­­­A Framed View

The Chronology and Syncretic Architecture of Nabataean Monuments

by Julia Mun

View on Al Khazneh from al-Siq, Petra, Jordan by Bernard Gagnon, 14 April 2010 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The nomadic Nabateans began to settle in Petra, Jordan in the fourth century BCE. Although primarily known for their rock-cut architecture, the Nabataeans developed free-standing monuments such as the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions. Although the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions share similar aesthetics, the exact chronology of the two cannot be determined. Based on radiocarbon dating and the material culture present in the temple sites, the Nabataeans most likely constructed these monuments in the late first century BCE or the early first century CE. However, to fully understand the chronology and aesthetics of Nabataean religious monumentalization, it is important to examine historical contexts and ties the Nabataeans had with other cultures, including the Greco-Romans, the Ptolemies, and the Palestinians. The chronologies of the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions coincided with the rise of kings in Nabataea. This rise of kingship and subsequent monumentalization were mostly indications of the Nabataean willingness to integrate with and accommodate for other cultures into an inclusive urban environment, but also their desire to establish an international reputation. However, an inherent sense of Nabataean culture emerges in the conception of space. Theatrical movement through the landscape, which is integral to the Nabatean nomadic culture, is framed through the architecture in Petra. Above all, Nabataean architecture seems to emphasize that no one owned the aesthetics or space of the architecture; instead, its conception belonged to the landscape, and its expression belonged to the constantly moving Nabataeans and their diverse environment.

KEY WORDS: Art History, Archaeology, Petra, Nabataeans, Qasr al-Bint, Temple of Winged Lions

I. Introduction

Though their formal origin is unknown, the nomadic group known as the Nabataeans began to construct permanent settlements in Petra approximately in the fourth century BCE based on radiocarbon dating of pottery in foundational deposits.[i] Though Petra is best known for its rock-cut architecture, free-standing monuments emerged in the late first century BCE to early first century CE, despite the region’s vulnerability to earthquakes and flash floods. The main religious structures, the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions, are clustered in the center of Petra along the Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), a horizontal waterbed that runs through the city. There is little written evidence regarding the dates of the monument; however, the similarities between the two structures suggest a similar time frame. Many scholars have attributed the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions to the reign of Aretas IV (9 BCE – 40 CE), but radiocarbon dating of the organic material in the monuments present discrepancies in these dates. The chronologies and multicultural architectural elements of Nabataean monuments from the first century BCE to the first century CE demonstrate that Nabataean monumentalization coincided with the rise of royal patronage and contribute to a sense of theatrical movement inherent to nomadic culture.  

Map of the Nabataean Kingdom

Figure 1. Map of the Nabataean Kingdom by Villeneuve Nehme is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

II. Nabataean Economy

At their peak in the late first century BCE, the Nabataeans dominated territory from southern Syria, the Negev of Palestine, to northwest Saudi Arabia. The Nabatean territory overlapped largely with their caravan trade routes, which expanded even further to the Sinai Peninsula and Mediterranean Sea ports. The Nabataeans particularly dominated in the spice trade and monopolized frankincense and myrrh,[ii] which were crucial items for ritual practices. These commercial exchanges facilitated the movement of goods and ideas with other regions like Greece, Rome, Alexandria, and Palestine. Their trading center and gathering space ultimately culminated in Petra, an artificial oasis located in the center of Nabataean trading networks.

