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Petra: The Definitive Guide

Petra Monuments
Text from "Petra Book" by Jane Taylor

Winged Lions Temple View in Photo Gallery

On a platform overlooking the Colonnaded Street, just north of the Arched Gate, a forest of truncated columns announces another of Petra's temples. It is known as the Temple of the Winged Lions from the lively sculptures of these mythical creatures on the capitals that once crowned the double colonnade surrounding the altar near the back of the cella. Excavations, conducted since 1974 by an American team led by Dr Philip Hammond, have uncovered not only the temple itself, but also crypts, annexes and living quarters.

Three workshops for marble workers, painters and metal workers were also discovered and in the first, in 1981, there was a piece of marble with an almost complete inscription, dated 'the 4th day of Ab, the 37th year of Aretas, king of the Nabataeans who loves his people' around AD 27, in the reign of Aretas IV. This could relate either to the original building, or to the later remodelling, when frescoes and column-flutings were plastered over in an apparently deliberate attempt to reduce ornamentation. If the latter, the original temple may date to the turn of the millennium, or before.

No inscription reveals the presiding deity, but votive figurines of Isis in an attitude of grief, found in the temple, and a statuette of her consort Osiris, suggest that whichever Nabataean goddess was involved, she was clearly identified with Egyptian Isis. A beautiful little cultic idol with stylized human features was found in the northern corridor of the temple it would probably have stood in a niche in the back wall. The idol is pure Arab in style, with none of the Hellenistic influence so common in Petra at this period. Its Nabataean inscription tantalizingly omits the name of this 'goddess of Hayyan, son of Nybat'; but in the middle of her foliate crown an empty hole may, in common with a similar idol found elsewhere in Petra, have held a stone carved with the device of Isis.

Dr Fawzi Zayadine points out that several Ptolemaic-period inscriptions identified Isis with Aphrodite. As Aphrodite was always identified with the Nabataean al-'Uzza, this temple must have been dedicated to Isis-al-'Uzza, perhaps together with Osiris-Dushara.

The Temple of the Winged Lions was partially destroyed in the early second century AD, probably in the earthquake of 113/4. It never functioned as a temple again, but seems to have been used for temporary, casual occupation. Even after the earthquake of 363, it continued in occasional use.