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PETRA (Selah) Jordan.

In the mountains of Idumaea 300 km S of Amman, Petra was the capital of the kingdom of Nabataea and a flourishing caravan city. It was annexed by Trajan in A.D. 106 and visited by Hadrian in 130. The Moslem conquest in the 4th c. brought decline and oblivion.

The site, rediscovered in 1812, is a basin shut in by cliffs of brightly colored sandstone into which many monuments were cut. The monuments are often baroque in their variety of form and richness of decoration. The only access is by the Siq, a narrow defile 2 km long cut by the wadi Musa, whose waters were diverted by an ancient tunnel. A rock-cut necropolis at the entry to the Siq has nefesh (obelisks or stelai symbolizing the soul of the deceased) and, farther along, baetyls (aniconical representations of the divinity).

The most famous of Petra's monuments, the Khazné or treasury, rises in the middle of the Siq. Its pink sandstone facade, more than 40 m high, is exotically decorated, suggesting a Corinthian temple topped by a tholos in a courtyard with porticos. Its interior is a vast cross-shaped chamber. The monument may be a mausoleum of King Aretas IV, who died in A.D. 40.

At the exit of the Siq is a large theater cut into the rock in the 2d c. A.D. There is also a small theater, more recent in date, at a bend of the wadi Musa. A paved street, the cardo, ran along the wadi and was the town's main axis. To N and S the town rose tier on tier over fairly steep slopes. It was larger in circumference in the 1st c. B.C. than in the 2d c. A.D. First one sees the hemicycle enclosing the basin of a public fountain or nymphaeum, then the ruins which, to the S, may be markets and a large temple, and to the N a palace and a gymnasium. To the W the cardo reaches a monumental arch with three bays, which gives access to a sacred area of the 1st c. A.D. The area contains the base of a monumental altar and a square cella with stucco decoration. These are remains of the main temple, known as Qasr Firaun, consecrated to Dusares. According to Suidas, its gold-covered baetyl would have been enthroned in the axial chapel. The cliff of el-Habis, which dominates the Qasr to the W, was covered with Nabataean houses.

The E cliff has extraordinary funerary facades. To the S, at the exit of the Siq, are tiers of tombs crowned with merlons or steps. Farther to the left is the tall Doric urn tomb of the middle of the 1st c. A.D., which was turned into a cathedral in A.D. 446. Then come the Corinthian Tomb, which imitates the Khazné, and the Palace Tomb, resembling the long facade of a Parthian palace; both are the burial places of princes and princesses of the last Nabataean dynasty. The narrow and overburdened facade of the tomb of Sextus Florentinus (legate in Arabia ca. A.D. 127) stands 300 m farther N cut into a rocky spur.

There are many High Places on the neighboring plateaus, with enclosing walls, sacrificial areas, altars, bases for baetyls, triclinia cut in the rock, and basins. On the ed-Deir plateau, the main one is dedicated to the god Dushara. There is also a theater in the gorge of the wadi es-Sabrah.


L. de Laborde et Dinant, Voyage de l'Arabie pétrée (1830)I & Journey Through Arabia Petraea . . . (1836)I; R. E. Brunnow & A. v. Domaszewski, Die Provincia Arabia I (1904)MPI; G. Dalman, Petra und seine Felsheiligtümer (1908); H. Kohl, Kasr Firaun in Petra (1910)PI; W. Bachmann et al., Petra (1910)PI; A.B.W. Kennedy, Petra, Its History and Monuments (1925)MPI; A. Kammerer, Pétra et la Nabatène (1929); G. & A. Horsfield, “Sela-Petra, The Rock of Edom and Nabatene,” QDAP 7 (1938)PI; G. L. Harding, The Antiquities of Jordan (1960); J. Starcky, “Pétra et la Nabatène,” Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible VII (1966)MPI; P. J. Parr et al., “Découvertes récentes au sanctuaire du Qasr à Pétra,” Syria 45 (1968)I; M. Lindner et al. Petra und das Königreich der Nabatäer (1970)MPI.


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