Petra And The Lost Kingdom Of The Nabataeans | Documentary
In the Middle East, Jordan is a land of history. The country is full of archaeological treasures. The most beautiful is undoubtedly the site of Petra. The site created in Antiquity was then occupied in the 6th century BC by the Nabataeans, an Arab people who, by settling here, made it prosper by trading with the caravans carrying incense, spices and other products. luxury between Egypt, Syria, Arabia and the Mediterranean. Around the 8th century, changes in trade routes and earthquakes led to the gradual abandonment of the city by its inhabitants.
Forgotten, the site was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burckhardt in 1812. We are opposite the first monument to Petra that can be seen after entering the site. It is the blocks of Jinns or the reservoirs. At the entrance to the site, the Djinns, which in Arabic mean spirits. Some think they were graves.
Maybe it was betyles. Bétyle refers to Beth in the Semitic and Arabic language, which means the House of God or God. It is gods in the form of statues among the Greeks and Romans. Maybe they were reused later to hold the waters down here, especially since there are channels at the top that are hollow.
Further on, in the necropolis of Gaia, the tomb of obelisks is a striking example of foreign influences on the city of Petra. Mixing Egyptian and Greek styles, this 1st century monument belongs to the classical period of Nabataean architecture. On the lower level, the banquet hall was intended to honor the dead. At the top, the obelisks represent them. At the beginning of the 19th century, the orientalist current infuriated Europe. How not to be fascinated and attracted by this narrow defile covered with graffiti which sinks for more than a kilometer into the mountain.
The Nabataeans had adopted the gods of the Greco-Roman world and its techniques. They had created an aqueduct and reservoir system dug out of the rock that brought water to the heart of the city. Here you can see part of the hydraulic system.
It is the dam and the dark tunnel which was covered with earth until the 1960s, which made it possible to divert the watercourse of Wadi Moussa in the event of a flood around the mountain, the Khubtha. The water then returns to Wadi Musa, in the center of Petra. It is a considerable work. The tunnel is about 80 meters long, and it's obviously a system that still works very well.
It is by the Siq that one enters the city. The Sîq is the parade that leads you to the interior of the city. At the bottom of the Siq, we also have the door. At the entrance, there was a monumental arch which collapsed in 1895 and which, moreover, was admired by all travelers in the 19th century. The Sîq at the beginning, is a river, it is the bed of the Wadi Moussa which continues and which undoubtedly contributed to digging the rock. Thousands of years ago, a river flowed, the course of which was diverted to allow development downstream of the city.
It was paved. In short, it was a great street. This remote region of Jordan saw the settlement in the 4th century BC. J.-C., a decidedly very ingenious people.
The more one advances in the Sîq, and the more the procession tightens like a representation of an initiatory quest. For the tourist, it is the main access route. But the people who work in the center of Petra know very well that the Siq is only a side way of access and it was at the same time more or less a processional way, an access way which was a route of worship, since you have seen that it is punctuated with open-air sanctuaries and niches sheltering idols sometimes figurative, sometimes geometric. Further in the Siq after the betyles, a small temple in a sandstone clearing, also carved out of the block. This is dedicated to Dushara, the supreme god of the Nabataeans.
Here, we make the procession around the betyle before bypassing the outward or return journey. The Siq acts as a veritable umbilical cord for the city of Petra. It channeled population flows, those of trade or faith, the obligatory passage of development and perhaps also its limits. You could see that on the walls of the defile, channels had been dug which supported a terracotta pipeline bringing water to the center of Petra. It was a development probably carried out during the Nabataean period, perhaps at the turn of our era according to some of our colleagues, perhaps a little later, in several stages probably, but which transformed the Siq into an important entry point. Finally, behind two half-open sandstone curtains, appears one of the most beautiful spectacles in the world, the Khazneh, which means the treasure.
The monument, which is only a luminous crack, is only gradually revealed as a whole. The Khazneh is said to be the tomb of the Nabataean king Aretas IV, who lived in the 1st century BC. It was carved out of the rock and has a Hellenistic type facade that is 40 meters high and 28 meters wide.
Recently, it served as the natural setting for Steven Spielberg's film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This monument was the monument that everyone knows. When we talk about Petra, everyone thinks of the Pharaoh's treasure since it is the Arabic name given to it for a very long time by the inhabitants of Petra. We do not know exactly either its date or its function. Like almost everywhere in Petra, inscriptions are lacking.
