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Awestruck Obama visits Petra ruins on last leg of Mideast trip

President Barack Obama stops to look at the ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan on Saturday.

Associated Press

President Barack Obama stops to look at the ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan on Saturday.

PETRA, Jordan — After four days of difficult Middle East diplomacy, President Barack Obama headed home Saturday after playing tourist at the elaborate ruins of Petra, an ancient city carved from sheer rock faces of surrounding mountains.

The remains of monasteries, burial tombs and baths from the Nabatean civilization of more than 2,000 years ago are the pride of Jordan, Obama's final stop in the region. The archaeological park attracts half a million visitors a year, and Obama, dressed in khaki slacks and a windbreaker, seemed as awestruck as any other tourist.

Emerging from a narrow gorge into a bright, sunlit opening known as the plaza, he marveled at the facade of the Treasury, the masterpiece of the city, with giant red-stone columns and urns sculpted from a cliff.

"This is pretty spectacular," he said, craning his neck to peer at the rock faces towering above him.

"It's amazing," he said, as the cameras clicked. "Spectacular."

During his first term, Obama's foreign trips were marked by a breakneck pace, leaving little time for tourist stops. This trip to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan included visits to several cultural, historic and religious sites.

Petra was the last stop on a Middle East swing that chiefly focused on U.S. ties to Israel, and that produced an unexpected high note Friday when Obama successfully prodded Israel and Turkey to end a bitter three-year dispute and to restore normal diplomatic relations.

U.S. officials said Obama had urged the two key U.S. allies to reconcile amid growing concerns that the deepening civil war in Syria would spill beyond its borders and destabilize the region.

Awestruck Obama visits Petra ruins on last leg of Mideast trip 03/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 10:58pm]

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