III. Surrounding Cultural Influences in Nabatean Architecture

Reliable dating cannot be secured for the monuments in Petra because of frequent earthquakes. Instead, it is potentially useful to examine the cultural agents Nabataea interacted with for historical contexts. The first historical record of Nabataean interactions with the Greeks is dated to 312 BCE in the writings of Diodorus after their victory over Antigonus I and the Seleucid Empire.[iii] This may have been the first recorded contact; however, it is plausible that the trading networks between Nabataea and Greece existed before that encounter because Greek marble was a valuable commodity.[iv] On the other hand, the Nabataeans had a more stable political balance with the Romans. The Nabatean courier Syllaeus served as a guide to Aelius Gallus, who led a campaign in South Arabia in the 20s BCE.[v] This relationship continued until the Nabataean territory was annexed by Rome in 106 CE. Despite these political ties, there may have been less architectural influence from Rome as Nabataeans primarily used baroque architecture in monumentalization, which was not popular in Rome until the late first and second centuries CE.[vi]

The Nabataeans also had strong cultural ties with Palestine (also known as Judea) under Herod the Great (reign 33 BCE – 4 BCE). Herod was born in Ascalon, an important center of Hellenistic Greek and Phoenician cultures.[vii] Herod’s mother, Cyprus, was a Nabatean princess, which intimately links Herod to the Nabataean royal family. Herod’s family potentially visited Petra during the reign of Malichus I (57 BCE –28 BCE).[viii] Furthermore, a dedication to Herod was found next to the Nabataean Temple of Ba’al Shamim at Si’a.[ix] This inscription does not clarify how much influence or participation Herod had in the construction. However, Herod often supported other ethnicities and religions, including the Jewish, or constructed Hellenized monumental temples to enhance a multicultural image of his kingdom under his patronage.

The Nabataeans also had extensive exchanges with Ptolemaic Egypt. After the collapse of the Ptolemies in 30 BCE, there was a widespread of artisans throughout the Levant seeking occupations. This dispersion aligns with the timeframe of the proliferation of monuments in Nabataea in the late first century BCE. It is plausible that these artisans traveled to Nabataea and shared their crafting techniques and Baroque aesthetic preferences in Nabataean architecture.[x] Alexandria also served as a link between Pompeian paintings and Nabataean architecture. The architectural compositions in these wall paintings are reflective of Nabataean tombs, especially in the depictions of a tholos framed by a broken pediment.[xi] Baroque architecture in Pompeian paintings predate Roman baroque architecture, so these paintings indicate that Pompeii and Nabataea were both individually influenced by baroque Alexandrian architecture. This is significant in that Nabataea did not strictly harbor one-on-one relationships with several cultures, but they were intimately invested into a complex network that provided connections all across the Hellenistic world.

IV. Qasr al-Bint

The Temenos Gate

Figure 2. The Temenos Gate by Jorge Láscar, 7 September 2012, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Qasr al-Bint

Figure 3. Qasr al-Bint by Abdul Baqi, 8 April 2016 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Figure 4. Map of the western area of ​​the Téménos with the right-of-way of the “B building.” View here.

The Qasr al-Bint is a free-standing temple located at the very end of the Temenos, which is connected to the Colonnaded Street (Fig. 3).[xii] This brief survey of the architecture and ground plan of the Qasr al-Bint is condensed from Zayadine’s article in Petra Rediscovered.[xiii] The tetrastyle temple stands on a nearly square, elevated podium at the convergence of main caravan roads along the Wadi Musa. The access from the street is framed by the large, tripartite Temenos Gate (Fig. 2). The temenos space extends over 100 meters before reaching a square altar in front of the temple (Fig. 4). The only entrance into the temple itself is a monumental stairway of twenty-seven steps in the northern façade, divided into two flights. Externally, a Doric frieze of yellow sandstone wraps around the facades, depicting floral medallions in between the triglyphs. The wall facings are otherwise covered with a smooth coating of stucco, featuring paintings and sculptural decorations. Stucco was also used for binding-holes to support wooden beams, moldings, and marble plinths, connecting the northern façade to the vestibule and monumental gate, which served as a framed entry to the cella. The cella was lit by two windows under the string course underlining the wooden ceiling beams and featured medallions of both vegetative and representational figures that led into a tripartite adyton. The betyl, or sacred standing stone, would have been placed on a raised platform in the center room. The side rooms are in symmetria to the adyton, though only the eastern room has a window. The functions of these rooms are unknown, but both host stairs that lead into upper rooms or balconies. The roof was tiled and was most likely sloped to direct occasional rain.[xiv]

