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‘Petra recognition as second best int’l cinematic destination a win for film industry’

By Dana Al Emam - Jul 13,2015 - Last updated at Jul 13,2015

Petra, 235km south of Amman, was the capital of the Nabataean Arabs, who controlled the trading routes that passed through Petra to Gaza in the west, Basra and Damascus in the north, Aqaba in the south, and across the desert to the Arabian Gulf (File photo)

AMMAN — The rose-red city of Petra came in second in a recent international vote for the world’s best cinematic destinations.

Carried out by USA Today, one of the best-selling newspapers in America and the world, Petra competed with 21 destinations and was only preceded by Scotland.

The Nabataean city, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, was followed by New Zealand, Salzburg in Austria, Dyersville in Iowa, Albuquerque in the US, Dubrovnik in Croatia, and Bruges in Belgium. 

Santa Barbara Wine Country in California came in ninth place, followed by Las Vegas.

Describing Petra’s filming location as one “difficult to replicate” despite all the available modern technology, Sharif Majali, production services manager at the Royal Film Commission (RFC), said the city’s “unique” architecture is  its most distinctive feature.

“Wherever you point your camera, the result is art on the screen,” he said in an e-mail interview with The Jordan Times. 

The city’s inhabitants, Nabataean Arabs, carved structures into the soft sandstone more than two millennia ago.

The once bustling city was the capital of the Nabataean Arabs, who controlled the trading routes that passed through Petra to Gaza in the west, Basra and Damascus in the north, Aqaba in the south, and across the desert to the Arabian Gulf.

Majali said the efforts of concerned institutions to attract more film productions have paid off, as Jordan is now an internationally recognised filming destination.

If it were not for the turmoil in the region, Jordan would have been the number one filming destination in the area, according to the RFC official, who cited a variety of filming locations in Jordan in addition to a “well-developed” infrastructure, the availability of skilled crew and the absence of “red tape”.

Nonetheless, additional marketing and more collaborative efforts among entities working in the tourism and filming fields are needed to further promote the Kingdom as a cinematic destination.

“One way to improve the filming experience in Petra is to have a trained crew that lives in the city,” Majali said, adding that the RFC has been involved in training local community members in Petra, some 235km south of Amman.

Moreover, a film centre, managed by the RFC, is being established along with other projects and with the help of the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority (PDTRA), he added.

Petra Archaeological Park (PAP) Director Emad Hijazeen agreed with Majali on the “uniqueness” of the site, noting that PDTRA is intensifying efforts to highlight that.

He said filming in Petra expands the city’s marketing opportunities, as shooting at a place like one of the New Seven Wonders of the World encourages many film buffs to visit the city and live that experience.

Although some people mistakenly limit Petra to the Treasury, PAP includes several sites with an area of 264 square kilometres, according to Hijazeen. 

The new vision for Petra, he said, aims to provide visitors with a rich cultural experience, other than simply visiting the site.

He explained that a cultural village will be established where song, dance and culinary activities can take place to provide visitors with a local experience.

Majali agreed with Hijazeen on the diversity of experiences at Petra.

“Some of our guests think that it’s just the Treasury, but once they are on the ground, they are thrilled by how much more this ancient city has to offer in terms of filming locations,” Majali said.

USA Today — which says it has a circulation of 1.8 million and a readership of 3.1 million, while its sites have 26.3 million visitors a month — said a panel of cinematic tourism experts “hand picked” the nominees, where TV shows and movies play a major role in the tourist scene.

“Iconic TV shows and movies have launched a new era of tourism, one where fans make pop culture pilgrimages to walk in the footsteps of fictional characters at the very destinations where the most famous scenes were filmed,” the newspaper said.

Additional nominees for Best Cinematic Destination included Australia, Berkshire, London, Morocco, New York, Paris, Southern Tunisia, Stockholm, the Thai islands and Tokyo.

In 1989, Steven Spielberg filmed “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” starring Harrison Ford in the rose-red city.

More recently, Michael Bay shot scenes from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” there in 2009, according to USA Today.

Petra was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in an online vote in 2007, in which around 100 million voters from around the globe took part.

An estimated 22 million votes were cast for Petra, which is known for its dramatic tombs and temple facades, including one that served as a church during Byzantine times.


The rose-red rock city was forgotten for centuries until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812. The ancient city was hidden behind an almost impenetrable barrier of rugged mountains.

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