LETTER : A rosy future is assured for Petra

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The Independent Online
From Dr Ghazi Bisheh

Sir: It was with some surprise that I read Paula Weidegger's article about Petra entitled "The pink city's future isn't rosy" (12 April) as it contained many erroneous statements. Ms Weidegger claimed that "a vast Roman forum is being `reconstructed', new columns rising by the score". I do not know what Ms Weidegger means by the "Roman forum", as there is none in Petra. Perhaps she is referring to the Temenos (the sacred precinct of the Nabataean temple known locally as Qasr al Bint) or the paved Roman road. In either case, there have been no restoration works in Petra since 1990 and certainly no use of cement; nor have any columns been set up for the last three decades!

The only restoration work at Petra was confined to cleaning out Nabataean water channels and building retaining walls to combat soil erosion and other problems created by sporadic flash floods. The Department of Antiquities' work in Petra is limited to archaeological excavations, which are carried out in co-operation with the American, German and Swiss teams. There are also many long-term projects to minimise the weathering effects on the rock-cut facades at Petra of wind and water.

As for the removal of the Bedouins to permanent homes outside Petra, the reason was not, as Ms Weidegger claimed, to keep the everyday life of the "unsightly Bedouins ... one step removed from the viewfinders of countless cameras and video-recorders", but simply to protect the archaeological site. I would like to answer Ms Weidegger's plea, "Give them (the visitors) a museum somewhere nearby perhaps", by pointing out that there are two museums in the Petra basin: one is for finds from archaeological excavations and the other is largely for sculpture work from Petra.

The Jordanian government has declared Petra a national park and recently the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has banned horses from entering the siq (gorge) leading into Petra to protect the site. We have many challenges and problems facing us at Petra, but we are doing our best to find the appropriate solutions by co-operating with our national institutes and international organisations. In short, many steps are being taken to ensure that Petra's future will be as rosy as possible.

Yours sincerely,



Department of Antiquities



24 April