Many architectural elements present in the Qasr al-Bint derive from multiple cultures. The use of Classical architectural elements like columns, friezes, and the cella originate from Greek language. The temple is most likely dedicated to the Petran patron god, Dushares, but there are also inscriptions of dedications within the temple to the Greek gods Aphrodite and Zeus Hypsistos,[xv] emphasizing Greek influence in the local religion. Additionally, marble stands from benches used in symposia, a Greek societal tradition of drinking and discussion, were found within the southeastern compartment of the temple. Nabataean symposiums, however, seemed to have had more defined rules. The Greek historian Strabo delineates these few differences like the specification of thirteen members and a laxer class hierarchy in his book Geography.[xvi] Greek marble can also be found in Nabatean architecture, particularly from the remnants of the Colonnaded Street, Temenos Gate, and the Qasr al-Bint.[xvii] Based on textural and geochemical analysis, the marble derives from Greek quarries in Thasos and Prokennesos. The import of marble would have required both maritime and overland journeys, highlighting the importance of the material to the construction of the city center and aligning the appearance of monuments to Hellenistic aesthetics.

The ground plan itself can be reflective of Palestinian religious architecture, which typically emphasized center square podiums. Palestinian architecture was also epitomized by extensive compounds and featured multiple rooms, which in turn, could have derived from Persian palace complexes.[xviii] The Qasr al-Bint’s position within the city is suggestive of this massive compound architectural plan. As for the physical construction, Ptolemaic architectural elements like the Egyptian/Ptolemaic cubit of 0.525 m, the mixed order,[xix] which is primarily reflected in Nabataean rock-cut tombs, or baroque decorative elements like broken pediments, curved entablatures, and acanthus column base were used.[xx] It is interesting to note how the external appearance of the Qasr is very similar to Egyptian architecture. In Egyptian temples, screen walls would often cover the front of the outer hall, which can be similar to the columns in front of the gate in the north façade of the Qasr al-Bint. Access to Egyptian temples was restricted by a series of framed doors, not quite unlike the framed entrance and the divisions of rooms within the Qasr al-Bint.

Temple of Dendur

Figure 5. Temple of Dendur, completed by 10 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain.

Temple of Dendur

Figure 6. Temple of Dendur, completed by 10 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain.

A visual example of a comparable Egyptian temple could be the Temple of Dendur, which was completed by 10 BCE (Fig. 5).[xxi] It is a Roman temple constructed in Nubia, but draws upon both traditional and Ptolemaic aesthetics. The ashlar masonry visually parallels the Qasr al-Bint, and there is a framing of access to the temple by two levels of gateways (Fig. 9), but the Qasr al-Bint is more distanced from the Temenos gate. The Temple of Dendur was also enclosed by a wall barrier and was missing the traditional Egyptian hypostyle halls. Nabataean temples seemed to have adopted and adapted certain Ptolemaic methods of construction and space and combined them with Hellenistic architectural elements to create a uniquely Nabataean architectural image.

Bust of Helios

Figure 7. Bust of Helios, 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Department of Antiquities, Amman, J. 592.

Though these external cultural influences are more apparent, the chronology of the Qasr al-Bint is unclear and has been contested by multiple scholars. One of the first excavators, Peter Parr, dated the monument to the mid-second century CE.[xxii] Similarly, through a stylistic perspective, Margaret Lyttelton and Thomas Blagg suggest that the Qasr dates to the second century BCE by comparing a Helios bust from the metope of the Qasr (Fig. 7) to the sculptural work of the Great Altar of Pergamon.[xxiii] Fawzi Zayadine, meanwhile, claimed that the Qasr dated to 40 CE – 70 CE based on an inscription found at the temple that reads: “Su’udat, daughter of Malichus.” Su’udat was the daughter of Malichus II, the Nabataean ruler during the mid-first century CE. Zayadine later shifted her argument based on a bench dedication to Aretas IV, and dated the Qasr al-Bint to his reign in 9 BCE – 40 CE.[xxiv] However, plaster dating conducted by Khaled Al-Bashaireh reveals that the Qasr al-Bint was constructed around the first quarter of the first century CE.[xxv] Radiocarbon dating of the wooden wedges present between the masonry of the walls also reveals that the earliest possible date is 30 CE, similar to the former plaster dating conclusion.[xxvi]

