Inside the Middle East

Petra: Growing up in Jordan's 'lost city'

Updated 6th March 2018
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(CNN) — While the ancient city of Petra is simply a famous archaeological site to most of the world, for university professor Sami Alhasanat, it's a treasured "playground."
He was born in Jordan's "lost city" -- founded by an Arab tribe known as the Nabataeans who abandoned it a thousand years later -- and spent his younger years playing within its elaborate, hand-carved landscape.
"I don't think there's any better place in the world to play in. I feel so proud of being a Petrean. We've protected Petra for the last 2,000 years because we are the descendants of Nabateans," says Alhasanat, who has worked as a guide in the area for 25 years and currently teaches at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University.

Lost civilization

Forgotten by the outside world for more than 1,000 years, Petra was "rediscovered" by Europeans in 1812 and went on to become the setting for the finale of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
Alhasanat recalls his playtime being "disturbed" by filming but got compensation from the crew in the form of meals.
Petra's captivating buildings helped to make it Jordan's top tourist destination, and The Treasury (or "Al-Khazneh" in Arabic), which features in Steven Spielberg's film, is undoubtedly its showstopper.
For Alhasanat, the intricate monument is a declaration of "who we are."
"The very first thing people would encounter after they finished their walk through the canyon [that leads to the Treasury] is the statement Nabateans wanted to express themselves with," he explains.
The lost Nabataean civilization made Petra their capital from the fourth century BCE to the first century CE, and it seems there's still more to be uncovered about their time in the city all these years later.
In 2016, archaeologists unearthed a "monumental platform" within the city that was likely built during the second century CE.