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Petra seeks to become 'world wonder'

2007-04-30

By Jon Leyne

The ancient Jordanian city of Petra has probably not seen such a buzz of activity since civilised life ended there in the 8th century AD. Outside the famous facade of the treasurer's house, camel traders mixed with horsemen. Nabateans in traditional costume set up a series of market stands. A few hundred metres away, a company of legionnaires marched into the Roman auditorium to display their skills. Then on came the gladiators, for a fight to the death.  It was all part of Petra's bid to win a place among the New Seven Wonders of the World in a competition that is currently in progress.

Hewn in sandstone

They call it the "rose red city half as old as time". The slogan could have been written by an advertising copywriter from Madison Avenue.

Actually the line was coined by one of the earliest tourists to visit, after the city was rediscovered by the outside world in the early 19th century. Ever since then, visitors have been coming from around the globe. They cannot fail to be staggered by the magical combination of man-made and natural beauty. Your breath is taken away the moment you emerge from the narrow gorge that forms the main entrance. In front of you, the majestic classical facade of the treasurer's house, carved out of the rock face.

Down the spectacular valley the wonders continue. The 4,000-seat auditorium, also hewn from the rich red sandstone. Tombs and places of worship towering down from the cliff faces on either side.  All this was made possible by the engineering skills of the Nabateans, more than 2,000 years ago. They channelled water down a series of ceramic-lined culverts, making life possible in this arid hideaway.

For the Jordanians involved in the re-enactment, that all means that Petra is a natural choice for the New Seven Wonders of the World.  "Of course," explained Adam al-Samady, one of the "Romans" on parade. "It's unbelievable. To me, of course, it is just one of a kind."

Tourism boost

Jordan is taking this competition very seriously. It is more than just a bit of fun. The tourist trade here has been hit hard by recent troubles across the Middle East, devastated even according to many in the trade that I have spoken to. Adam al-Samady explained the importance of winning the contest. "It is very important, because Jordan is a small country whose whole economy is based on tourism," he said.

"Unfortunately during these past five years with the war in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, tourism has been completely dead. If Petra becomes one of the seven wonders of the world, I think there will be a big change." It is a tough contest, though. Petra is on a shortlist of 21, but every one of the other contenders would also be worth a place in the last seven: the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, to name but four. It is up to the world to decide. You can vote on the website: www.new7wonders.com.

The result is to be announced on 7 July: which just happens to be 7/7/2007

Source: BBC News, Amman


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