Based on the empirical evidence, it seems most likely that the early first century CE is a plausible date. In other methods of chronology, however, the dates range from the late first century BCE to mid-first century CE, generally covering the reigns of Obodas III (30 BCE – 9 BCE), Aretas IV (9 BCE – 40 CE), and Malichus II (40 CE – 70 CE). It is also certainly possible that the temple was constructed in phases that spanned a prolonged period. The foundations and walls could have been constructed during the reign of Obodas III, which coincides with the reign of Herod the Great, who was primarily known for his grand monuments. Because of the close geographical proximity and familial connection, each successive Nabataean ruler may have been influenced by Herod’s proliferation of multicultural and monumental architecture as a way of enhancing their international status and creating a benefactor image for the king. The reputation of the Hellenistic ruler could be enhanced by participating in euergesia (benefaction) and eusebeia (piety), which could have been motivations for Nabataean kingship in creating religious monuments.[xxvii] There is no explicit evidence of whether Herod or the Nabataean kings agreed with these expectations. However, Herod’s multicultural mindset mindset during his reign in the late first century BCE allowed him to patron a diverse range of almost one hundred sites,[xxviii] which was undoubtedly witnessed by the Nabataeans and subsequently adopted.

V. Temple of Winged Lions

Figure 8. View of the Temple of the Winged Lions site within Petra. Photo by Giuseppe Delmonaco. View here.

Figure 9. Temple of Winged Lions, sketch by Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos. View here.

Although there is little evidence left for the Temple of Winged Lions due to a large earthquake in 363 CE and a series of inadequate excavations, the temple’s central position in the city indicates its integral role in Petra (Fig. 8). The Temple of Winged Lions is located within a larger religious complex that Philip Hammond, the first excavator, suggests consists of residential areas for ritual personnel and “workshops” for the upkeep of the temple (Fig. 9). These included a Painters’ Workshop, a Metal Workshop, and an Oil Processing Workshop, which was common in Palestinian manors or dwellings,[xxix] and a Marble Workshop.[xxx] The purposes of the workshops supposedly ranged from producing bronze and iron items to oil processing.[xxxi] Unfortunately, these rooms are unlabeled, but Hammond’s report alludes to the Metal Workshop on the western corridor of the temple complex because it hosted many metal objects. However, Christopher Tuttle argues that because there is no evidence of actual industrial production, the title “workshop” remains to be determined.[xxxii]

Figure 10. Nabataean Betyl 1 by Bjorn Anderson, 14 March 2015, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There is evidence, however, of a subterranean room below the western corridor of the temple known as the Painter’s Workshop. Paint bowls have been founded in this 8-meter-long room, containing blue and black paint.[xxxiii] Regardless, because many urban activities of production and worship were centered into this complex, the Temple of Winged Lions seemed to have served as an important part of a multipurpose environment. The deity attribution for the temple is still unknown; however, based on an “eye idol” plaque found on site (Fig. 10), which is distinctive to Nabataean culture,[xxxiv] the temple is possibly dedicated to the supreme Nabataean goddess, al-Uzza, who is also linked to the Greek goddess Aphrodite.[xxxv] Material culture populated the excavation sites, including Egyptian funerary steles, Isis statuettes, and a bronze head of Zeus Serapis.[xxxvi] The temple may have had multiple dedications and al-Uzza may have been worshipped alongside the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek gods Aphrodite and Zeus.[xxxvii]

