42 imagesAQABA, THE NEW LIFE OF THE JORDAN'S GATE ON THE RED SEA Aqaba, a small city at the southern tip of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan would seem to be an out-of-the-way place to be attracting global economic attention. Early in the twentieth century, Aqaba was ruled by the Ottoman Turks until T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia) captured the town in 1917. Aqaba entered the twenty-first century on an entirely different note because in 2000 the Jordanian government declared the city a Special Economic Zone, a tax- and duty-free site designed to attract international investment and businesses. From a sleepy back-door gate into Jordan known mainly for its proximity to stunning coral reefs and the archaeological wonders of Petra, Aqaba has become one of the most important development sites in the Middle East, altering in the next future, perhaps irrevocably, the city's appearance, and his inhabitants. The vehicle for Aqaba's transformation was the establishment of 375 square kilometers of southern Jordan around Aqaba as a Special Economic Zone run by ASEZA (Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority). Downtown Aqaba still thrives, though new centers of activity are starting to erode its economic centrality. Another point of friction is public access to the beaches. Twenty years ago the public could access most of the coast, now with a string of hotels and luxury developments the only public beach can go to is small and dirty, and the hotel beaches can charge 25 dinar ($35) to enter. But till today Aqaba's downtown is the only tourist spot on the Red Sea that still felt like a living Middle Eastern city, full of coffee houses and night markets.
83 imagesJORDAN, THE MAN THAT COULD SAVE PETRA When visited Petra for the first time in 1982 Talal Akasheh, a professor of physical chemistry at Jordan's Hashemite University, was surprised by the beauty of the site but perhaps more by the damage that time and the elements had wrought on the monuments of one of the world's most revered cultural sites. This 2,500-year-old city was a natural stronghold for a desert tribe, the Nabataeans, who controlled the trade routes of the region. They built a sophisticated city with a system of dams, cisterns, pipes and channels to guard it from sudden floods. At its peak Petra may have sheltered 25,000 citizens but from the 3rd century natural disasters and political tides gradually eclipsed it until 1812 when the Swiss explorer Burckhardt rediscovered Petra, added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1985. The chemistry of red, sulphur and orange of his sandstone monuments dissolve grain by grain this ancient wonder. Desert winds, sun, rain, flash floods, and tourism add their irresistible weight to the erosion. Talal Akasheh has dedicated 26 years to help save Petra. <
>. The Geographic Information System database (GIS) he developed, earning him a Rolex Award in 2008, offers managers of the archaeological park knowledge they need and archaeologists a new way to analyse the monuments. By 2008, the GIS's 10-gigabyte memory collated 2.000 monuments and the next step will be a 3D documentation, to study the salt content of the weathered monuments and possibly restoring the Nabataean drainage system. < >.