Petra is a spectacular Nabatean city in western Jordan. With massive façades that have been carved entirely out of the existing red sandstone, Petra’s magnificent temples and tombs are like no other religious buildings in the world, and the surrounding rugged landscape dotted with historical sites are a hiker’s paradise.
Petra has been a city of great religious significance since ancient times. First, it has a number of connections with the Old Testament: the nearby Ain Mousa(Spring of Moses) is believed to be where Moses struck a rock with his staff to extract water; and Aaron is said to have died in the Petra area and been buried atop Jabal Haroun (Mount Aaron).
Later, the Nabateans built a city packed with tombs, temples, sanctuaries and altars to their gods. Finally, in its last years, Petra was the home of at least one Byzantine church. This section explores the many wonders of Petra in articles and pictures, from its dramatic history to its fascinating sights that awe modern visitors – up to 3,000 of whom visit Petra each day.
Based on the style of fragments found at the site, archaeologists believe the Great Temple was built in the last quarter of the 1st century BC and further enlarged in the 1st century AD. It continued to be used until the Byzantine period (5th century).
As its name indicates, the structure is generally assumed to be a temple; if so, it was probably dedicated to the principal deity of Petra, Dushara. But the discovery of a small theater or bouleuterion within the complex, combined with written records of a popular assembly in Petra during this period, leave open the possibility that it was a large palace and assembly hall.
The temple remained hidden under dust and rubble until 1992, when it was rediscovered by Brown University archaeologists. Excavation and restoration work began in 1993 and continues today.
What to See
The Great Temple is the largest freestanding building uncovered so far in Petra, covering an area of 7,560 sq m. It rises about 25 meters above the Colonnaded Street, the main street running through the ancient city center. Archaeological evidence indicates the temple itself rose 19 meters (57 feet) tall.
The complex consists of a Lower Temenos, accessed by steep staircases, and an Upper Temenos that contains the temple proper. The Lower Temenos is paved with hexagonal stones and was enclosed on the east and west side by astonishing triple colonnades that contained 96-120 total columns.
Each of the colonnades lead into a small apse or exedra. The West Exedra seems to have played an especially important role in the temple; it was reconstructed several times and was full of artifacts including coins, lamps and ceramics. The archaeologists were also surprised to discover a carving of an elephant, unique in Petra, on a capital adjoining the West Exedra. A large cistern was found behind the East Exedra.
The Upper Temenos consists of east and west walkways flanking the temple (or assembly hall) proper. The temple was fronted by a facade of four sandstone columns on limestone bases. In the center of this area is the puzzling odeon or theatron, a semi-circular place of assembly with five rows of seats.
Continuing excavations will reveal more of this important ancient structure and shed more light on its use and purpose. The progress of excavations can be followed on the Brown University website (see Sources, below).
Quick Facts on the Great Temple
|Names:||Great Temple; Great Temple, Petra|
|Dates:||1st C BCE – 1st C CE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||30.328407° N, 35.442055° E (view on Google Maps)|
|Lodging:||View hotels near this location|