It was thought from the beginning that it was related to royal power, that it was probably a tomb or a funerary building, a funerary temple for one of the kings of Petra, one of the Nabataean kings or a Nabataean queen, or a king and a queen. The Khazneh in fact is a first floor. The way we see it today is quite misleading. In reality, it dominates by five or six meters the real ground of the square which extends in front. It was accessible by a large staircase which started almost from the middle of the square and whose construction blocked the tombs of which we spoke a moment ago, the tombs of the first state.
This facade, which dates from the end of the 1st century BC, is well preserved, as it is protected by its sandstone cliffs. It is also said that according to legend, a Pharaoh passed through Petra and put his treasure in the urn which overlooks the facade. It has also, from the beginning of the 19th century, greatly interested commentators because of the architecture, of the top of the building dug into the rock, which very much resembles the architectural decoration of many paintings of Pompeii with the rotunda central and the two side elements with split pediments. You see that there is a theme there, first of all probably royal, of power, with eagles that were sculpted at the top, whose heads have disappeared. The earthen snag in the middle was the hairstyle of Isis, what is called the basileion. The most frequently accepted hypothesis was that this façade dated from the end of the Ptolemaic period, in the 1st century BC, to be very vague.
Currently, it seems, we must push it back a few decades, but it could very well date from the first century of our era. On either side of the vestibule, we have two reliefs each representing a man next to his horse, probably the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux. We have a pediment also decorated with plant foliage. Carved in stone, Nabataean gods and goddesses, Greek, Egyptian and Assyrian mythological figures. The Nabataeans are a people of Arab origin most likely, most likely coming from the Arabian Peninsula, but it is not known exactly whether it is from the south or the east of the peninsula or from the northwest, in a fixed period between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. They are attested in the south of present-day Jordan, at the end of the 4th century BC. J.-C., at the time when a successor of Alexandre,
Antigone, attacks the Nabateans. They are attested by largely later Greek historians. It seems that the Nabataeans grew rich as caravanners and traders.
They traded in aromatics, precious and expensive products brought from southern Arabia by caravan. It also seems that they have at a certain period, dominated the traffic, the maritime trade of the Red Sea. They were apparently an extremely active people who managed to enrich themselves significantly, probably during the Hellenistic period. They had troop corps which were apparently very appreciated by the other powers, since as often, at that time, they rented them, so they detached troop corps to the service of other sovereigns, and on the other hand, they played an important role in the diplomatic game, at a time when the Hellenistic powers crumbled and when the Romans established themselves in the region. They are true sovereigns completely comparable to the other sovereigns of the period of the late initiate or the Augustan period. It is not known if there is a decline.
It is known that the center of gravity of the kingdom moved towards the North and it was even said that the last king Rabbel II had made his capital or his second capital, Bosra, which is an important city in the south of Syria. This would partly explain why the Romans then placed the capital of the province of Arabia at Bosra. When working in Petra, most of the major monuments in the city center and much of the city, were organized in an extremely thoughtful and serious way at this time, towards the end of the 1st century BC. J.-C., under Obodas III and Aretas IV and during all the Iᵉʳ century after J.-C. One does not have at all the impression of a city in decline.
On the contrary, it is a city in full development. The Roman period would have marked a period of decline for Petra. This is partly true, because the administrative and political importance of Petra seems to have been restricted to the benefit of Bosra or other cities located further north. The excavations that are currently being carried out in the city seem to show that in the Roman period, there were nevertheless important monumental programs and a large section of the population was very prosperous.
Our Swiss colleagues, for example, excavated for several decades a series of houses on the hill of Zantour which dominates the town centre. They are very beautiful houses, which were built in the Nabataean period, but which continued to be occupied in the Roman period. Behind the Khazneh, a short defile less narrow than the Siq leads to the lower town where the alley of facades and the Necropolis are located. In the row of the street of facades, very imposing troglodyte temples follow one after the other because the inhabitants flaunt their wealth by building imposing tombs and monuments there. In this necropolis of nearly 800 tombs in the middle of the desert, the Bedouins are at home, evolving as they please, because the desert belongs to no one else.
