PM Lee Hsien Loong explores Petra during Jordan visit

PM Lee, wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh, a symbolic headdress for Jordanians, at historic Petra, with guide Mohammad Qamhiya (in green). From left: Dr Intan, Mr Masagos and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore senior director Albakri Ahmad, speaki
PM Lee, wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh, a symbolic headdress for Jordanians, at historic Petra, with guide Mohammad Qamhiya (in green).ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
PM Lee, wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh, a symbolic headdress for Jordanians, at historic Petra, with guide Mohammad Qamhiya (in green). From left: Dr Intan, Mr Masagos and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore senior director Albakri Ahmad, speaki
From left: Dr Intan, Mr Masagos and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore senior director Albakri Ahmad, speaking with Singaporean students at the Grand Hyatt in Jordan.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks to Singaporean University students studying in Jordan at the Grand Hyatt on April 16, 2016.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks to Singaporean University students studying in Jordan at the Grand Hyatt on April 16, 2016.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong take photographs with Singaporean University students studying in Jordan at the Grand Hyatt on April 16, 2016.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong take photographs with Singaporean University students studying in Jordan at the Grand Hyatt on April 16, 2016.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks to Singaporean University students studying in Jordan at the Grand Hyatt on April 16, 2016.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks to Singaporean University students studying in Jordan at the Grand Hyatt on April 16, 2016.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

He will be hosted to lunch by King Abdullah II today and will meet counterpart for dinner

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong began his trip to Jordan yesterday with a visit to the country's most well-known site - the sprawling ancient city of Petra.

On arriving in Petra, Mr Lee, who is on his first official visit to Jordan, was presented with a red-and-white keffiyeh, a symbolic headdress for Jordanians, held in place by a black rope-like circlet known as the agal.

Mr Lee and his wife were accompanied by Mr Nayef H. Al-fayez, Jordan's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, and hosted by Mr Mohammad Al-Nawafleh, the chief commissioner of the Petra Development and Tourism Authority.

Known for its rose-red rock structures, Petra was a bustling city whose strategic location near the Mediterranean and Red Seas saw merchants trade frankincense from southern Arabia, silks from China and spices from India in its markets.

It also saw a constant stream of travellers and pilgrims, who marvelled at its hydrological engineering, which Mr Lee was briefed about.

To cope with the harsh desert environment and arid landscape, the Nabataean people built the city's developed structures and systems to manage the supply of water, especially during periods of dry weather. Petra was the capital of the Nabataean Empire from around the 1st century BC, and the Romans took over some 200 years later.

But a large earthquake in AD363 destroyed much of the city.

Another quake in AD551 and a change in trade routes led to its abandonment, until it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812.

Now a Unesco world heritage site, Petra was also the location for a number of scenes in the Hollywood movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

It was also named one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007. Today, tourism is a key contributor to the Jordanian economy.

However, tourist guides and others in the industry lament that the ongoing conflict in Jordan's neighbours - Syria and Iraq - has affected visitor numbers.

Yesterday evening, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and MP Intan Azura Mokhtar also had a closed-door dialogue with Singapore students pursuing higher education in Islamic religious studies and Arabic in Jordan.

Mr Lee also met Singapore students at a dinner reception.

Today, Mr Lee will be hosted to lunch by Jordan's King Abdullah II.

He will also meet Prime Minister and Defence Minister Abdullah Ensour, who will host him to dinner.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline 'PM explores Petra during Jordan visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe