The Monastery in Petra

Exterior view of the rock-cut architecture of Ad Deir or The Monastery at Petra, Jordan. (Photo: Envato elements)
AMMAN — Reaching the end of Petra’s Archaeological Park in Wadi Musa, some visitors would be forgiven for thinking they have seen it all with the massive and highly ornate Treasury building carved into the pink red rock. اضافة اعلان

But this ancient city has more beauty and mystery to reveal yet. Just 800 steps up visitors will reach the largest façade in Petra, dubbed The Monastery, or Ad Deir in Arabic.

Located 230km south of Amman, this ancient city built by an Arab tribe called the Nabataeans 2000 years ago, is best known for its enormous rock-hewn structures, tombs, palaces and theatres.

The Monastery is even larger than the Treasury, the most familiar façade in Petra. The Treasury is also the first structure visitors come to when they enter the city through the Siq, the natural gorge that is the main entrance to the city.

After climbing the rock-cut stairs, which takes around 45 minutes, people find themselves in front of one of the largest and oldest monuments in the world, a 58-meter-wide façade known as the Monastery, all carved into a sandstone mountain over 2000 years ago.

Walking the Petra back-trail, visitors start their hike at the adjacent site of Little Petra and end it at the Monastery. This gigantic façade is thought to have been built as a tomb for a Nabataean king in 87 BC, although there are no remains of burials inside the monument.

Other archaeologists say it was built as a temple to worship King Obodas II, who was the first Nabataean king to be deified.

In the Negev Desert, a temple was built to commemorate King Obodas II and was named after him, Avdat (Abdah or Obodat), another pronunciations of Obodas. An inscription found there described him as a god.

The erection of the Avdat/Obodas Temple followed epic victories by King Obodas against the Hasmoneans and the Seleucid Greeks in the Battles of Cana and Gadara.

The Battle of Gadara was fought in 93 BC when the Hasmoneans controlled several territories including Gaza, an important sea port for the Nabateans to export goods they brought from Yemen to Europe.

During this battle, which took place near Gadara, modern day Umm Qais, King Obodas ambushed Alexander Jannaeus using camel cavalry forcing him to retreat and cede the territories he had taken.
King Obodas also defeated the Seleucids in the Battle of Cana and killed their king, Antiochus XII, to take back Gaza, Damascus and other cities.

The Byzantine era

Some archaeologists believe the structure was called the monastery because it was repurposed to a church during the Byzantine era. This idea came due to the presence of a number of engraved crosses into the walls of the Monastery. 

In all cases, this façade was more likely used as a monastery as it is located outside the city of Petra and requires a pilgrimage-like climb towards a high mountain with a harsh trail that served as a sacred route.  

Petra at a glance

Petra was the capital of the Nabataeans, wealthy traders who established a kingdom that was contemporaneous to the Greek and then the Roman empires.

Their cities include Hegra in Saudi Arabia, Bosra in Syria, and Nessana in the Negev Desert and many others.

Nabataean merchants traveled the ancient world from China to Rome trading silk, Myrrh, frankincense, and bitumen. They even manufactured Damask and Gauze, both fabrics gave their names to the cities of Damascus and Gaza.

Nabataean artifacts were found in many other countries in addition to Jordan, and as far away as Italy, where an altar dedicated to Dusharra, a Nabataean idol, was also discovered.  

Nabataeans were also great water engineers, establishing one of the best water systems of the ancient world that included hundreds of reservoirs and over 100km of aqueducts just in Petra.  

Petra was annexed to the Roman Empire in 106 AD and became the capital of the province Arabia Petraea, a date which marks the decline a great civilization. 

The Monastery’s archaeology
A ground-penetrating radar survey was conducted in front of the Monastery’s façade in 2013 in a bid to discover more information about the function of this structure. Archaeologists found two staircases and a defined structure in front of the Monastery.

Since the size of a tomb and the detailed decoration indicate the importance of the deceased and of their family who are buried there. Archaeologically, the Monastery must have been built for some royalty. Just like all other structures in Petra, the Monastery was carved from the top to the bottom.

As the first step, sculptors and masons carved out a staircase to reach the top of the hill and a passage to start carving the façade until they reached the ground. 

Unlike the Treasury, the Monastery has fewer Greco-Roman characteristics, with Nabataean-style capitals and an urn at the top.

The façade itself has a network of water channels to drain rain water away from the structure and collect it in a nearby reservoir. 

The Monastery has appeared in the 2009 Hollywood film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and many international and local documentaries.

A visit to Petra is not complete without making the 800-step pilgrimage up to the Monastery and the surrounding area which provides a spectacular view of the desert of Wadi Araba.

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