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Petra: The Definitive Guide

Petra Monuments
Text from "Petra Book" by Jane Taylor

Broken Pediment Tomb View in Photo Gallery

The western face of Jabal Madhbah, on which stands the High Place of Sacrifice, is dotted with a profusion of carved façades which open onto Wadi Farasa. Most are of the design that seems to have topped the popularity chart for the whole Nabataean period, with a monumental cornice high above the entrance, crowned with a single crow-step. But, as the wadi narrows and begins a gentle upward incline, there is a handful of façades that are quite different. The first is the Broken Pediment Tomb, whose bold and simple design is surmounted by an unadorned broken pediment, supported by four pilasters with plain Nabataean capitals. Though there are no secure clues as to when it was carved, it has been tentatively dated to the time of Malichus II.

Renaissance Tomb View in Photo Gallery

Next is the Renaissance Tomb, its name inspired by the restrained elegance of its design. Its shallow pediment carries three urns, as does the lovely arched doorway; and the capitals of all the pilasters are of the simple Nabataean type. The proportions are so similar to those of the Sextius Florentinus tomb, though stripped of elaboration, that it is thought to have been carved around the same time (AD 129), or a few years later.

Roman Soldier Tomb View in Photo Gallery

A little further on, at the top of a short flight of stairs, the path opens out to form a courtyard in front of another unusual tomb. It is known as the Soldier Tomb from the headless and legless statue of a soldier wearing a cuirass in the central of the three niches on the façade. As this was a well known uniform for a high-ranking Roman officer, it was at first assumed that the tomb was carved after the Roman annexation of Nabataea in AD 106. But the uniform is the only Roman thing about it. Stylistic considerations, such as the design of the frieze and pediment above the entrance, and the floral capitals, have led to a reassessment of its date to the first half of the first century AD. Even alone the tomb is impressive. With its triclinium opposite, linked by a handsome colonnaded courtyard, it was clearly the burial place of a man of considerable distinction.

Triclinium View in Photo Gallery

The outwardly insignificant triclinium should not on any account be missed, for its interior is unusual in Petra. Not only are the colors amongst the most dazzling, it is also one of the very few carved interiors, with fine details still to be seen in the fluted half-columns and capitals, the niches and the cornice. Imagine it as it was in Nabataean times, plastered and painted in colors perhaps even more exotic than nature has provided, and aglow with candles and torches, the participants reclining along three sides of the room around the central well. In this prodigious setting memorial feasts were held in honour of the dead.

The Garden Tomb View in Photo Gallery

A flight of steps leads up to another terrace enclosed within steep cliffs – the head of Wadi Farasa. On the left, looking back in the direction from which we have come, we see the Garden Temple (though its function is as yet uncertain) at the top of several steps, with a small cistern cut into the rock that forms the courtyard in front of it. The simple façade of the monument, with two free-standing columns in the center, is flanked by two engaged pilasters. To the right is a substantial wall which seals off a natural cleft in the rock to form a vast cistern, plastered on the inside. It was part of a Nabataean water system, fed from springs in the eastern hills, and added to by other channels that collected run-off water in Jabal Madbah. It supplied the Wadi Farasa area of the ancient city.