The secret lives of the most influential ancient civilization you’ve never heard of

Petra has become more popular in recent years. Is it too crowded?

Like everywhere in the world, overtourism is an issue, and one that everyone should be cognizant of. But AlUla definitely is not overtouristed. And Petra is an enormous site. Even if you’ve got crowds in the Sikh and in the Treasury—you might have thousands of people in a day going down this narrow channel—there are always places you can be completely alone. Things that you can discover for yourself, or if you take a really good walking guide with you. 

I’d recommend going up the back way into Petra, and coming out at the Monastery—you’ll see so much.

What surprised you most?

I can’t tell you exactly what it was, but it’s fascinating. We had the belief that the Nabateans built their tombs within view of their everyday houses. My assumption was that they were going, “oh, look at that nice tomb. When I die, I’m all right—my tomb’s better than his tomb.” It was very much tied to the material world.

But the latest research by an archaeo-astronomer has just found out that alignment of the tombs is very much governed by the sun and the stars. So whereas I thought they’d been plotting with one eye on their material things, they were actually fully plotting with their spiritual life in mind. This is a brand-new discovery.

How does learning this history influence the way you see the world today?

I think it cheers me up, it makes me feel more optimistic. You see that 2,000 years ago, people were living in what seemed to be a very well-functioning society where people lived reasonable lives. They didn’t have slaves, for example. And if you were lucky enough to be invited to the king’s feasting chamber, he served you, which is actually very similar to Saudi society today, where the host will give you coffee with his own hand.

I find it very comforting to think of people millennia ago living these ordered lives, hopefully happy and reasonably comfortable. The world around us at the moment feels so fragile and so difficult, but it gives me faith that that strand of human history will continue, and that there is hope for our future.

Are the Nabateans your Roman Empire?

They are. Yes, they are. I’ve been working on this for quite a long time. The first time I went to Petra, I was 19, and there were no tourists there, and there were no hotels. You had to sleep in the rocks. So yeah, the Nabateans are my Roman Empire. I do think about them every day. I love it.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top