PETRA:THE ROSE RED CITY HALF AS OLD AS TIME.

Posted in backpacking, British Museum, film locations, Film set, jordan, petra, photo, photoblog, Photography, travel, walking, walks, writing on August 13th, 2014 by wabisabipix

 The Treasury Petra  

It was 1991 and the world had just seen the end of the first Gulf War and the political maps of the globe was being rewritten,the 1980’s were now a distant memory and the future and the unknown beckoned.I was 20 years of age and had been fully enjoying one of the best periods that teenagers have,that wonderful time between working in any meaningful career and being tied down by any commitments and with just enough cash in your pocket to set off on shoestring expeditions to wherever caught your eye on the world map.I had a few years previously set off on a backpacking trip to Morocco that had taken me traveling by train and rickety bus across Europe and into the African continent by ferry and on a circular route that took me to cities with fabled and exotic names, Fez,Ouarzazate,Tangiers,Marrakech.

The trip took me into the Sahara on the back of a camel and gave me many great experiences of world travel along the way.

I was bitten by wanderlust and there was no way of stopping me.It was simply a matter of putting together a small amount of money and finding another destination worthy of heading off to,the more exotic the better and if it was harder to get to then even more so.

On this occasion I had set my target on Petra the legendary rose red city half as old as time.Such a fantastic place certainly fired up the imagination. I had spent the last few weeks traveling down the Nile from Cairo by train and had taken in many of the well trodden sights along the way.The Pyramids,Luxor and Abu Simbel among a few.

I had crossed the Sinai on a local bus and found myself at the coast port of Nuweiba.I had bought a ticket for passage to the Jordanian port of Aqaba on board a ferry full of migrational workers and was now heading towards my destination.On board I had been chatting with a few fellow Europeans,a German backpacker and a travelling artist who had more than a passing resemblance to the great Dutch artist Rembrandt.

The two were enthusiastically discussing their journey and Rembrandt was showing his remarkable sketches,collected over several weeks while traveling leisurely down the Nile.Rembrandt(as I will refer to him from now on) had been sketching both the locals and the remarkable Egyptian monuments along the way and had gathered a stunning portfolio of work.We were all and very much traveling on a shoestring and after several hours the ships horn announced our arrival at the port of Aqaba and we all joined the immigration line for entry to Jordan.After getting our visa stamped (and unbeknown to me our Egyptian Visa Cancelled) our German colleague made it clear he was going to spend the week in Aqaba and Rembrandt was heading to Petra like myself so we set off to find a guest house and split the costs.

Aqaba was a lively town,the evening was spent telling tales of our journeys and chatting with the friendly locals in french style cafe’s usually with the odd picture of Saddam Hussein on the wall.One shop owner had a well practiced tale to tell of his time working with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif when they had filmed Lawrence of Arabia at the nearby Wadi Rum.I spent that night keeping a sharp eye on a mosquito on the roof and listening to the cockroaches clicking under the bed,comforted in the knowledge that the previous night in Nuweiba it had been 20 cockroaches living in my shower pan clicking a concerto all night and now it was only the one,luck me!

The next day we ate a french style breakfast of bread and cheese and tracked down a minibus driver who agreed to take us the Petra.At this time the were very few tourists in Aqaba as it was just after the Gulf War and there was still the climate of fear affecting the tourist industry.The locals were very glad for any trade they could drum up and we had the rickety old minibus to ourselves for a half decent barter. Rumbling into Petra late that evening after nightfall we found a small guest house with room and settled in for the evening.There was time for exploring in the morning.And even better no Cockroaches. With the abrupt awakening of soaring desert temperatures and a cockerel crowing next door I ate breakfast quickly and wandered outside.The excitement to view this fabled destination was at a peak.Men in colourful traditional garb were herding horses up and down in the small village road outside and it was very clear that this wasn’t going to be another tourist trap experience like Egypt where you have to fight off an army hustlers the moment you stagger out of your hotel.Here everyone was very laid back and seemed unbothered that you were a westerner.If they had something to sell you the Bedouin would ask you several times and let you be.It was going to be a great few days after several weeks in the land of the Pharaoh and not a papyrus scroll in sight!

