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Petra: City Forged of Stone

Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara Brings Allan Langdale to Discuss Ancient Jordanian City


In 2008, Allan Langdale starred in and directed a documentary called The Stones of Famagusta, about a “forgotten” city on the island of Cyprus, and next week he’ll be speaking in Santa Barbara about Petra, the ancient city carved out of a desert mountain in Jordan. The two don’t have much in common, admitted Langdale, “except for the fact they’re fascinating places and not often visited by Americans.” It’s one sign of what he sees as an unfortunate trend of Americans “contracting the extent of their travels” due to concerns over international terrorism.

But Langdale hasn’t slowed his explorations. Upon completing his PhD at UCSB in 1996, he became one of those twenty-somethings who “bought a backpack and a one-way ticket to Europe.” He lived in Cyprus for two years, has been to Petra three times, and today, as a travel writer and educator, enjoys an itinerant life, rife with yearlong travel. In August, Langdale heads to Turkey (the subject of his next book, In a Land of Empires), where he’ll join an expedition ship on the Black Sea.

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With a mailing address in Santa Ynez and belongings stored in Goleta, Langdale considers Santa Barbara his home base; he also lectures during the winter session at UCSB as an adjunct professor.

Why’s he attracted to such far-flung destinations? Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Langdale loved leafing through the pages of National Geographic as a kid. “I was just fascinated by ruins of ancient cities,” said Langdale, who has since contributed to the magazine himself. “It was something that I continued having interest in.”

Rock-cut architecture has always fascinated him. “The best rock-cut architecture in the world is in India,” said Langdale of the caves in Ajanta and Ellora. “But Petra is a close second, a sculpted city where buildings were carved rather than constructed.”

No one knows exactly how many people lived in Petra — some say 25,000 — but the city was a bustling stop “on the silk and spice route,” said Langdale, so frankincense and pepper passed through there. Another interesting topic he will discuss is the ancient hydrological systems that the residents used to preserve water in the desert. “It’s quite germane to our present situation,” said Langdale of the aqueducts that he says are both simple and impressive for “a civilization that flourished over 2,000 years ago.”

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Of his lecture, Langdale promised, “It’s not an academic thing; it’s a travelogue.” He’ll also be showing images that he snapped with his Nikon D7100, and he wants to make the presentation experiential for attendees. “If no one is going to go there, I least I can take them there in a lecture,” he said.

Allan Langdale’s lecture Petra: The Ancient Stone City will be Thursday, July 21, at 7 p.m. at the Architectural Foundation of S.B.(229 E. Victoria St.). Suggested donation is $10. See afsb.org.



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