The Temple of Winged Lions is essentially diagonal to the Qasr al-Bint. Its façade faces the Wadi Musa and was supposedly connected to the Colonnaded Street by a bridge across the waterbed, though where the points were connected is still unknown. There is evidence of a propylaeum, but very little remains left for an exact reconstruction. As Tuttle recounts,[xxxviii] the temple itself is rectangular, consisting of a pronaos, naos, and cella. Two stairways lead up to a square elevated altar towards the back of the cella, which was decorated with black and white geometric mosaic patterns. The actual worship area measures to 300 square meters. Twelve columns were dispersed throughout the square cella, allowing for a guided circumambulation around the altar. These columns were decorated with winged lion capitals, which were unique to the Nabataean repertoire of decoration. An additional thirty-four Corinthian columns and pilasters were dispersed throughout the temple space. There is evidence of an exterior staircase leading to a second floor, but little evidence for a consistent reconstruction remains. Architectural elements and walls were covered in stucco and painted over in two distinctive layers, suggesting two phases of painting decoration: the first phase featured more figural representations like “tragic masks” and dolphins, and the second phase focused on vegetative and floral motifs. Figural representations were more typical of Greco-Roman preferences, while floral aniconic decorations are considered to be more local expressions.[xxxix] The second layer designs are supposedly by the “Painter’s Workshop” and are associated with the reign of Malichus II, expressing different aesthetic priorities by different kings.[xl] These phases indicate an amalgamation of different styles and aesthetic preferences that can appeal to a multicultural audience.

There are distinctive connections with Greco-Roman architecture, as the ground plan of the Temple of Winged Lions is rectangular and consists of the traditional pronaos and cella structure. Additionally, though dolphin decorations in a desert environment seem to be an abnormal choice, these motifs were popular Greco-Roman motifs and have multicultural associations. These animals were also the symbols of Isis,[xli] an Egyptian goddess and popular cult figure throughout the Roman Empire. These dolphins also connotate the sea, where Aphrodite originated from, further solidifying the temple’s dedication to the Greek goddess. Al-Uzza was also considered to be associated with purity and the proliferation of water.[xlii] The dolphins may not simply have served as a decoration, but perhaps as a celebration of the Nabataean ability to thrive despite the scarcity of water. The Nabataeans may have incorporated the image and attributes of all goddesses into the temple to create a multipurpose and ritualistic environment for inhabitants.

As mentioned before, there was a widespread migration of artisans after the collapse of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Could the complex have hosted Alexandrian artisans, who brought their hybrid Egyptian-Greco expressions and incorporated them within the Nabataea landscape? This would certainly explain the syncretic presence of Isis, Aphrodite, and al-Uzza in the temple, further establishing the idea of Petra as a multicultural environment with hybrid methods of expression. Or could the temple complex have been a private residential area for a certain group of Nabataeans, namely the royal court?  The inclusion of residential areas and workshops within the temple complex suggests a privatization of space. The Temple of Winged Lions is elevated, but positioned directly across from the Great Temple, which may have been a civic and palatial complex. Wealthy patrons, most likely the kings, would have had great control over the scarce water supply in Petra, and all the goddesses that connotate water in the temple symbolically asserts this power over a sought-after commodity. If this is the case, then there is reason to suggest intimate links between royal patronage and the religious monuments of Petra.

Ground plan of Herod's Temple and environment

Figure 11. Ground plan of Herod’s Temple & environment according to Dr. Schick by the American Colony (Jerusalem) Photo Department, 1934-1939, G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-M32- 10419. View here.

