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Obama ends Mideast trip as tourist

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 5:57 p.m.
REUTERS
U.S. President Barack Obama stops in front of the Treasury as he takes a walking tour of the ancient historic and archaeological site of Petra March 23, 2013. Obama visited Jordan's ancient city of Petra on Saturday as he wrapped up a four-day Middle East tour by setting aside weighty diplomatic matters and playing tourist for a day. REUTERS/Larry Downing (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS TRAVEL)

PETRA, Jordan — President Obama set aside the Middle East's tricky politics on Saturday to marvel at one of the region's most stunning sites, the ancient city of Petra.

“This is pretty spectacular,” he said, craning his neck to gaze up at the rock faces after emerging from a narrow pathway into a sun-splashed plaza in front of the grand Treasury. The soaring facade is considered the masterpiece of the ancient city carved into the rose-red stone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago.

Obama's turn as tourist capped a four-day visit to the Middle East that included stops in Israel and the West Bank, as well as Jordan.

The White House set low policy expectations for the trip, and the president was returning to Washington with few tangible achievements.

Aides said his intention instead was to reassure the region's politicians and people — particularly in Israel — that he is committed to their security and prosperity.

Curious residents and picture-taking tourists lined the streets of modern Petra as Obama's motorcade wound toward the entrance to the ancient city. The president, dressed in khaki pants, a black jacket and hiking boots, began his walking tour at the entrance to the Siq, a narrow, winding gorge cutting between two soaring cliffs.

The path opened into a dusty plaza with the colossal columned Treasury as its centerpiece. Obama declared the carved monument is “amazing.”

The Bedouins named the building the Treasury because they believed that urns sculpted on top of it contained great treasures. In reality, the urns represented a memorial for Nabataean royalty.

Over time, historians have disagreed on the Treasury's purpose. However, a recent excavation proved that a graveyard exists underneath it.

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