Petra hidden among deep gorges
Petra lies in a wide valley surrounded by high mountains. In addition, it is naturally protected by numerous canyons formed by the Wadi Musa river that flows through the city.
In ancient times, as now, the main road leading to the city was a gorge, known as the Siq, about 2 km long, narrow and with rock walls up to 80 m high. To prevent winter floods, the waters of Wadi Musa were controlled by dams and directed along the Siq into the city through a system of channels and cisterns. At the peak of Petra’s development, constant water supply meant that it was decorated with various fountains and gardens.
However, at first it looked completely different. Still in the 3rd century BC the inhabitants of Petra were nomads or semi-nomads. If they built houses, they were simple, small, made of clay and stone. Only at the end of the first century BC, thanks to Petra’s progressive policy and economic development, the city was decorated with monumental buildings, beautiful gardens and splendid houses. Petra’s oldest defense system also dates back to that period. It consisted of separate fortified posts which were meant to defend points with the weakest natural protection.
Colonnaded Street and Theater almost entirely carved in rock
The ancient Nabataean road, running along Wadi Musa and forming the main axis of the city, was resurfaced and paved in Hellenistic and Roman times. During the heyday of the city, the main public and religious buildings were built along this road on the section between the Royal Tombs and Qasr al-Bint Temple.
Despite its Greek-Roman appearance, the theater was built by the Nabataeans around the first century BC, and several rock-cut tombs were destroyed for the needs of the new construction. The theater, almost entirely carved in rock, has 45 rows of seats, for approximately 6,000 people. Only the lower part and fragments of columns have survived from the theater stage.
The Colonnaded Street acquired its monumental appearance in Roman times, around I-II century, probably during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). Sandstone colonnades were built on both sides of the carriageway, and the surface of the road was improved and repaved with limestone and marble slabs. Colonnaded streets in Gerasa and Bosra were created at a similar time. On the sides of the street behind the colonnade there were shops and entrances to the main public buildings.
Amazing discovery of 140 papyrus scrolls
Facing the north side of the street are the Nymphaeum (100-200 AD) and the Temple of the Winged Lions (about 25-75 AD), probably dedicated to the Nabataean goddess Al’Uzza. A special feature of the temple is the complex of adjacent workshops, which probably helped to finance religious rituals taking place in the temple. A short distance from the Temple of the Winged Lions are Byzantine churches, in one of which a beautiful mosaic floor has been preserved. In 1993, approximately 140 papyrus scrolls were found in a church area. They had been carbonized in a fire that consumed part of the church, but still after years of research it was possible to read them. They are written in Byzantine Greek, and are dated to 537-594 (Emperor Justinian introduced the order to place the date at the beginning and end of the document) and contain land ownership deeds and judgments in disputes.
The ruins of Petra’s largest building
On the south side of the street is the Great Temple (25 BC – 100 AD), the largest building of Petra. In its highest part there are remains of monumental stairs and a small theater, which indicates that there was probably a council chamber and a court assembly hall. The remains of the baths were also found near the Great Temple.
Nabatean Temple of Qasr al-Bint
And finally we reach the Temenos Gate constituting a monumental entrance to the most important, sacred district of the city, to the Temple of Qasr al-Bint (25 BC – 25 AD). It was the main temple of Petra and it still stands at a height of 23 m. Its current name derives from a local legend. The legend says that the same pharaoh who hid his treasure in the urn of the Treasury promised to give his daughter’s hand to an engineer who would create a water supply system for the palace. Obviously, several water channels were found around the temple, and the legend made subsequent treasure hunters try to break the urn in the Treasury’s facade. The Qasr al-Bint is a typical Hellenistic temple, where only priests could enter, while the faithful remained outside, offering animal sacrifices. It is approached by 26 marble steps, at the top of which there are 4 Corinthian columns. It is believed that this temple was dedicated to the main Nabataean deity named Dushara.