I have just travelled across Jordan for a week and have come home with 250 amazing photographs, almost all of landscapes and rock formations. There was something deeply resonant about the country, that several of us noticed, something that chimed with a fundamental aspect of us. Jordan is at the centre of the bible lands, the home territory not just to Christianity but to Judaism and Islam. The minimal signs of modern life as you journey through the desert allow you to really feel a current coming up from the deep. Our response to landscape is often driven by practical concerns – is it safe? Is it habitable? But this was different. With every photo I took I was driven by the beauty of my surroundings and, at a deeper level, a search for the divine.
I was struck by a sacred carving of an omphalos (umbilicus) at Petra. This represents the centre of the world, the starting point from which all things emanate. The carving is on the wall of the siq – the narrow gorge that eventually opens out to the famous Treasury, a birth canal if ever there was one.
Did ancient people also feel that there was something very special about this place? Jordan is the land of the Old Testament and home to the grave of Moses. The Nabateans lived here from the 4th Century BC and were fabulously wealthy traders in Frankincense and Myrrh, important consecrated incenses. Petra was their city, at the precise crossing point of trade routes from India to Egypt and from Arabia to Damascus. As the siq opens out to the Treasury, it is as shocking (in spite of having seen the image many times) as an infant’s first sight of the outside world must be. Amazing, incomprehensible, impressive, overwhelming.