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When Harrison Ford finally found the Holy Grail inside the Khaznat al-Faron at Petra, at the climax of the film Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, a new myth was born. But Ford, and his scriptwriters, were only following in a long line of people who have contributed to the myths, misinformation and confusion surrounding the fabeled "rose-red city" of Petra - not only since its rediscovery in 1812 but as far back as the Middle Ages.
The list of misconceptions with which Petra has been plagued over the centuries is almost overwhelming. Most are harmless errors in names, dates, attributions and the like, but, taken as a whole, they detract greatly from the reality of this important scenic and archeological site.
Since Indiana Jones had to reach his goal via the Shiq, the two-kilometer (2200- yard) chasm leading into Petra, perhaps that is a good place to begin a demythologizing tour of the site. The Shiq is a great cleft in the earth, formed in the hazy depths of the geological past by the same earthquake activity that has plagued the area ever since. Its narrow, winding route through the lofty cliffs which protect the site on the east remains one of the great experiences for the visitor today, and is probably responsible for the belief that it was here that Moses struck the rock to secure water for his wandering people after the flight from Egypt - the first of the Moses-linked stories now associated with the whole Petra Basin. The wadi (valley) that bisects the ancient city center was dutifully dubbed Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), a name first encountered in the records of the Crusaders.
The Crusader leader Baldwin, just before he became king of the Latin Kingdom in AD 1100, was summoned to Petra by "the monks of Saint Aaron," those records show, who claimed they were being harassed by "the Saracens." After rescuing the monks, Baldwin returned to Jerusalem to be crowned and to rethink Crusader strategy in his new kingdom. He soon discovered that there were no fortified points south of "The Castle of Saint Abraham" at Hebron, and he hastened to mend that deficiency. Along with the fortresses still standing today at Kerak, Sho- bak, Tafilah and elsewhere in Jordan, a fortress was erected in the "Valley of Moses" and the legend of Moses' visit to Petra was thus given official recognition.
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Little deceits can get out of hand, however, and soon other signs of Moses' visit appear at the site. The Khaznat al- Faroun, where Indiana Jones made his great discovery in the 1989 film, is another victim of the early monks' tales. Khaznat al-Faroun means "the Treasury of the Pharaoh"- and a myth goes with the name: The Pharaoh of Exodus, having mobilized his forces to recapture the fleeing Hebrews, had reached Petra - after his slight embarrassment at the Red Sea. But by then the weight of his treasury, thoughtfully carried along, had begun to slow the progress of his army. As a result, the story goes, the Khaznat al-Faroun was created, by magic, and the Pharaoh's wealth deposited in the urn-like decoration on its top. One can still see the pockmarks of Bedouin bullets, fired at the "urn" in the vain hope that Pharaoh's gold would come tumbling down!