Fictional stories dominate pop culture, movies, and media. While certain stories and themes are best communicated with fiction, I believe they are best when used to inspire adventure and discovery of the real world. My desire is to give viewers an adventure to unlock a love of learning, and open their minds to the beauty of the world that actually exists. This belief was reinforced by a recent visit to the Lost City of Petra…
My favorite movie franchise of all time is Indiana Jones. I’ve watched the movies with my dad since I was a kid, and it’s been my halloween costume more times than I care to admit. One of the most iconic scenes from the series is of the adventurers riding up to the stone carved city that houses the Holy Grail, which was filmed at The Lost City of Petra in Jordan. Visiting Petra has always been on my bucket list, and given its proximity to Israel, visiting the site on a recent trip became an instant priority.
Petra was founded in the 4th century BC by the Nabataean people. While a small kingdom, they became extremely wealthy as traders, and were renowned in the ancient world for their shrewdness as negotiators. Their political acumen allowed them to stay neutral in larger geopolitical disputes. Because of their nomadic nature as traders, they established Petra as a capitol city on which to lavish their wealth and love of art, creating beautiful stone facades for their religious temples, family homes, and burial sites. Nabataean architecture is a unique blend, reflecting classical Greco-Roman elements inspired by their travels as traders to Athens and Rome, combined with traditional Arab elements. Building their capitol city in a natural fortress only accessible by slot canyons and water-fed through a sophisticated system of pipes and canals gave them further security and autonomy.
Over the centuries as trade routes shifted the Nabataean culture slowly began to decline. Their neutrality with the ever-growing Roman empire became to fade, resulting in the city being annexed into the empire in 106 AD. After becoming part of the Byzantine Empire in 324 AD, a major earthquake 363 AD nearly leveled the city. Another earthquake in 551 AD resulted abandonment of the city entirely.
The city of Petra was abandoned for over a 1000 years, with its existence only know by local tribes. The city was rediscovered by Europeans in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johan Burckhardt. The “Lost City” quickly became a cultural fascination, culminating with it being declared a World Heritage site in 1985.
If I hadn’t watched Indiana Jones it’s very likely I wouldn’t have known about or been interested in Petra. While watching a fictional story sparked my interest, learning about the real history of the Nabataean people is what truly captivated me, and made me a better informed person when looking at the world I live in today. When you want to teach something, start with an element of adventure to unlock a love of learning. Not only will you give students the motivation to learn an immediate history lesson, it will spark a spirt of discovery that long outlasts the classroom.