In 1940 a young leading aircraftsman found himself on a troop carrier bound for the Middle East. He travelled down through North Africa and spent the rest of the war maintaining the Rolls Royce engines that powered the desert forces aircraft. He also sometimes acted as flight engineer for engines on test, flying over the desert.
Despite the constraints of war, he managed to visit some major archaeological sites including the Pyramids and Luxor, his interest in history sustaining him through difficult times.
He’d also heard about an extraordinary desert city, built by an ancient civilisation and accessible through a narrow gorge. One weekend he and a pilot took an aircraft out for a test flight. Inexplicably, they found themselves in Petra… The impact and memory of this extraordinary place remained with the airman for the rest of his life, still speaking of it into his nineties. So what was it that so captivated a young man in his twenties that he and a pilot flew an aircraft on test across the desert to get there?
Petra, a treasure in the desert
Petra in Jordan is one of the world’s outstanding archaeological treasures and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This enigmatic and extraordinary ancient city is accessed through a dramatic narrow gorge known as the ‘Siq’. The first glimpse of Petra is the astonishing Treasury building, its façade carved out of the rock and adorned with elegant capitals and columns, carvings and niches.
Petra was founded by the Nabataens – a mysterious and nomadic tribe who established the city around 6BC, it becoming the capital by 2BC. Its unique buildings are a wonder to behold and include a theatre, royal tombs, colonnaded street… the list goes on. To step into Petra is to step into another world – no wonder the airman longed to see it.
A love of history
History and archaeology have fascinated people for centuries. Perhaps it’s because by understanding and defining the identities of our ancestors, their achievements and creations, we can enrich our own lives. The Pyramids, Delphi in Greece, and ancient Carathage in Tunisia have all held generations spellbound while the 18th century ‘Grand Tour’ included ancient Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum. But archaeology is not confined to ‘big names’. The island of Sicily is home to the magnificent Roman Villa del Casale. Rhodes has its Palace of the Grand Masters, Crete its Minoan heritage and the Maltese island of Gozo, the Ggantija temples. Britain is no exception with Stonehenge regarded as the most sophisticated of the world’s prehistoric stone circles.
An interest in any field can lead to all sorts of new and exciting things, and it’s no different for archaeology. Which is why Saga offer ‘special interest’ holidays, not only including gardens, walking and music, but archaeology too, because when it comes to interests, archaeology could certainly be said to be ‘special’.
So if you’ve been longing to see some of the extraordinary archaeological sites that are dotted across the globe or closer to home, perhaps now is the time to make that dream a reality. Because following our interests and continually discovering and learning is one of the great joys of life. Unlike the leading aircraftsman, it’s unlikely you’ll need to fly across the desert to do it, but experience is priceless and the memories of such visits can stay with you forever.
They did with him, and I should know – he was my dad.