A Magic Carpet ride to a Whole New World…Petra! Part I

Alright- so I am no Aladdin, and it’s not really a magic carpet. But its the closest thing. Today in particular I felt an incredible amount of nostalgia for my true office: Petra. And I thought, the only way you could understand how I feel is to guide you through the city itself through pictures and video’s.

Petra was the capital city of the ancient Nabataean Kingdom. Petra, as some may guess, is not a Semitic word, thus we cannot be sure what the Nabataeans referred to their city as- however, Petra is the Greek word for “rock.” After visiting the city, there is no surprise in the name; Petra is a city that has literally been carved from the rosey, reddish-purple, bedrock native to the site.


Home to one of the seven wonders of the world, al Kasneh, this post will explore the ancient monumental structures of the city and provide a sort of virtual tour through this astonishingly beautiful, impressive, elaborately and ingeniously designed city. So, as our journey begins:

Imagine you’re a merchant, traveling with your camel caravan full of skins carrying raw frankincense and myrrh, amphorae sloshing up and down with wine and beer, and bags full of grain. Before traveling to Gaza, via the Petra-Gaza road, you wish to walk through the Siq, see a few of your regular customers, rest and begin your journey to the coast the next day.

You begin your walk by passing through massive doors that have been hinged to bedrock, your camels must walk slow so as to not slip on the smooth flagstone pavers  which make up the pathway into the Siq. As you enter, you see sculptors diligently at work perfecting tomb facades for the burial place of some royal. To your right you see the large stones that have been perfectly carved into squares, with a stepped design as part of its facade. You walk over to the stone and burn a bit of the frankincense as an offering to Dushares.


Continuing down the road, you see camels and fellow merchants piling into the narrow passage towards the city center. You see that the hydraulic engineers are completing their installment of pipes and capstones (there was a huge bank of water held up by a dam). That water must be the cities supply and these pipes probably carry that water into the cisterns, pools and latrines within the city miles away.

The first two pictures below are details of an in situ ceramic water pipe–this particular vessel can be dated to the late 1st c BC- 1st c AD.

You can see in the picture below the shoulder of the water pipe; this is considered the “male” end and would be inserted into the “female” base of the proceeding pipe.


Water catchment system installed into the walls of the Siq.


A capstone covering the water installations so as to prevent waste getting into the fresh water. In antiquity the entire length of the water installation would have been covered by these capstones.

After following traffic for about twenty minutes, you are stopped by a gentlemen speaking Greek–you recognize a few words; he would like you to pose for a relief sculpture he has been commissioned to carve on the wall of the Siq. You stop for about 3o minutes to let him take down measurements of you, and two of your camels–hey maybe next year you’ll be able to see your portrait on the wall–not to  mention everyone else will too!


IMG_0650Finally, as you turn a bend you can begin to see, directly in front of you, the features of the al Kasneh. It is almost as if the building is on a stage, being slowly revealed by two gigantic drawing curtains–but as you come closer your eyes are immediately lifted to the large urn that is placed on top, in between the pediment. You’ve wondered before if there is some type of treasure being hidden up there. You recently heard of some robbers who shot balista balls in attempt to break open the urn–all of which failed.


Regardless of the all the noise surrounding you, you are in complete silence, taking in the curvature of all the muscles from the figures in frieze on the facade of the structure. Your eyes follow the bend of every strand of hair, you almost think that the figures are going to jump out and preform a scene from the some play.


Suddenly, the silence is broken by the constant buzzing of people conversing, carts being wheeled around, camels shuffling, horses click-clacking against the paved road, dogs barking, and goats hoping along the canons that surround you.

There is laughter echoing from the theater, to the left, which has been carved out of the wadi. Perhaps when it ends you’ll circle back around and gain some new customers- no doubt people are drinking there and can easily be persuaded to buy a few trinkets that you brought along from Luke Kome.


Almost as loud as the laughter was the syncopated, rhythmic hammering of bronze against the bedrock. To your right you see men chiseling away at the red stone to prepare more tombs probably for the royal family or some elite family. You know of one prominent family, close to the king that lives above the pool complex on the Zantur ridge.



IMG_0557 IMG_0558


Meanwhile, the sun is piercing through your robes and you remember there is a public fountain just ahead. Finally you reach the fountain tie up your camels so they can relinquish their thirst. You toss a few coins to a young man to watch over your goods–you think to save the one with your king’s (Aretas IV) profile on the obverse for an offering.

Thus begins your favorite part through the city. Just as you turn away from the fountain, a beautifully and carefully flagstone road is laid out in front of you, flanked by gigantic columns. The walls of what once used to be houses are now little shops, decorated with dedicatory inscriptions on its walls. Further down the road you see a massive gate which closed off the temple complex of Qasr al-Bint–that part of the city was considered to be holy and thus separated from the commercial and administrative part of the city.




To your right–the North Ridge, where workshops and houses were situated to look over the entire city center. To your left- stairs that ascend into the royal complex. For leisure, the royal court would stroll into the pool and terraced garden after a long day of administration which could have taken place at the Great Temple that sits immediately east of the Garden.

The Garden was probably one of the most impressive, intimidating, and illustrious sites compared to any of the other structures. The Garden was full of pomegranate and date trees. Intricate mosaic floors made from stone tesserae were fashioned into pathways that lead throughout the garden and beneath a rushing waterfall down the east retaining wall. A pool which was nearly equivalent in size of the garden itself was full of exotic fish,  and flowers- it appeared as a mini oasis, right in the heart of the city center.

Stay tuned for Part Duex…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>