Being the main inhabitants of this region when Jordan was created in 1921, they now represent only 5 to 10% of the country's population. The existence for these nomads is difficult and leading a herd is no longer enough for their survival. They engage in desert patrols or act as guides for travellers. The site attracts so many tourists that it was a question of dislodging them to settle in modern solid dwellings. In vain, because it is not so easy to put an end to an ancestral way of life. As we continue there, we can see the Nabataean Theater on the left.
It is like the thirds, built by the Nabataeans. Annexed in 106 AD by Emperor Trajan, Petra retains many traces of Roman conquest and fashion, such as the fairly well-preserved theatre. Built in the 1st century and cut into the rock, it could accommodate 5,000 people. Several preexisting caves and tombs were destroyed for the construction of this work. The cavities visible on the back wall are an ultimate testimony.
Here there are tombs on the right and on the left. On the left there are tombs for the normal, less wealthy inhabitants, but on the right is for the rich and privileged. This is why they are called the royal tombs.
Why do they have a facade called royal tombs? There again, we have no inscriptions, so we absolutely have no idea for whom these superb facades, these tombs or these monuments were intended. It is indeed possible if one wants to lend oneself to the game of forecasts, to find them a relative chronology. We have more or less ideas about the facades that were dug before the others and we can attribute them to great figures of the 1st century before and after Jesus Christ, to certain kings or queens or members of the royal family. It is purely hypothetical. These facades stand out from the innumerable funerary monuments of Petra.
There are several hundred of them in more than a thousand rock chambers. They are distinguished by their architecture. There is in particular the so-called Corinthian tomb, which, like the Khazneh and the Deir, is furnished with a rotunda at the top.
The monument located at the other end of Petra is called the Deir, therefore the monastery. These are three facades which present a higher order organized around a rotunda, which is relatively rare here, and which must have been particularly sumptuous. A little further to the right is the largest rock facade of Petra with the Deir, it is the tomb called the palace tomb or the multi-storey tomb which had, among other particularities, that of being partially built. The superstructures were built in masonry, they are blocks reported and also stuccoed.
There is a stucco coating, so there are large pieces left on the facade. The one behind me is the so-called urn tomb, also called the Cathedral because in 446 AD the inscription still reads very well at the bottom, an inscription painted in red. It has been transformed into a church. The urn tomb was originally a large tomb , some vaults and pits of which are still visible on the ground. Before that, there were apses at the bottom and on the sides.
Subsequently, during the transformation into a church, these alcoves were transformed into a kind of apse to represent the back or the apse of the church. As we can see, there was a large terrace bordered by porticoes which are moreover carved into the rock and which advanced on vaulted masonry which has been gutted since at least the 19th century, which gives it a completely original appearance. particular fact. This tomb was subsequently used, it seems, or rather, the crevices in the rock on the tomb were used as a dungeon, since it is traditionally called here the prison or the court.
For once, we have an inscription, a written indication. We found in this sector an inscription mentioning a Nabataean minister called *Ounéshouk*, who is placed in the 1st century AD, probably around the 1970s, and who seems to have had his tomb in the area. The inscription is interesting because it mentions the outbuildings of the tomb and shows that it was not a question of a simple tomb, but of a whole funerary complex comprising porticoes under a garden, very often, of course, a tank. We have also already seen dining rooms, tricliniums, banquette rooms which were no doubt used for family reunions linked to the celebration of the dead. The tombs were something extremely important in the distribution of water in particular.
There is a whole network of pipelines for water distribution, harvesting and water distribution. There are also channels. The channeling system is still in all the facades. This is because the Nabataeans were experts in hydraulics, because they took advantage of every drop of water.
That is why we have many cisterns and canals. So far 280 cisterns have been discovered here in Petra. Here, funerary monuments and their traces survive civilizations, however great they may be. At the time of Christ, Petra was at its peak and its wealth attracted admiration, but also covetousness. In the first century AD, Rome, perceiving the growing economic power of the Nabataeans as a threat, developed maritime trade routes and condemned the economic activity of Petra by diverting the caravan route to Palmyra in Lebanon.
What made Petra famous and rich will also cause its slow but inevitable downfall. From here you can have a view of the lower town. After the theater continues the main street which was paved by the Romans later during Roman times. At the bottom of the lower town you can see an important part paved until today by the Romans.
