The year 1812 saw a milestone event in the history of Near Eastern travel. After centuries of having been lost to the outside world, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra was rediscovered by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt – found in modern-day Jordan. Thus began an era of global fascination with what English poet John William Burgon memorably described as “a rose-red city half as old as time.”
Most of this attention would be focused on the imposing and beautiful temple of Al-Khazneh. This central edifice is pictured in British artist David Roberts’ illustrations, found in the third volume of the Roberts’ Holy Land series of travel books (1855). As conveyed by Roberts, Petra was an exotic object of wonder for the Victorians.
Modern times have seen Petra’s transformation into an essential “national” monument. Beginning in the late 20th century, under the guidance of King Hussein ben Talal, the Jordanian government initiated huge investments in the promotion of Petra as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tourist attraction, and filming location for the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In a country where tourism accounts for a significant portion of the economy, Petra has become “undoubtedly Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction,” according to the government. As such, Al-Khazneh stands a monument to national identity for the Jordanians just as strongly as it once stood a mausoleum for the Nabataeans.
George Croly, David Roberts III, and William Brockedon. The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia: After Lithographs by Louis Haghe from Drawings Made on the Spot by David Roberts, R.A. London: Day & Son, 1855.
- Arthur Newbould BC 2016, Fall 2015 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit Historical Monuments, Monumental Histories, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Dana Sajdi’s Fall 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.