It is hard to not to know that Petra is the main archaeological site of Jordan. In Amman, there’s a musical on stage, aptly called “Petra Rocks”; companies call themselves after the Nabataean capital; posters of the town can be seen in nearly every souvenir shop; the famous view of the Treasury is reproduced as a mosaic. I was anxious to visit it, but I somehow did not dare to expect too much of it. I had the same experience during my first visits to Rome, Pompeii, Delphi, Persepolis, Lepcis Magna, Giza, Palmyra, and Nemrud Daği. Perhaps this is one of my minds’ curious strategies to prevent a disappointment.
This time, it turned out to be a wise strategy. Rome, Delphi, and Persepolis will always surpass the highest expectations and a visit to Palmyra, Pompeii, the pyramids, or Lepcis will never become a routine either; on the other hand, Nemrud Daği had no magic left when I arrived there for the second time. I think that Petra will belong to this same category. (I am aware that I am superbly blessed to have had the prerogative to be able to visit and revisit so many sites, and to have a friend with whom I have been able to share so many experiences.)
Petra is interesting and beautiful, but it is not Rome, Delphi, and Persepolis. Situated in a landscape reminiscent of Cappadocia, it is nature, not architecture that makes it special. The many funeral monuments are impressive and some of them are really beautiful, but that is all there is to it. You will never walk through the house of an Augustus, the temple of a Plutarch, or the palace of Xerxes. The site appeals to our sense of beauty and is therefore interesting for art historians and tourists; but to historians and other people interested in the depth of time, it has less to offer.
This does not mean that I am disappointed. My mind’s odd trick had helped me not to expect too much. It’s funny how the subconscious works.