The inner columns of the cella are also reminiscent of a hypostyle hall in Ptolemaic temples, which would direct the movement of the pilgrims or participants of the temple. The square altar as the focus of the temple, however, is a familiar Palestinian architectural element. The temple alongside multiple urban rooms is also reminiscent of Herodian architecture. Common aspects of Herodian architecture featured grand colonnaded streets through the center of cities and massively scaled complexes that condensed religious and civic aspects of a city into one area, as epitomized by Jerusalem. [xliii] Though very little evidence remains, the reconstruction of Herod’s Second Temple mirrors the layout of the Temple of Winged Lions (Fig. 6). The Second Temple was placed in a higher elevation in comparison to other structures, like the Temple of Winged Lions, and featured elevated levels of entry. Both temples are also raised on square podiums but have rectangular plans. The multicultural elements, pantheon of gods, and inclusion of civic space supports the potential of the Temple of Winged Lions as an adaptable cultic complex for the diversity of people living in and traveling to Petra.

The Temple of Winged Lions and the Qasr al-Bint are often grouped together because of their architectural similarities and physical proximities, so it is possible they have similar chronologies. There is a significant presence of material culture in the surrounding rooms of the complex, though definitive dating has yet to be conducted. Furthermore, the material culture present may not be the most reliable marker of chronology because its origins may come from outside the temple. The main excavator, Hammond, discovered a dedication to Aretas IV in the marble workshop within the temple complex.[xliv] The dedication was dated to 26– 27 CE, which also aligns to the reign of Aretas IV and suggests the presence of royal patronage in the fragment of Line 4: “On the fourth day of ‘Ab, the 37th year of Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, who loves his people. And…”[xlv] However, because it was found in an exterior “workshop” and its actual relationship to the temple itself is unknown, it is not a reliable marker of chronology. However, it is notable that the other lines of the fragmented inscription suggest forms of cultic legislation and taxation.[xlvi] This further asserts the Temple of Winged Lions as both a religious and civic complex and provides a glimpse into social and ritual practices. Perhaps the construction was funded by these tithes or taxes. Regardless, scholars have assumed that the temple was at least completed by the first quarter of the second century CE.[xlvii] This chronology covers the reigns of Aretas IV and Malichus II, so it seems likely that the Temple of Winged Lions was created simultaneously, or at least around the same time, as the Qasr al-Bint around the first century CE and completed at a later date before the Roman annexation in 106 CE.

VI. Nabataean-Specific Techniques

Though the Nabataeans may have used architectural elements from multiple cultures in the ground plan and exterior decoration, it is important to note the presence of Nabataean material and technique alongside other cultures. The material used was often limited to local yellow and pink sandstone, and the Nabataeans often used ashlar masonry and horizontal mortar joints to construct the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions. From the exterior, the walls are mortared in precise rows, but the interior walls featured a rougher form of ashlar. This duality is a unique feature to Nabatean architecture.[xlviii] The smoother exterior and rougher interior would have been covered by extensive plaster, but perhaps the rougher form was meant to emulate and evoke the landscape more, which will be further discussed later. Plaster and stucco allowed for more diversity in decorative attachments and architectural elements. Stucco also provided the dual function of protection from natural causes of destruction and allowance for paintings and polychrome decoration. The plaster weight was secured with pegs made of iron, which was not a common practice elsewhere.[xlix] Nabataean architectural innovations were also present in the wooden stringcourses and wedges within the interiors of walls. These wooden elements, identified as local cedar, were used to stabilize free-standing monuments, which was crucial in Petra’s earthquake-prone terrain.[l] Innovative decorative designs like elephant-head capitals and the winged lion capitals emerged as well, resulting in a transformation from traditional aniconic representations to increasing figural representation as a result of selective adoption of Hellenistic visual languages.[li]

VII. A Consideration of Space

Nabataean nomadic movements and preconceived memories influenced the urban layout and architectural concepts of space in Petra. Both the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions were built above previous forms of dwellings.[lii] In particular, the foundations of the Qasr al-Bint contain sherds and other material culture that date back to the fourth century BCE. There were two phases of complex dwelling: Phase I featured loose areas of settlement during the fourth century BCE, and Phase II displayed forms of permanent settlement in the third century BCE. The area was eventually razed to construct the cultic complex, affecting how the layout and ground plan of the Qasr al-Bint were formed. Parr notes how the Temenos wall slightly changes direction around 5 m from the Qasr because of these previous settlements.[liii] This slight shift indicates how the Qasr is inherently defined by nomadic movement and settlement. The Temple of Winged Lions was also constructed upon former foundations, as recent excavations have revealed a buried pavement underneath the west wall of the temple.[liv]