It is no surprise that nobody had known the way to this legendary Nabatean city until it was found by a 27-year-old Swiss explorer called Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Burckhardt’s great ambition was to discover the source of the River Niger. In England in 1809 he secured the backing of the Royal Society  for a journey across the Sahara from Cairo. Burckhardt went to Cambridge to start learning Arabic so that he could pass himself off as a Muslim. On his way east, in Malta, he heard of a Dr Seetzen, who had set out from Egypt into Arabia in search of the lost city of Petra, but had been murdered and took up the challenge himself, only this time disguised as a local.While on his way south from Nazareth to Cairo,along with a group of traders and some sheep and goats.Local people were chatting about ruins in a narrow mountain valley a short distance off the road that passed through the desert.It was near the supposed tomb of Aaron the brother of Moses.Burckhardt disguised as an Arab explained that he wanted to make a sacrifice of a goat to Aaron and persuaded a local guide to take him to the ruins.On arrival he was awestruck at what he saw,but left in a hurry heading for Cairo fearing that his true identity may be discovered and that he would meet the same fate as Dr Seetzen. Every now and then as we headed down the desert track a tribal horseman would ride past us bidding us “Salaam!” as they rode past.We marvelled at the bizarre rock formations and the Obelisk Tomb as we passed it on our left.It was sensory overload and we most certainly were out of our comfort zone toto!

Looking around, and scanning the horizon the landscape was unlike any I had seen before,it was almost like the setting from a fantasy of science fiction epic.Vast rolling hills of epic proportions in the distance with a stunning spread of colours.I wouldn’t have been surprised if characters from Star Wars had pottered around in front of me,such was the alienation of the spectacle in front of me.Indeed Petra was chosen as the main film set in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and one can see why. Wandering down a dusty path we made our way down into the area that was originally the Grand Caravan trail into the city  known as the Siq, a narrow canyon  approximately 3/4 of a mile long that leads the traveller into the heart of the city of Petra.As we approached the Siq entrance, we notice an ancient dam on the left that had protected the ancient city from flash floods and enabled it to prosper.The Nabateans were masters of water control and this is what made the city work.The rock walls that lead this canyon into the city are literally scored with small water channels  and cisterns that would have provided free flowing water here in the desert. Walking down this cobble stoned road over 2000 years old is one of those moments in life to relish.The excitement builds as the canyon winds and twists and slowly narrows and you notice carved  offering alcoves to ancient Gods along the trail.

And then you see it…..!

Slowly but surely the light in the distance changes and the stunning facades of one of the most remarkable buildings in the ancient world opens up in front of you! The sight of the rose red Treasury building in Petra is simply priceless. There was not a sound at this time,no tourist buses and ipad waving tour groups that are the curse of modern day travel ,world events had made this destination very much off the beaten track and therefore not an option for the average package tourist at this  time. We had it to ourselves.

Just two people standing there and connecting with an age old scene reaching across time and…… silence!

A short walk to the right of the treasury we wandered our way past the street of  facades lined with tombs galore.The Treasury is but one of the amazing sights in the lost city and it would take days to fully explore the region.All along the surrounding mountains are thousands of tombs ranging from the common people to huge megalithic Royal Tomb structures giving a taste of how amazing this marvel of ancient civilisation must have been in its glory days. Established as long ago as the 300BC this town has seen a lot of history. The home of the Nabateans,an ancient Aramaic people that controlled much of the spice trade routes through the area and worshipped gods such as Dushara and al Uzza,faceless block gods that later became more human like as the Romans  eventually dominated the region. Facing us was the splendour of an ancient amphitheatre carved out of the rock,surprisingly Roman in appearance but very much Nabatean.My companion,Rembrandt ,couldn’t help but  fulfil one of his wishes and recite the poem by John Burgon,an ode to the ancient city.

 It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,

by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;

But from the rock as if by magic grown,

eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!

Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,

where erst Athena held her rites divine;

Not saintly-grey,

like many a minster fane,

that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;

But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,

that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;

The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,

which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,

match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,

a rose-red city half as old as time.

