President Obama’s Visit to Petra and ACOR’s Role
By Barbara A. Porter, ACOR Director, Amman, Jordan
In the third week of March, President Obama visited the region and ended his four-day trip with an afternoon tour of Petra. Overseas research centers are often asked to assist in such special visits, and in this case, ACOR’s Associate Director Chris Tuttle was on call for the U.S. Embassy during the planning phase. Because of our current, ongoing project in Petra at the Temple of the Winged Lions, Chris was staying in Wadi Musa at the ACOR Project House, so he was able to meet with the numerous organizers regularly.
The President flew from Amman by helicopter and then drove through Wadi Musa to the entrance of the Siq. ACOR was pleased that Chris was included with the group of dignitaries who greeted Obama. Among them were the outgoing Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Nayef Al Fayyez, and the Commissioners of the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority (PDTRA), including Emad Hijazeen, the head of the Petra Archaeological Park. Chris had a nice exchange with the President who asked where he came from and how he got to Petra. Chris was thus naturally able to mention the Brown University Great Temple project that brought him to Petra in 2004 and his ongoing work in Jordan with ACOR since 2006 as well as his Vermont upbringing. Ambassador Stuart Jones thanked Chris for his help.
President Obama walked through the Siq with Suleiman Farajat, a tourism specialist at the University of Jordan. In front of the Treasury—see photo above—the President met the other Suleiman Farajat who ran the Petra Park for many years and who was able to provide in-depth information on the excavations that he conducted in the tombs in front and below the Treasury. The President had lunch between the Treasury and the Theater and left immediately thereafter.
On that day, Chris was involved in taking members of the Oval Office through the site. This group followed the President and lunched at another venue just beyond the Theater. In their shared time, Chris was able to discuss many aspects of Petra, ancient and modern, with the White House staff.
I was tasked to take members of the White House Press Corps through the site. I led approximately 60 journalists and managed in two hours to stop at ten key stops with the grand finale being the Petra Church excavated by ACOR. On the way to the back exit, we walked by the Temple of the Winged Lions, so I was able to provide information on the Ambassadors Fund Grant for Cultural Preservation, which is supporting our current work there.
After taking the journalists around (and getting them to the Church and exit on time!), I drove out with them to Wadi Musa and then walked up the hill to our project house. The way was lined with guards and interested tourists, and I too was able to wave as the President’s car descended on Petra. There was a major sandstorm the day before and the weather was also uncertain that Saturday morning, and it was indeed wonderful that the visit that so many had worked so hard to plan. President Obama had commented the day before that he planned to go to Petra the next day—weather permitting—and fortunately by the time he was due to arrive the skies were crystal clear and a beautiful blue so he was able to fulfill this wish.