A nymphaeum, baths, squares, a little Rome was hidden here, in this lunar landscape. The discovery of the site or rather the rediscovery by Westerners, we must not forget that the site has always been inhabited and that the inhabitants of the region knew it. In the 18th and 19th centuries, he did not necessarily want to see foreigners entering their homes. There were apparently legends that have been perpetuated for a very long time, according to which all these ancient monuments concealed treasures that the locals did not want to see disappear.
It was a Swiss explorer who had been trained in England, Jean-Louis Burckhardt, originally from Basel, who first traveled to the site in 1812. He traveled through the site pretending to be a devotee of Haroun, a pilgrim who was going to sacrifice a goat to the prophet Haroun whose tomb is supposed to be on the mountain overlooking Petra to the south. He was traveling from Syria to Egypt, and he was afraid of being taken for a spy. At the time, the situation was tense and he did not want to fall into the hands of the Ottoman military authorities who were responsible for the region.
He only made a quick round trip through the city to the foot of Jebel Haroun. His guide was suspicious of him and he was barely able to make an extremely sketchy sketch of the treasure of the Khazneh and cross the town then take the path that hikers take today towards Mount Haroun. He was struck by the monuments, in particular by the Qasr el-Bint located behind us. Arrived in Egypt, he documented himself and he was also able to discuss with members of the European society which was established in Cairo and find references which enabled him to recognize Petra in its ruins. Unfortunately, his travel relationship was not published until after his death. He died a few years later, but it served subsequent explorers.
David Roberts was a Scottish painter who came here. He traveled all over the Middle East. He was probably related to his predecessors. There was a whole series of extremely interesting shots at that time . For us, these are documents for archaeologists. These are interesting documents.
The original drawings, when you manage to get your hands on them, obviously provide invaluable information on the real state of the monuments at that time. He made a whole series of drawings which were then used for engravings, some of which were in color. David Roberts is one of the first whose views were published in color. Petra's carvings were extremely sought after by European and American audiences. There was then a whole phase of tourist or scholarly travel towards the end of the 19th century, more strictly archaeological and epigraphic expeditions, many epigraphic expeditions for the study of Nabataean inscriptions in particular.
The actual excavation phase began when Jordan became an independent state after World War I. But there had already been undertakings of archaeological surveys and limited excavations even during the First World War. From the 1920s, it was mainly the British and later the Americans who took care of exploring Petra, in particular of clearing a whole set of great monuments. We have a small idea of it behind us, although most have been completely cleared in the last few years.
They also cleared tombs. Many tombs, rock monuments were explored at that time. Faced with the richness of the discovery, the site of Petra was inscribed on December 6, 1985 on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The surrounding area has been a national archaeological park since 1993. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, exploration of the city center intensified, especially along the paved road which forms its main axis.
The very large building behind me, which is traditionally called the great temple, but which is undoubtedly a civic complex, has been explored, excavated and restored as you can see by a team from Brown University in United States, which continues to work there. For our part, the French team resumed in 1999 work that had already been started in the 1980s on the great temple called the Qasr el-Bint and on its sacred enclosure, what we call a temenos, focusing essentially on the enclosure, on the monuments which are in front of the temple. Although insidious and patient, the humidity threatens the extraordinary beauty of the monuments.
Salt-laden infiltrations rise by capillarity in the sculpted cliffs, jeopardizing the integrity of the site. The Roman part of the lower town is very much in ruins, as it was built in stone and suffered the great earthquake of the year 363 AD. Most of the temples are concentrated at the bottom of the lower town. For example, there is the building in front of us. It is the temple of Qasr el-Bint, the main temple which was consecrated to Dushara, the supreme god among the Nabataeans. This monument is unique because it is the only one that is completely built in Petra and it exists today thanks to an anti-seismic technique, the wooden friezes.
On the wall there are three wooden friezes. That's why it remains until today. Only discovered in 1974, the Castle of Pharaoh's Daughter is the only building in Petra not to have been carved out of rock. The walls still erected are a monumental altar dedicated to Al-'Uzzā, the Nabataean Aphrodite. Mentioned in the Quran, Uzza was a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess of fertility, one of the three most revered deities in Mecca. Here, in the lower city, where most of the public monuments are concentrated, was the Acropolis of the city of Petra.
