Jordan, PetraThis is a part of a series on Petra in Jordan (not possible to cover all in one post).

The Treasury is the most famous landmark in Petra, and may fool you into thinking that not much lies beyond. Quite the contrary. It is only the beginning of an exploration that can take days to cover if you really want to see it all closely. Unfortunately I only had a few hours!

The Street of Facades
The first set of structures are a series of tombs – some elaborate, some modest (for the not-so-rich). The latter can be seen in a series along the cliff faces. This area is referred to as the Street of Facades. The facades of many of these tombs are crowned with corner crow-steps, pilasters and cavettos. Given below are images of some of these.

Jordan, Petra

Jordan, Petra

Jordan, Petra

Jordan, Petra

Jordan, Petra

Jordan, Petra

Main Theatre (25 – 125 A.D.)
You will find amphitheatres like these all over Jordan. Petra’s theatre is estimated to date to the early first century A.D., during the reign of King Aretas IV, when Petra’s urban character took shape. It consists of an auditorium with a semicircular orchestra and an ascending horseshoe-shaped seating area with vertical stairways divided into three levels by horizontal passageways. It also featured a stage wall, added by the Romans, which shielded the orchestra and served as a theatrical backdrop.

The theatre is striking in that it is hewn directly from the rock in one piece. It seems the Nabataeans were in such great need of an assembly area they had to destroy some existing facades, as the cliff face preserves the remains of earlier tomb complexes that had been carved away to create the auditorium’s rear wall.

In the absence of documentation, we can only guess at the many kinds of events that may have been held there. If Petra was a pilgrimage destination, the theatre could have been used for pilgrims to assemble and conduct their rituals; there was an altar in the orchestra that may have been linked to this. Later, during Roman times, it may have hosted theatrical and musical performance, poetry readings, athletic matches, and public meetings.

The theatre was originally made to seat 3,000 but was later expanded to hold 7,000. An earthquake destroyed the theatre in 363 A.D. and it has been partially restored since.

Jordan, Petra

Jordan, Petra

The Royal Tombs
Even more impressive are the Royal Tombs. The sheer size leaves you wondering how the workers must have toiled to carve these out. And no less kudos to the designers and architects for visualizing it all.

These were naturally the final resting place of the higher ups in the Nabataean social heirachy. At one time they may have been as impressive as the Treasury but, being exposed to the elements more, they have lost some of their grandeur. Again, due to lack of time, I could not observe these closely – walking up the cliffs and looking around would have taken a few hours. The four main structures there are:

* The Urn Tomb: The name is derived from the jar that crowns its pediment. A Greek Byzantine inscription records that the hall, originally a royal tomb, was converted into a church by Bishop Jason in 447 A.D. It is the largest of all, and carved around 70 A.D.
* The Silk Tomb:
It stands out for the swirls of vividly coloured rock that make up its façade.
* The Corinthian Tomb:
The upper part of this tomb is similar to the Treasury, but has been severly eroded over time.
* The Palace Monument:
Dating back to the early 2nd century A.D., it has a grand five-storey façade giving it the appearance of a palace. A dam and rainwater reservoir located behind the monument were used to drain rainwater into a pool cut into the area near the podium at the back of the tomb. The monument was likely to have been used for banqueting or funerary ceremonies.

Jordan, Petra

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One Comment

  1. Having visited Petra myself, I can truly appreciate both the write ups and the pictures for the entire Petra Series. It will also serve as an excellant guide to all those who wish to see this great site. Thank you

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