Petra, the 2,000-year-old capital city and trade emporium of the ancient Nabateans nestled amid the rugged mountain landscape of southern Jordan, is a marvel to behold. Visitors to the expansive site meander through narrow passageways and hike up secluded trails to take in the spectacular rock-cut architecture and enigmatic monuments built during the time the city was flourishing, when the Nabateans controlled the lucrative Arabian incense trade and laid claim to a powerful kingdom stretching from Damascus to the Hejaz.
While a visit to Petra is certainly awe-inspiring, the site’s impressive monuments can, in many ways, overwhelm the touristic experience, with visitors so focused on snapping pictures and hurrying from one dramatic façade to another that they lose out on getting any deeper sense of the place, its history or its people. (I know this was certainly my experience when I first visited Petra nearly 20 years ago.) Now, a new program led by the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) is, for the first time, allowing visitors to go beyond the monuments to actually discover and experience Petra’s past and present.