It is also important to note that the facades of the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions are oriented towards the Wadi Musa. The Wadi Musa may have posed a great religious significance to the Nabataeans because the supreme god Dushares was thought to be the landscape himself.[lv] The water in the Wadi Musa was integral to the desert climate and its divine association to Dushares may have been a main focal point for worship, thus serving as an important consideration for temple spaces. Streets of procession align with the Wadi Musa as well, linking the rise of Nabataean kingship and stately performance to the ritual movement of the landscape of Dushares.

Both temple monuments are intricately linked with the royal patronage, which not only connects kingship to urban ritual practices and the spatial conception of monuments, but also to cultic identity. The Qasr al-Bint allows for an exterior circumambulation around the temple and within the Temenos space. The Temenos is easily accessible to the public via the Colonnaded Street and is supplemented with benches and exedrae, further cultivating a sense of public gathering and stately processions. The adjacency of the Qasr al-Bint to the Great Temple[lvi] further associates the cultic with the civic and spatially connotates the ability and control of royal patronage over the architectural and spatial expression of the collective Nabataean political and religious identity. This is contrasted with the more privatized, elevated space of the Temple of Winged Lions. The circumambulation is constrained to the interior space of the temple, establishing a privatization to the movement of those who are permitted to participate in the temple complex. However, the Temple of Winged Lions is still spatially linked to the Great Temple, establishing an association with civic personage to the cultic complex.

View on al Khazneh from al-Sig, Petra, Jordan

Figure 12. View on Al Khazneh from al-Siq, Petra, Jordan by Bernard Gagnon, 14 April 2010 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The control over public and private spaces translates into movement within Petra. Schmid uses Foucault’s concept of heterotopia to consider how the Nabataeans structured their religious space. Heterotopia are “closed spaces” or “architectural spaces that can best be described as ‘tribal gathering’ places.”[lvii] Because the Nabataeans were a nomadic group, movement was a conscious and critical aspect of space, especially in religious contexts. Providing a hierarchization of space for large gatherings of multiple movements and pilgrimages through multicultural elements was most likely crucial to the creation of Nabataean religious structures, or heterotopia.[lviii] This controlled movement is further emphasized by the symbolic forms of exclusive, processional accesses in the city. There is only one entrance for the Qasr al-Bint which is framed on two levels by the distant Temenos Gate of the Colonnaded Street and the monumental gate in the northern façade. Similarly, the access to the Temple of Winged Lions is framed by the bridge across the Wadi Musa and multiple levels of stairs. These “framed views” are parallel to the access to the center of Petra the Siq, or the Sacred Road. Nabataean traders and other potential travelers would have traversed this long, narrow road. The end of the Siq eventually opens to reveal the Khazneh, framed by the walls of the road. The Siq provides a constant veiling and unveiling of landscape that provides a mystical experience of movement. This element of framing not only directs human traffic and procession in a controlled manner because of the permanent delineations of the rock walls, but also provides a mental and perhaps spiritual experience for the viewers. The framed accesses of the monuments provide a theatrical reenactment of the winding journey through the Siq and the epiphanic reveal of the Khazneh. It is also important to consider how Dushares was the landscape himself. Viewers are essentially participating in a circumambulation within Dushares, and the theatrical framing of the temples potentially serves as a continuation of that interaction with divinity that began within the space of the Siq. The space in Petra seems to be conceived by the widespread memory of the Nabataeans and other visitors, embedded with multicultural temple architecture to convey that unique theatricality to diverse audiences.

