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Excursion to Jordan: sixth day (May 14, 2004)

Today's excursion is entirely dedicated to the visit of Petra. The Nabataean, Roman, and Byzantine monuments of this capital city of the desert got us fascinated once again. The day started with the best of the atmospheres, but around noon came the wind of the desert, heavy with sand, consequently forcing us to shorten our visit time.


The Pyramids’ Monument, just before entering the Siq of Petra. The nephesh was employed in funerary monuments, in Egypt as well as in the Semitic world, to signify life.

General Plan of Petra and its surroundings
1: Entrance
2: Al-Wuhaira
3: Dam, tunnel and starting point of the Siq
4: Tomb called "The Treasure"
5: Place of the Sacrifice
6: Theater
7: Tomb of the Urn or "Cathedral"
8: Sextus Florentinus’ Tomb
9: Nimphaeum
10: Church
11: Temple of the Winged Lions
12: The Great Temple
13: Qasr el-Bint
14: Museum
15: Triclinium of the Lions
16: ed-Deir ("Monastery")

In the course of the 4th cent. B.C. Petra became the capital of the independent kingdom of the Nabataeans, their political and commercial center. In 106 A.D. Marcus Ulpius Trajan annexed the Nabataean kingdom to the Roman Empire establishing the Provincia Arabia and awarded to the city of Petra the title of Metropolis. Emperor Adrian, on the occasion of his voyage in the oriental provinces (132 A.D.), bestowed to the city the title of Adrianea Petra Mertropolis. Under Eliogabalus (218-222 A.D.) the title was changed in Colonia Antoniniana. Around 400 A.D. Petra with the southern Transjordan and the Negev became known as Palaestina Tertia sive Salutaris.

The water channel running along the Siq. The Nabataeans dwelt mostly in desert regions like the Hejaz, the Nabatene, and the Negev. They really need to develop the ability to secure for their cities and their croplands a good provision of water.

One of the most outstanding monuments of Petra is the Khazneh, or Pharaoh's Treasure. The tomb goes back to the 1st cent. B.C., and probably belonged to the royal family of Arethas III.

Panoramic view of the earliest Nabataean necropolis.

View of the theater towards Jebel al-Khubtha, witch has the largest tombs. Among them is the Cathedral, the Palace Tomb (46x49 m façade) the Corinthian Tomb, the Urn Tomb, and the Silk Tomb. The theater of Petra is completely carved out of the living rock, and has a capacity of 6000 spectators. The work was brought to an end in the 1st cent. A.D.

On the right, the entrance to the Cathedral. An inscription attests that the metropolitan bishop Jason transformed a Doric Tomb into an Eucharistic Hall. The same inscription gives the date as year 341 of the Arabian Province, corresponding to the 447 A.D.

For centuries the Bedouins had been the only ones to know about the treasures of Petra, untill its rediscovery by J.L. Burckhardt in 1812.

Plan of the Church of the Papyri on the western side of the cardo.
1: Atrium
2: Baptistry
3: Basilica
4: Pulpit
5: Sanctuary
6: Room of the Papyri

The excavations, carried out in the ninthies by the American Center of Oriental Research - Amman, brought to light a vast edifice decorated with beautiful mosaics. A series of administrative records, written on papyrus and remounting to the sixth cent. A.D., were also discovered. The papyri are part of a private archive including contracts, rents, exchanges, wills, and farming agreements. The handwriting is of a style called "cursive Greek script".

Above: View of the church from the sanctuary.
Right: Medallion with the image of Okeanos.

The floors of the nave and of the sanctuary are made of intersected marbles of various colors (opus sectile). Both aisles are decorated with mosaics. The mosaic style is of the Gaza School, which is very different from that of the Madaba School seen in the previous days.

Atrium of the church. The basilica is divided into three parts by two rows of columns, and measures 15x26 m.

The baptistry is situated in a room adjoining the atrium of the Church.

Interior view of the Temple of the Winged Lions.

The monumental gate to the temenos of Petra. A Roman inscription from the year 114 celebrates the emperor Trajan. The gate leads to the large courtyard of the Temple of Uzzah (Qasr al-Bint).

Courtyard of the Great Temple of Petra. The flooring is made with exagonal marble slabs and is certainly a work worthy of note.

Detail of the pompeiian style wall frescoes found in the deambulatory of the Great Temple of Petra.

Panoramic view towards Qasr al-Bint and the Umm al-Biyyara peak. The Temple of Uzzah was built at the beginning of the 2nd cent. A.D. Its sides are of 27,9x27,62 m, and the walls are preserved to the height of 23 m.

Left: Arch in the Qasr al-Bint façade.
Right: Two objects from the local Museum. A fragment of a capital sculpted in the shape of an elephant, found in the Great Temple of Petra; head of an eagle.

Right: Al-Dayr (42 m heigh and 45 m wide), a Nabataean tomb used by Christian monks during the Byzantine Period. From the escarpment near al-Dayr is visible Jebel Haroun, topped by a white mosque built in memory of the prophet Aaron which is said to be buried there.
Below: The reddish (multicolored) stone from which the name of "red/rose city" came to Petra.

From the Petra highs, a beautiful sight towards the Arabah and Israel.

The "Lions' Triclinium" got its name from the scultures adorning the front of the monument.

A local horse finds shelter from the wind and the sand inside one cave.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

External Links

Petra (The Madaba Map Website) - Sources - Discussion

Petra (National Geographic)

A Wonderful Petra Photo Essay (334 photos)

Googgle Directory List of Links

Brown University Excavations

ACOR Petra Projects (Papyri found in Church Complex)

 SBF main, Index

Biblical Excursions

Biblical World



Umm el-Jimal



W. Kharrar




M. Nebo




Umm er-Rasas





Archaeological Museum

Iraq el-Amir

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