John Burgon, 1845

Overwhelmed by the sights of that day we retired back to our hotel for food and drink and an evening of Chess a game much liked by the locals. The following day ,refreshed,I wandered alone along the ancient colonnade street ,a once grand spectacle now in ruins because of flash floods over the centuries this old high street even shows the old chariot tracks in its ancient cobbled road and reminds me of the ancient and tragic city of Pompeii. Rembrandt at this time was endeavouring to sketch the ancient ruins and I went canon EOS600 film camera in hand wandering alone in this ancient valley. Along the way a young girl and her little brother came out of what appeared to be a cave and showed me her herd of goats.We communicated as best we could and wandered on our way with a salute of “Salaam!”

Photographically the region holds a picture on every corner and I cannot over estimate how overwhelming it is  with words alone,it truly has to be seen to be believed. Later that afternoon we clambered up the carved steps that led into the mountains and passed an old lady serving mint tea.heaven knows how she got there but after quite a climb her mint tea was very welcome.At the top of these rather precarious steps is another ancient wonder very much like the Petra treasury known as the Deir or Hermits Cell.From here you can also get splendid views into the nearby valley Wadi Araba. As we viewed the splendid structure a thunder storm rolled in out of nowhere and we took cover in the Hermits lair.

The following day I bid farewell to Rembrandt  as he continued on his epic journey back to Europe through Damascus and Turkey sketching as he went.I was heading back to Cairo and back on the migrant boat.He sent me a postcard when he completed his journey.

I have travelled a lot working as a photojournalist over the years since then,however one thing that will always be fixed in my memory is that first sight of Petra that rose red city half as old as time.

Twenty years later while wandering around the Egyptian section of the British Museum I bumped into  Rembrandt  again by coincidence,still sketching Egyptian monuments in the main Egyptian hall.

Small World!


                                                                               

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

THE GREEN MAN FESTIVAL

Posted in British Museum, Celtic, Christians, England, europe, Festival, folk, gawain and the green knight, green man festival, hastings, jack-in-the-green, king arthur, legends, medieval, moods, nature, pagan, photo, Photography, relax, Relics, renactment, saxons, travel, walks, william the conqueror, writing on June 19th, 2010 by wabisabipix

A pint of the local cider please I asked the man with green face paint behind the bar, the drum beat upon the castle hill in Hastings increased steadily to an all encompassing crescendo,something  rather sinister seemed imminent but clearly only the locals seemed to be in on the secret.My drink arrived,the third today of  this local beverage and the man bearing a vague resemblance to a tomato plant and something from childhood memories involving the Dr Who tv series and a half plant cactus man, leaned forward with my change wishing me a “happy Jack in the green day!” Turning around and heading back into the crowd I was confronted by another man in bizarre plant like leafery with the words RADIATOR emblazoned across his chest who stepped forward brandishing a green dripping sponge,”are you with us?” “errrr yes of course!” I muttered smiling inanely,oh good he said splattering my nose with green dye,oh well at least  I  looked like every one else now. I was a stranger in a strange land and yet I lived here.Rumour spread quickly,the drum beat increased constantly and a kind of concentrated frenzy and sense of purpose started to overcome the crowds ,it was time to kill Jack soon and quite who this Jack was remained quite a mystery.I was starting to feel like Edward Woodward in The Wickerman and glanced around to see if there were any looming wooden effigy figures in the immediate proximity of a few cans of petrol !!!

Soon however all was revealed as a green effigy bearing a face of a plant like mans face was transported into the center of the crowd and ceremonially executed in a flurry of sticks and leaves to the roar and cheers of the crowd.The frenzy dissipated and was replaced by merriment and an air of happiness.Everybody was good natured and headed back to town to enjoy the rest of the day, green noses held prominent and shown off proudly ,that was it for another year ,the spring had been welcomed,the ritual complete,bring on the summer.

What we had just witnessed was the culmination of several days of merriment and celebration that has become a yearly event lasting from April 30th to the 3rd of May in Hastings on the southern coast of England ,a small fishing town most famous for its famous history changing battle in 1066.

