PETRA, Jordan (AP) — Taking on the role of tourist, President Barack Obama walked through the winding, narrow pathways of Jordan's fabled ancient city of Petra on Saturday, gazed up at soaring cliffs of reddish rock and described the landscape with a single word: "Amazing."
"This is pretty spectacular," he said, craning his neck to gaze up at the rock faces as he emerged from a narrow pathway into a sun-splashed plaza in front of the grand Treasury. The soaring facade is considered the masterpiece of the ancient city carved into the rose-red stone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago.
The Bedouins named the building the Treasury because they believed an urn sculpted on top of it held great treasures, but they actually represented a memorial for Nabataean royalty. Bullet holes from people trying to retrieve the treasure are still visible in the urn at the top.
Dressed for the occasion in khaki pants, a black jacket, hiking boots and sunglasses, Obama began the walking tour at the entrance to the Siq, a narrow gorge winding between two, soaring cliffs into the heart of Petra. The pathway opens up onto the Treasury, then widens into a street where Nabataean burial chambers are carved into the mountains on both sides.
Marine One touched down near Petra on Saturday after an hour-long flight from Amman, Jordan's capital. Overcast skies in Amman had threatened to upend Obama's travel plans but the weather improved during the flight across Jordan's rugged countryside.
Petra was carved into the reddish rock by the Nabataeans, ancient Arabs who turned the city into a critical junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Petra is Jordan's most popular tourist attraction, drawing more than a half million visitors each year since 2007. It may be familiar to many people who saw the 1989 movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Some scenes were filmed in the ancient city.
Obama's 24-hour visit to Jordan — he arrived in the country on Friday — is his final stop on a four-day trip to the Middle East, the first foreign excursion of his second term. It also was his first visit as president to Israel and Jordan.
Obama spent the bulk of his time in Israel, where held several meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sought through a speech and other public remarks to reassure an anxious public that he is committed to the country's security.
He also made a brief stop in the West Bank city of Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian leaders.
In Amman, Obama met with King Abdullah II.
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