VIII. Conclusions

Although there is no doubt that Aretas IV contributed to and accelerated monumentalization in Nabataean architecture, it is plausible that religious monumentalization, including the structures Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of Winged Lions, began at an earlier date with Obodas III and lasted beyond the death of Aretas IV. To understand the chronology and design of Nabataean religious monumentalization, it is important to examine historical contexts and ties Nabataea had with other cultures, including the Greco-Romans, the Ptolemies, and the Palestinians. The Nabateans may have monumentalized to integrate and accommodate for other cultures into an inclusive urban environment, but also to establish an international reputation in response to Herodian monumentalization. Above all, Nabataean architecture seems to emphasize that no one owned the aesthetics or space of the architecture; instead, its conception belonged to the landscape and its expression belonged to the constantly moving Nabataeans and their diverse environment.


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[i] Renel 2012, 50.

[ii] McKenzie 2007, 96.

[iii] Bowersock 2003, 27.

[iv] Abu-Jaber 2012, 12:21-29.

[v] Bowersock 2003, 22.

[vi] McKenzie 2007, 101.

[vii] Roller 2001, 318.

[viii] Richardson 1996, 63.

[ix] Richardson 1996, 66.

[x] McKenzie 2007, 112.

[xi] McKenzie 2007, 101. The House of the Labyrinth in Pompeii displays this painting, which is compositionally similar to the top half of Nabataean monument known as the Khazneh. 

[xii] The Colonnaded Street runs from an east-west axis across the center of Petra. McKenzie claims this served as a shopping center in Petra, but definite conclusions cannot be made.

[xiii] Zayadine 2003, 202-213.

[xiv] Hamari 2017, 95

[xv] Zayadine 2003, 199.

[xvi] Strabo Geography 16.4.26. Strabo was a Greek philosopher and historian, who was active in the Roman Empire. He recorded much of what we know about peripheral cultures in the Hellenistic world.

[xvii] Abu-Jaber 2012, 12:21-29.

[xviii] Persia set a profound precedent for monumental architecture, which was subsequently adopted by multiple cultures to mirror Persian political power and display.

[xix] The mixed order is the use of Corinthian capitals with Doric friezes and Ionic cornices.

[xx] McKenzie 2007, 95.

[xxi] Aldred 1978, 3-80.

[xxii] Zayadine 2003, 200.

[xxiii] Al-Bashaireh 2014, 286.

[xxiv] Zayadine 2003, 200.

[xxv] Al-Bashaireh 2011, 488.

[xxvi] Al-Bashaireh 2014, 290.

[xxvii] Jacobson 2001, 147.

[xxviii] Richardson 1996, 197-202.

[xxix] Hirschfeld 2001, 200.

[xxx] Hammond 2003, 227.

[xxxi] Hammond 2003, 225.

[xxxii] Tuttle 2013, 13.

[xxxiii] Shaer 2003, 127.

[xxxiv] Hammond 2003, 224

[xxxv] Hammond 2003, 224.

[xxxvi] Hammond 2003, 227.

[xxxvii] Tuttle 2013, 14.

[xxxviii] Tuttle 2013, 1-23.

[xxxix] Basile 2002, 255-258.

[xl] Shaer 2003, 127.

[xli] Hammond 2003, 228.

[xlii] Bedal 2002, 230.

[xliii] Roller 2001, 319.

[xliv] Hammond 2003, 225.

[xlv] Jones 1989, 42.

[xlvi] Jones 1989, 45.

[xlvii] Tuttle 2013, 10.

[xlviii] Joukowsky 2017, 48.

[xlix] Joukowsky 2017, 49.

[l] Rababeh 2014, 68.

[li] Basile 2002, 255-258.

[lii] Renel 2012, 39.

[liii] Zayadine 2003, 201.

[liv] Corbett 2014, 3.

[lv] Wenning 2016, 189-209.

[lvi] The Great Temple was most likely a palatial complex for Nabataean royalty.

[lvii] Schmid 2013, 251.

[lviii] Schmid 2013, 251.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Dr. Mark Abbe and Jordan Dopp for their assistance in the development of this paper.

Citation Style: AJA