day in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations as a very touchstone of the Romantic Indefinite—

   A rose-red city half as old as time

—was made, in the course of putting together an entry for the Newdigate Competition, by John William Burgon, who simply joined a fact (that Petra contains a temple hewn out of red rock) with a quotation ("Many a temple half as old as time") from Samuel Rogers' Italy, a customary bedside book for young romantics.

Though romantic, Burgon was being workmanlike. To his generation the age of Time was quite definite; for since Adam was created in the year 4004 B.C. on October 23, Time in the year Burgon wrote, 1845, was exactly 5849 years old, going back through half of which we locate the founding of Petra at 1080 B.C. Once again the effect to which we respond today replaces something that has dropped out, the chronology Burgon's age inherited from Archbishop Ussher and Vice-Chancellor Lightfoot. In the absence of some convention about the age of Time, "half as old as time" is perfectly meaningless. But again the chemistry of Language supersedes meaning, and we do not think to apply the Ussher convention. It is against our own feeling of indefinite, measureless Time that "half as old" expends itself and dissolves... Yet Burgon felt behind every word in his line an exactitude nearly neo-Classical.
Kenner is my kind of critic.
posted by languagehat at 3:50 PM on January 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Wow. The excerpt from the poem, the additional links and information, and the excerpt from The Pound Era are fantastic. Kattullus, thanks for the correction on the date.
posted by amro at 4:03 PM on January 3, 2006


I have a ton of cool Petra photographs on my site which I took last February. Incredible place.
posted by chasing at 4:30 PM on January 3, 2006


The Wikipedia mentions it now.
posted by zadcat at 4:44 PM on January 3, 2006


Some more photos from trekearth.
posted by funambulist at 4:51 PM on January 3, 2006


Excellent, excellent post and comments!
posted by OmieWise at 5:25 PM on January 3, 2006


I'm glad someone else also immediately thought of the Christian rockers....

The actual link is great though.
posted by First Post at 5:41 PM on January 3, 2006


o gosh, my parents named me petra. i guess i should feel good about that.
posted by subatomiczoo at 5:51 PM on January 3, 2006


i'd just like to state for the record that i am not a fan of the band petra. it just so happens that during my youth my parents were diehard christians. therefor all i was allowed to listen to was christian "rock".
posted by RockPaperScissors at 6:37 PM on January 3, 2006


The link states that it was built by Arabs but the carved pillars looks like a Greek temple. Strange.
posted by jouke at 7:58 PM on January 3, 2006


(sniff) Any Michelangelo wannabe with a ladder, hammer, and chisel can carve up a rock wall. Real stonecarvers start at ground level and go down.

Lalibela — the rock-hewn Christian churches of Ethiopia.
posted by cenoxo at 9:08 PM on January 3, 2006


Here's a Quicktime Panorama of Petra.
posted by dhruva at 9:29 PM on January 3, 2006


As well as being used in Indiana Jones, Petra was also the backdrop for the pop video to the song Dominion by The Sisters Of Mercy back in 1987. The video looks like Cecil B DeMille on steroids, a complete desert epic in three minutes, and was inspired by Shelley's poem Ozymandias.

The band had to apparently request permission for the city to be shut to tourists for two days whilst filming. Bass guitarist Patricia Morrison was rated by the local Arabs as worth a hundred camels.

This pop video was how I first learned about Petra's existence and I had to go there. I wound up visiting six months after the first Gulf War. I've written about my visit to Petra on my travel site Travelhappy.
posted by chrismitchell at 1:53 AM on January 4, 2006


jouke, please don't be so provincial.

The Nabateans who built Petra were ethnically Arab, but culturally Hellenistic. Greek cultural artifacts had spread across the Middle East as early as the fourth century B.C. with Alexander. Greek influences in architecture can be seen as far away as India. The later city center of Petra was culturally and administratively Roman and thus Roman architecture -- closely derived from Greek but still distinctive -- dominates in that section of the ruins.

I live in a Greek Revival house, but I'm not Greek.
posted by dhartung at 1:55 AM on January 4, 2006


Trivial fact: Burgon wrote 'Petra' without ever having visited Petra. Much later, in 1862, he finally went to see it, and decided that his famous description of it -- 'a rose-red city, half as old as time' -- was incorrect. He'd got the colour wrong. "There is nothing rosy in Petra by any means."

the Wikipedia article doesn't mention the only thing he's remembered for, this poem!

The only thing he's remembered for? The only thing he's remembered for? Languagehat, I am shocked, nay, appalled by your ignorance. Aren't you aware of Burgon's true claim to fame? He is the only person to have a shape of academical hood named after him.
posted by verstegan at 3:39 AM on January 4, 2006


I stand abashed!

I'm glad someone else also immediately thought of the Christian rockers....

Personally, I find that depressing. But to each his own.

posted by languagehat at 4:23 AM on January 4, 2006


This is a brilliant, brilliant post - thank you.
posted by greycap at 11:22 AM on January 4, 2006


I'd like to join the chorus of "great post!"s.
posted by blendor at 1:25 PM on January 4, 2006


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