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'Great Temple'

so-called 'Great Temple'

It is generally accepted in research today that the monumental building known as the "Great Temple" did not serve religious worship, but was built as a representative royal reception hall. Discussions continue as to whether it could have been part of the royal palace, but the residential quarter right next to it is too small for that, and associated functional buildings (kitchen, stables, etc.) are missing. The previous designation "Great Temple" (origin of the name) is still in use, although now often in quotation marks or with the addition of "so-called". Occasionally, "South Building" (south of the Wadi Musa) may be found as well.

In the last quarter of the 1st century BC, as part of the monumental development of the center of Petra, the Nabataeans cut terraces deep into the bedrock of the Katute hill and laid out flat areas, traversed by channels for the drainage of rainwater. On this slope they constructed in several phases this largest freestanding architectural complex in Petra, a structure of 7560 m2 of floor space on three levels, the highest of which rises 25 m above the Colonnaded Street.

At first, towards the end of the 1st century BC or the beginning of the 1st century AD, a peristyle building with two columns on the front (distylos in antis) was erected on the uppermost platform. Comparisons with similar ancient buildings support its interpretation as a reception hall (oecus corinthius). Beside of this, the excavations did not provide any evidence of cultic use. The building was substantially enlarged around the mid-1st century AD and furnished with reliefs, frescoes, mosaic floors and stucco decoration. The huge colonnaded courtyard (lower temenos) with its unique elephant capitals and the gateway complex (propylaeum) at street level also date from this most comprehensive phase of construction. Like the majority of monuments in Petra, the "Great Temple" was decorated with stucco elements and colorfully painted.

In the late 1st century AD, or perhaps shortly after the end of the Nabataean Kingdom through its transformation into the Roman Provincia Arabia in 106 AD, a small theater with 600 to 900 seats was built into the upper columned hall, which probably also served as a bouleuterion (meeting place for the city councillors). After an earthquake in 113 or 114 AD, further extensions and alterations followed. A Roman bathhouse was built to the west of the "Great Temple".

During the reign of the Nabataean king Aretas IV (9 BC - 40 AD), a magnificent garden with water basins (paradeisos) was laid out to the east of the "Great Temple", with clear recognizable parallels to palaces of Herod the Great. Under Roman rule in the early 2nd century AD, this garden and pool complex was renovated and further extended with additional structures.

More detailed information on the individual areas can be found on the image pages of the photo tour.

Destruction, decay, excavations

After further modifications and repairs in the decades following the Roman annexation, the "Great Temple" apparently fell into disuse towards the end of the 2nd century AD, as it increasingly deteriorated and was looted. The devastating earthquake of 363 AD severely damaged it. During the 4th/5th century AD parts of the complex were reconstructed for residential purposes, but the area continued deteriorating and was filled with debris. After the earthquake of 551 AD caused further destruction, the building was finally abandoned. In the 20th century, Bedouins used the silt-covered colonnaded courtyard for agriculture, and also built walls for housing in some places. In 1993, the Brown University (USA) began to excavate, study and reconstruct the barely visible "Great Temple".

The informative photo tours introduce the highlights of ancient Petra, show hidden details and recommend lesser known routes.
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