Talal Akasheh

Re-discovering Petra’s lost wonders

December 7, 2012

As Jordan celebrates the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery, by Swiss orientalist and traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, of Petra  one of the world’s greatest archaeological treasures  Rolex Laureate Talal Akasheh is continuing his fight to preserve one of the marvels of the ancient world from the ravages of time, tourism and modernity. Akasheh reports that 900 new carvings and monuments have now been recorded for posterity by him and his team.

“This year marks a really special occasion, as Burckhardt’s rediscovery led to the opening up to tourists from Europe and beyond,” says Akasheh. “Petra is deservedly Jordan’s leading tourist attraction. In 2010, for example, almost a million people visited Petra, so it’s an important source of income. At the same time, the authorities and my team and I are trying to ensure that tourism is sustainable and does not damage this very precious part of Jordan’s heritage.”

Carved from rock over 2,000 years ago, Petra’s wonders were lost, forgotten by Europeans for over 1,000 years and known only to the Bedouins who lived nearby. In 1812, Burckhardt, a scholar from Basel, in Switzerland, who had learned Arabic and studied Islam, disguised himself as an Indian Muslim and persuaded the Bedouins that he wanted to pay homage at the tomb of Aaron, Moses’ brother, near Petra. In this way, the road to the city was opened to Burckhardt who wrote about his discoveries, leading to massive European interest. He is now regarded in Jordan as almost a national hero.

Akasheh, formerly a chemistry professor who was born into a family that came from Petra, developed a geographic information system (GIS) to document the city and its surrounds which has now recorded almost 3,000 features of the enormous site. It is the focal element in the Conservation Action Plan now being evolved to protect this World Heritage site.


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