Monday, September 26, 2016

The gardens of Petra

NABATEAN (NABATAEAN) WATCH: Monumental Forgotten Gardens of Petra Rediscovered After 2,000 Years. Cool fountains and a huge pool in mid-desert enabled by strikingly advanced stone-carved irrigation and water storage system (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
Recent excavations at Petra have revealed a startlingly advanced irrigation system and water storage system that enabled the desert city's people to survive – and to maintain a magnificent garden featuring fountains, ponds and a huge swimming pool. The engineering feats and other luxuries attest to the ancient Nabatean capital's former splendor and wealth some 2,000 years ago.

Petra is perhaps best known for its sandstone canyon that leads directly to Al Khazneh, The Treasury, seen in the climax to "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where the hero archaeologists, played by Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, ride out of the canyon and into the Treasury in their quest for the Holy Grail.

However, 2,000 years ago, Petra was renowned for completely different reasons. It was one of the most famous water stops in the Middle East, where camel caravan routes linked distant cities. Now archaeologists are discovering the Nabataean capital, situated in the southwestern deserts of Jordan, once was adorned with an exquisite, artificially irrigated garden. It featured paths likely shaded by vines, trees and date palms, and grasses, which were cultivated next to a huge, 44-meter wide swimming pool.

The Nabataeans’ ability to tame nature, and conspicuous consumption of a precious resource, water, was pure propaganda. It was a means to display wealth and power, which they could do thanks to the ingenious hydraulic system they invented, which allowed the people not only to reserve enough water for their own needs, but to water the lavish garden with fountains and an open-air pool. It had previously been unthinkable that water, a scarce resource in the desert wastes, would have been used for anything but necessity.

The recent explorations and excavations of Petra in Jordan have been producing a lot of new information. See, recently, here for newly discovered monumental architecture and here for the recovery of two ancient mythological statues. See also here for some recent scholarly work on Petra and the Nabateans. And here's another post on the Petra gardening system from last year. Follow the links in those posts for much more on Petra. This work has been going on for some time. The 2007 Smithsonian article noted here already foreshadows some of the recent discoveries.