Jordan / Petra Tour VII: The Bazaar Street, Great Temple and more!

The Colonnaded Street in Petra
The Colonnaded Street in Petra

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

The wonders of Petra continue as I walked – here is more!

Colonnaded Street (100 – 200 A.D.)
Wouldn’t you just love to go back to the time when Petra was at the peak of its glory, and its main street had a bustling bazaar?

The Colonnaded street was built by the Romans in the 2nd century A.D. and ran through the city centre, flanked by shops, temples and public buildings. It replaced an earlier Nabataean street – a spacious dirt-and-gravel road, which may have been lined with houses, that followed the winding course of the Wadi Musa, Petra’s main riverbed. The Romans straightened, narrowed and paved the road, ornamenting it with a double row of columns and constructing a stretch of commercial shops on its south side. As in all Roman cities, Petra’s main avenue served as a commercial center and place social gatherings.

The street probably hosted markets that traded goods such as Frankincense and Myrrh from southern Arabia and east Africa, as well as semi-precious stones, textiles, and spices from India. Coins and bed supports found in one area suggest that there was even a tavern where patrons reclined for a meal.

Archaeological investigation has shown that this thoroughfare was badly damaged by the devastating earthquake of 363 A.D., which toppled its colonnades and commercial buildings. The nine columns presently standing have been re-erected from ancient column drums littering the street.

Nymphaeum (100 – 200 A.D.)
A Nymphaeum, or public drinking fountain, once adorned the eastern end of Petra’s Colonnaded Street. Named after the nymphs – female nature spirits of classical mythology – this structure was characteristic of most Graeco-Roman cities; Petra was no exception. As a civic ornament, it functioned both as a repository for water and as a lively meeting place for the city’s populace. Only the lowest levels of its masonry now remain.

Elevated upon a stepped podium, this Nymphaeum consisted of a freestanding wall decorated with porticos and featuring a large central exedra that contained the fountain proper, whose waters emptied into a shallow pool below. The water tunnel that started at the Siq to divert water into the city passed behind this Nymphaeum.

Near the Nyphaeum is a pistachio atlantica tree (‘butom’ in Arabic) that is 450 years old. The Bedouin use this type of tree to make mortars for grinding coffee as the wood is very hard.

The Temenos Gate (125 – 225 A.D.)
At the western end of the Colonnaded Street stands the Temenos Gate, a monumental arched entranceway to the Qasr al-Bint temple precinct. It is typically Roman in plan and conception, and may have replaced an earlier Nabataean gate.

The gateway complex featured three entrances – a large central bay and two smaller lateral ones. Its main east face was embellished with four freestanding projecting columns, and bore carved panelled decorations featuring busts of deities alternating with vegetation. Its north and south entrances were originally flanked by tower-like constructions; today only a part of the outer wall of the northern structure remains. The gate led to the holy area around the temple, or ‘Temenos’ as it is called. Worshippers would be in the Temenos area around the altar, which is in front of the temple.

The present gateway has been restored in modern times, using a combination of ancient and modern sandstone blocks. The monument, which dates to the middle of the second century, had collapsed in the devastating earthquake of 363 A.D.

The Temenos Gate in Petra
The Temenos Gate in Petra

Petra Great Temple
The Petra Great Temple is among the most spectacular architectural wonders of Petra. Founded over two millennia ago, the Great Temple complex was abandoned until it rediscovery by Brown University archaeologists in 1992. Excavations of the complex commenced in 1993 and restoration continues to the present.

The Great Temple represents one of the major archaeological and architectural components of metropolitan Petra. It is the largest freestanding building yet excavated in the city. Located to the south of the Roman Street and southeast of the Temenos Gate, this precinct is comprised of a Propylaeum (formal entry), a Lower Temenos (a sacred enclosure), and east and west stairways which in turn lead to the Upper Temenos – the sacred enclosure for the Temple proper. In general, the temple precinct is oriented northeast-by-southwest. Nabataean temples are typically oriented according to the terrain. The area designated for construction was levelled, and the temple was placed above the street, connecting the precincts, the major thoroughfare of the central city and the Wadi Musa (a dry watercourse).

If the Great Temple is 19 m in height as we suppose it is, the temple would have stood some 34 m above the Colonnaded Street. Brown University’s excavations of this vast temple complex and adjoining areas spread over 11,523 square metres (37,808 sq ft). The Temple Precinct itself measures 7560 sq metres. (24,803.15 sq ft).

A view of the columns of the Petra Great Temple
A view of the columns of the Petra Great Temple
Going up the steps of the Petra Great Temple
Going up the steps of the Petra Great Temple
A view through the columns of the Petra Great Temple
A view through the columns of the Petra Great Temple

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