Although it is difficult to get a precise idea of the city which has been badly damaged by several earthquakes, Petra is the most visited site in Jordan with nearly 400,000 visitors a year. Let's go back to the year 330. Petra was part of the Catholic Byzantine Empire and the Empire encouraged the spread of the Christian faith there by building places of worship in the lower city. A cathedral and three other churches will be discovered during the excavations. but a violent earthquake struck Petra on May 19, 363, damaging monuments including the theatre, churches and aqueducts. The city already weakened since the Roman domination by the reduction of its commercial activities, is not rebuilt and empties slowly of its inhabitants.
Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, will say that almost half the city was destroyed when the earthquake struck at the third hour, and particularly at the ninth hour of the night. Describing the earthquake and its powerful aftershock. At the bottom of the lower town are the temples.
We have four temples and we also have cathedrals. It is a 5th and 6th century Byzantine church, discovered, excavated and restored by our colleagues at the American Center in Amman in the 1990s. It includes the courtyard where we are and visibly in all the buildings and in particular for the capitals inside the church, many blocks dating from the Nabataean or Roman period have been reused. There was a whole series of monuments on this hill, large buildings, no doubt large monuments which furnished these re-uses.
She had a baptistery behind here, which is very interesting, a pretty baptistery whose restoration is planned, a new restoration. You see that the peristyled courtyard, the atrium, is centered around a large bottle-shaped cistern, which is quite characteristic of the rather numerous mid-slope cisterns at Petra, and which today collect a great deal of water with the rain. In addition, this church was decorated in its second state, essentially that of the 6th century, with mosaic floors in the aisles, which are therefore very well preserved. These are much less fine mosaics than those found in Madaba.
They are closer to mosaics from the same period, from Palestine, Gaza in particular, but they are quite interesting. On the one hand, they show us a series of animals of creation, rather original animals that we shouldn't see often here, like giraffes in particular. On the other side, a series of characters that symbolize the central theme, the wisdom of God who governs the world and time. We see representations of the seasons in mythological fashion, with four busts of characters representing spring, summer, autumn and winter. The excavations you see below here, which we overlook, are those of the French mission around Qasr el-Bint which is part of the Petra Wadi Rum mission, which I have the pleasure, honor and charge of to manage. They continued over this entire sector, which was therefore part of the ancient paved esplanade corresponding to this great temple, the Qasr el-Bint, which means the castle of the Pharaoh's daughter, in reference to a local legend telling that the Pharaoh, legendary king of Petra, is said to have promised his daughter's hand to anyone who brought water to Petra.
What is interesting is that under the slabs we unearthed the remains of older houses than the Nabataean temple which probably dates back to the 3rd or 2nd century BC, which are not at all in the axis that you see here, which is a north-south axis, and which seem to indicate that this center city in the heart of the city of Petra, was probably already inhabited by Nabataeans, at least at that time. That is one of the major contributions of the mission in recent years. Here at the back, on the Nabataean wall, was built the apse monument of which we see the remains, which housed the statues of two emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. We have the confirmation by archeology of the texts that constitute the monumental inscriptions elsewhere, which were discovered here. The pilgrimage to Petra continues and it is after 800 steps cut in the rock, which punctuate the path on the mountainside, that you reach the Deir, also called the monastery, after a long ascent.
We are here in front of the Deir or the monastery. It is a tomb like the royal tombs. It looks a bit like the treasury of the Khazneh, the most decorated and best preserved facade. But it is less decorated here, but a little more immense. At 45 meters wide by 50 meters high, the Deir is the second most imposing monument in Petra.
The Deir takes its name from the Byzantine period around the 4th century, when it was used as a monastery by the first Christians. Carved in yellow sandstone, this ancient tomb resembles the Khazneh, the key monument at the entrance to Petra. Although its decoration is much more sober. The urn that dominates it alone measures ten meters high. Before leaving Petra, take the time to dream one last time of the glory of this empire which, at its height, extended from Syria in the north, to the Negev plateau in the south, and over a large part of Sinai. Egyptian and Arabian. It would be easy to imagine yourself in the United States on the way to Monument Valley.
Only here, the desert is an improbable color, a pink that owes nothing to the effects of a blazing sunset or the artifices of a Technicolor film. It is one of the most beautiful deserts in the world, different from the large expanses of the Sahara.