President Obama toured the ancient city of Petra in the last leg of his Middle East trip. The tour came on Saturday as he wrapped up a four-day visit to the region.
Obama was able to set aside diplomatic matters, including the Syrian conflict, to play tourist for a day. His visit to the ancient city followed a trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories that ended with the US president brokering a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey.
Before he headed to tour Petra, President Obama also used his stop in the country of Jordan to speak about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While he did criticize the Syrian president, he didn't promise any military aid to help the Syrian rebels. The country is currently in the middle of a two-year-old civil war that has claimed at least 70,000 lives.
President Obama's Middle East tour was the first international tour he took during his second term. It was also the first time the US president visited Israel since he was elected to the highest office in the United States. US officials have been pleased with the results of the trip, though the president's aides had set low expectations for the journey.
After four days of diplomacy, Barack Obama shifted into tourist mode as he flew by helicopter to Petra. He then took a walking tour of the city's restored ruins. The city is more than 2,000 years old. Half of it is carved into sandstone cliffs.
Despite being allowed to play tourist, President Obama was still all alone in Petra. Ordinary tourists were cleared out for his visit and guards with assault weapons were never far behind him. He wore sunglasses, khaki pants and a dark jacket and commented, "This is pretty spectacular. It's amazing."
The ancient city of Petra was carved out by the ancient Nabataeans and used as their capital. But the massive city was abandoned an known only to Bedouin tribesman until a French explorer rediscovered it in 1812. The area also served as one of TE Lawrence's greatest military triumphs in 1917.
The young British army officer commanded a small band of Arab and Bedouin fighters. Together, they soundly defeated a much larger force of Turkish and German troops. But President Obama's visit to the formerly lost city was much more subdued. He entered the city through the Siq -- a narrow opening in the rocks. It ends with the first stunning view of the carved colonnade of the Treasury building.
Following his tour of the ancient city of Petra, President Obama was expected to head back to the United States.
[Image by NASA/Bill Ingalls (NASA Image of the Day) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]