It is a ritual with largely pagan roots that predate christianity and is centered around the nature spirits and the “old ways” of  ancient Britain that still surge alive and well below the tapestry of  everyday British life occasionally surfacing on days such as this and in the rituals and dances of the May Pole and Morris Dancing .A tradition frequently seen as the leafy face adorning  sboards hanging over green man pubs it is an ancient way of welcoming the summer and spring time.Indeed  the Green man legend has also been linked to other myths including the Arthurian tale of Gawain and the Green Knight and even Robin Hood.The Christian church despite trying to stamp out paganism eventually adopted the legend into its dogma and the green mans face  is frequently seen adorning church buildings.The Arthurian writings in particular Gawain and the Green Knight appear full of symbolism and seem to portray a faith battle between Gawain (symbolic of Christian values) and the Green Knight(The old Pagan Ways).

The current manifestation of the jack-in-the-green festival in Hastings is largely based on a tradition from the 1830s which was snuffed out at the start of the 20th century and then revived again in 1979 by a Morris Dancers group.It is a very entertaining weekend of Morris Dancers and other performance groups from all over Europe and is very much a family event.

The Jack in the Green character,the manifestation of the spirits of the forest,leads a procession from the fishermans museum area of the old town and up to the castle perched overlooking the area.

Jack is accompanied by green clad locals known as Bogies that symbolise the incarnation of spirits along with a following of giants and appointed radiators who accompany the group splodging passers by on the nose with green dye to bring them into the fold.Its all very light humoured and a great day out.

At the culmination of the ceremony Jack is slain and the sticks that form the effigy are thrown into the crowds to be kept as a ward against spirits until the next winter solstice.

Below are some of the many spectacles from the day.They were photographed on a Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm f2.8 and a 70-200mm f2.8.

Pictures :Copyright Kerry Davies Strictly no Reproduction allowed.

Tags: , , , , ,

Avebury Ramblings.

Posted in Archaeology, Artifact, avebury, British Museum, Castles, Celtic, Christians, Churches, crop circles, leylines, medieval, Monument, Moors, pagan, photo, Photography, Relics, road trip, saxons, Stone Circle, stonehenge, sunday lunch, Treasure, ufo, Uncategorized, walks, wiltshire, writing on March 24th, 2010 by wabisabipix

A fantastic day out that stretches the legs and refreshes the spirits while clearing the head and providing plenty of time for inspiration and contemplation, why not try a springtime trip to the ancient town of Avebury in Wiltshire situated in the heart of the British countryside.With the wonderful rolling ‘big sky’ Wiltshire downs creating a stunning panorama and  the enigmatic Avebury Stone Circle and Silbury Hill ancient monument at its core. The area provides a superb escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and of course the chance to enjoy a well earned sunday lunch and perhaps drink a pint of cider while admiring the sunset raking across the ancient stones.You can enjoy the infinite silence of the ages past and trying to figure out  Why!!!!  did these ancient ancestors of ours go to such an unbelievable effort to arrange this apparent giant  game of  enormous stone Dominoes for our appreciation and contemplation.

We took a sunday afternoon trip through this well trodden path through an ancient land just as the buds  of springtime were starting to emerge and it was quite frankly delightful.

Our 7 mile ramble made use of the Explorer 157 map of the area and for added fun and accuracy I took a  Garmin etrex Legend GPS  with pre programmed grid references and my trusty Swiss Army knife Camera a 13.5 mega pixel Nikon P6000 compact.

After parking in the local car park on the A4361 we began our stroll by crossing the main road and heading along an aptly named White Horse Trail along the infant River Kennet just across from the stunning Silbury hill monument.You can but wonder who, if anyone, was buried in there.Excavations have so far failed to shed any light on the mystery.My imagination suggests to me that this platform could have been an epic position where very important ritual cremations or ceremonies could have taken place.The location could have drawn large gatherings of onlookers where the surrounding slopes would have given a grandstand view of the blazing spectacle or oration that would have been visible for miles.

A short walk further the trail met the A4 again which we crossed to a small gate on the opposite side affording great views of Silbury hill behind us.

At the sign post we took an uphill walk to the West Kennett long barrow ,the most complete example of an ancient burial tomb in Britain that you can actually go inside and have a look around.The stones outside probably blocked the entry way originally.

Retreating back down the rolling slopes we the headed eastbound along the path of the river Kennett and past Avebury manor before strolling through some spring snow drop covered pathways and following the designated White Horse trail.Along the way we stumbled across a random brown horse with a friendly attitude.

Heading left up a main road and then across the river Kennett bridge we then head  towards some ancient barrows on the top of  the slope before crossing the A4 and joining the Roman road known as The Ridgeway.

Looking back behind you can see the landscape dotted with ancient burial mounds.

Heading uphill on a steady incline on our left the sun raked across the ancient Roman Ridgeway trade route backlighting more eerie looking burial mounds known as The Enclosure, marked out by sinister deep black trees on our left that overlook the Silbury Hill,its peak oddly still visible at the pinacle of the slope between the barrows  in an almost intended fashion.

A little further up the Ridgeway our journeys leads us left at a sign pointing us back in the direction of Avebury village towards Manor Farm and across some breathtaking  sunlit downs landscape along  another ancient pathway trail.

Turning left at Manor Farm we follow the road into Avebury village famished and in need of lunch before exploring the amazing stone circle that surrounds the village.At the center of the village is the Red Lion pub where refreshment and meals are served.We tried out some delicious pear cider along with a tasty sunday lunch.

After lunch and in serious need of either a wheel barrow or a good stroll at least, we crossed the road to see the sunset catch the monuments on fire with light,a photographers dream and a moment of enlightenment that  leaves you feeling like you are observing the mechanism of some ancient clock as its mechanism whirs into life.

TICK! TOCK! STARDUST.

copyright Kerry Davies.Re-Use forbidden.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Staffordshire Hoard a voice from the past.

Posted in Archaeology, arrows, Artifact, bows, British Museum, Castles, Christians, Crusades, England, Film set, forts, knights, medieval, photo, Photography, Relics, renactment, saxons, Staffordshire hoard, swords, travel, Treasure, Wales, writing on December 4th, 2009 by wabisabipix

Surge domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua ~ “Rise up, o Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face”

An inscription carved on the back of a twisted metal crucifix possibly cleaved off a slain Saxon warriors battle shield.If ever the past reached across the centuries to speak to us about life in 7th century saxon Britain then this was it.

Wandering through the British Museum in London is a fantastic experience on any day but a recent visit left me reeling with wonder.

An announcement on the notice board near the main entrance caught my attention while visiting recently.

See the Staffordshire Hoard in room 36-7.

“It will redefine the dark ages ” say the experts.

The Hoard was discovered in a field in July 2009 by metal detectorist Terry Herbert and composed of 1500 individual items of  silver and gold mostly consisting of what appear to be battle trophies,there were 84 Pommel Caps,71 Sword hilt collars and gold crucifix formations looking like shield fittings that were cleaved off along with helmet cheek pieces and personal items.

The Items date from around the 7th Century,a  period when Britain was a maelstrom of tribal rivalry and religious revolution as the country went from pagan to christian beliefs.

Having seen the news and press announcing the find I was filled with anticipation as I clambered up the stairs and into the room containing a selection of the find in several glass cases just around the corner from another amazing artifact room that of the Sutton Hoo finds.

I was gobsmacked! It was stunning!!! absolutely amazing to see!!You almost have to pinch yourself to remind yourself  that what you are looking at is simply the real thing from all those centuries ago inches from your nose and not some prop from a Hollywood movie.

I fully understand how Terry Herbert the metal detectorist  who found it said he was dreaming for days about what he would find next.

It has been valued at 3.285 million pounds and the British museum has launched its hoard appeal to pay for it.

If you are in London grab the chance while its on show,it will enrich your sense of history and the ancient world.

The official Website is here:http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/about/

Pictures courtesy of the Staffordshire Hoard Website and Dave Rowan and Daniel Buxton.

Tags: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: