Our Nabataean wedding day in Petra had arrived, and with it nerves that I could not control.
We had the entire day to ourselves while Dr Mohammad and his team made preparations for the special celebration and we made the decision to take Jeff to see Al Khazneh, otherwise known as the Treasury. He had been in Petra a whole day already and still not seen the magnificent tomb carved into the pink rock face. We ate a leisurely breakfast and by the time we got to Petra it was noon. The sun was high in the sky and beat down on our heads as we walked the mile from the entrance to the Treasury itself.
The walk takes you through time, small carvings appear in scattered rocks, huge cube shaped tombs stand strong and proud and small information boards lead you ever nearer to the ‘Pies de resistance’. Jeff and Lottie armed themselves with cameras and saw the whole thing through their lenses, we found odd spots of shade under
sprouting trees, seemingly growing directly out of the pink smooth sandstone of the narrow passage known as the siq, translation ‘the shaft’.
The unrelenting sun made me wonder how anyone could survive in such heat. The Nabataeans created an oasis in such a harsh desert environment and its success was in their ability to control the flow of water in and out of the city. Their innovations meant they could store water and prosper in times of drought, surviving on their stores and making sales to the less ‘water fortunate’.
Water had carved the siq over thousands of years and now it serves as an entry to Petras most elaborate ruin. A sliver of the huge carving is visible from inside the smooth walls and as horse and cart catapult themselves along the narrow lanes carrying their weary fares back to the entrance a scorching mile away, your heart picks up a beat. Stepping out of the shade and back into the suns powerful rays to be faced with the grandiose Al Khazneh has a magical affect on your entire body but mainly on your eyes.
They squint to focus and orbs of flare dazzle in front of the spectacle of the infamous Rose City. It is truly breathtaking.
We all stood mouths agape while our senses adjusted to the camels, donkeys and tinkling of silver wares from the striking Bedouins, Lottie was desperate to ride a camel and did just that as we watched on, laughing at her thrilled face adorned with red love heart sunglasses. Jeff ducked and weaved about the place capturing everything from angles we could never imagine and we stood in the midst of it all pinching ourselves just to check it was real.
Sitting in the shade we chatted with a young Bedouin guy, all dark hair and smouldering eyes. His calm demeanor and his welcomes intrigued me to learn more about his culture. The Bedouins lived in the caves of Petra right up until 1985 when the site was listed as a UNESCO heritage site, they were moved into a small village nearby
and into homes that were built for them. They still spend their days in the rocks of Petra, some of them making a small living from offering camel and donkey rides, small trinkets and lifts back to the entrance on a horse and cart. The PCCT without whom our wedding there would not have been possible are working hard with other responsible tourism groups to help them integrate into schools and jobs. Such friendly welcoming and polite men made buying a pleasure.
Once Lottie and Jeff had exhausted their lenses in the heat we decided to set off back to the hotel to shower and change for the wedding. The prospect of the mile walk back was not a pleasant one but nor was turning up to my wedding looking like the elephant man (due to my allergies to horses) so we bade Jeff and Lottie a farewell as
they jumped in their cart and were pulled away by an eager nag and set off on the red hot walk. I covered my head with a scarf and had high factor sun-cream on my face, we were wearing jeans and boots and were well covered against the sun, nevertheless when we arrived back at the hotel I took one look at my face and panicked. It was
beetroot red. Alex chilled some flannels for me to lay on my face and made me drink lots of water. Luckily an hour later it had gone down dramatically, I’d had serious visions of by beetroot on sky news the next day.
The Doctor and his colleagues had managed to drum up a lot of press interest in our 70th wedding and we were expecting more than 10 channels to be there that evening, from Al Jazeera to small local news, we were preparing for a media frenzy.
Abd came to collect us for the wedding and when we arrived at the college I was immediately whipped away from the men by the women and taken into a Bedouin tent set up in one of the college buildings. They instantly began dressing me all chattering and giggling between themselves as they draped me in a lilac dress and placed a
plaited black wig on my head. There was some debate as to the styling of the hair piece which resulted in about 5 women all having a hold of my head at once but the energy and laughs coming from everyone was infectious.
In-between having more make up applied than maybe at all of our weddings combined and having the final hair style
decided I was surrounded quite literally by a semi-circle of press cameras. It was so daunting and I doubt I broke a smile very often in my nerves. Suddenly the girls all began to sing and clap and I soon relaxed a little as we waited for it to be time for the ceremony to begin.
There were around 200 people in the amphitheater as I stepped out of my tent and the chatter and laughter of people all around filled the air. The energy and excitement was palpable and as I was taken through the plans of my entrance by about 5 different chiefs I was about ready to make a run for it. I was SO nervous.
Everyone was so excitable and just wanted everything to be perfect but, as we have learned from having so many weddings, there is often a few moments of madness where no-one has a clue what is going on. I spotted Alex and he gave me his perfect smile, the one that says, ‘don’t worry, everything will be fine’ and I walked over to
meet him. He was still dressed in his civies and awaiting instruction on when to change. It didn’t take long for us to be spotted and before we knew it we were sat in our marital seat taking selfies with almost all of the guests. We had such a good laugh and my nerves completely evaporated. It was going to be an incredible experience to see everyone, some who had driven 4 hours to see us, celebrate our union once more, this time in the ancient ways of the Nabataeans.
As there is very little actually known about the Nabataean wedding ceremony itself due to the fact that the Nabateaens fled from Petra for unknown reasons and that a lot of the evidence of daily life was destroyed by the Roman invasion but the Dr and his team at the college have been piecing snippets of information together to try to
recreate what they believe would be a traditional wedding in Petra.
Each part of the wedding was carefully thought out to reflect the traditions they have unearthed. The ceremony started with me entering and taking a seat at the altar with a group of my female friends singing. As I sat down Alex marched in with his group of soldiers, this was to reflect marching the caravan route, showing how connected the Nabataeans were to their land and the importance of the trade caravan to the Nabataean economy and the prosperity of their kingdom. Alex was dressed as a soldier as it is presumed that The Nabataean dress of the bridegroom was designed to express his manliness and brave nature. His attire, presumed to be some kind of armor which also expresses his commitment to protecting the autonomy of his Kingdom and the liberty of his people.
We were seated and the soldiers stood around us as the marriage contract was prepared. Once it was time for us to exchange vows it got a little crazy, I was asked to kneel and place my hand on my head and then Alex to place his hand on top of mine. Our other hands had to be joined too as the marriage contract was read out. As I knelt about 15 cameras swarmed around us, the press completely blocked the view of the ceremony to the guests but we were so engrossed in listening to the beautiful Arabic contract. It was read from a large scroll of paper which after the ceremony was placed in a tube for us to keep. Once ‘married’ incense was thrown onto a fire, creating a huge cloud of smoke which shielded us momentarily from the press, the incense was burned to bring divine blessing upon us and to expel all evil from around us. Alex presented me with a bag of Nabateaen coins which I placed on my belt. Traditionally he would adorn me with jewels as a gift.
After the marriage contract I had henna drawn onto my hands in styles and motives derived from Nabataean. The henna ceremony is normally attended by women only and accompanied by local folk songs and chanting. The henna ceremony, in Nabateaen and Jordanian traditions, is specifically important for the bride from a psychological
point of view “to get her ready and prepared for her first night experience, and secondly to raise her awareness with the importance of the marriage institution.”
Once these important traditions had been observed the locally named ‘zaffah’ could begin. The zaffah literally means wedding and it is when the celebrations begin.
Singers, dancers and performers take to the ceremonially cleared space in the middle of all the guests. Everyone was up and singing and dancing, clapping and taking part in the celebration. The singers were incredible, their haunting melody echoed around the amphitheater and everyone was on their feet mimicking their strange dance moves. Alex was invited to dance, swirling his cape after changing out of his armour. The soldiers performed a fight scene and marched around their heads held high, their feet stomping the ground with pride and perfectly in time. The celebration was just wonderful and everyone was involved which was perfect.
The whole idea of a wedding ceremony in Jordan is to gain social recognition of your marriage, to receive blessings and for all intensive purposes, to relive the nerves of the couple surrounding their wedding night.
Normally, once the celebrations over the couple are delivered by the party to their home and left alone, but, you know us, we like to do things a little differently and instead of being taken home, while everyone else got stuck in to some wonderful smelling food we were whisked away to Petra by Night where we could witness Al Khazneh by candle light.
We considered walking through the Siq as one of the most important traditions to observe from the Nabataeans. The Siq for the Nabataeans was a sacred path that they used to introduce offerings and sacrifices to their gods in order to receive blessings.
A newly married couple may have had to walk through the Siq in order to receive a divine blessing, to ensure that their future life be protected and for them to be offered immunity from all evils. In reality for us, the spirituality of Petra definitely made us more aware of the commitment we were making to one another in such a magical place, maybe this was the same for the Nabateans, standing in front of the treasury, lit by hundreds of flickering candles certainly made us feel that we had travelled through time and received some kind of divine blessing.
The place is truly magical and totally grips you. Our head whirled with the buzz of the evening, the celebration we had just been a part of, the welcome we had received from everyone in Petra. We had given the Dr a way to express his passion for the Nabateaen culture, a way to explore and share his findings with everyone who had come along to help us celebrate our 70th wedding day and we were stood faces up to the stars in front of Al Khazneh.
A place we had both dreamed of visiting as adults and had nightmares about as kids, worrying about circular blades, booby traps and 700 year old knights decaying in the corner of our room at night. A place that had been inextricably a part of our lives for a long time and now we were there. There aren’t really words to describe the feelings that flooded through me at that moment, you quite literally have to be there to believe it and to feel its power.
We took a few pictures there and were even serenaded by a Bedouin guy who talks at the Petra By Night tours, he explained to us his connection to the ruins and sang Boyzone to us which was both beautiful and strange at the same time. We happily answered some questions for the press who, God bless them, had marched the mile long candle lit siq with all of their equipment to talk to us about our experiences in Petra. Their pride spilled forward as they asked us to explain how safe we had felt whilst visiting Jordan and how much we had enjoyed the ceremony. My heart filled with their enthusiasm and proud desperation to get people to return to their beautiful country and I truly hope they do.
Jordan is suffering so much merely for its location on the planet. Nestled in-between warring nations and tarred with the same brush, the Jordanians are warm, proud, welcoming people and their country will simply astound you.
Visit Jordan, you will not be disappointed.
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