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Qasr al-Bint

Qasr al-Bint

The best-preserved freestanding structure in Petra is the main temple of the ancient city. The fantasy name Qasr al-Bint Far'un - "Castle of the Pharaoh's Daughter" - was given to it by the Bedouin and relates to a local legend. There is no inscription or other clear evidence as to which deity the sanctuary was built for, but it was probably the main Nabataean god Dushara.

The Nabataeans built the temple at about the same time as the famous Al-Khazneh (Treasury), i.e. in the second half of the reign of King Aretas IV (ruled 9 BC - 40 AD). Several large buildings date from this phase of monumental development of the city centre, as can be deduced, among other things, from similar ornamental elements of the Khazneh, the so-called Great Temple, the Temple of the Winged Lions and the Qasr al-Bint. The latter was erected at a privileged location on the south side of the Wadi Musa on a levelled terrace. Archaeologists discovered traces of the oldest Nabataean settlement of Raqmu / Petra in the area. Possibly a cult complex already existed there before the Qasr al-Bint.

The Temenos, the sacred precinct, is accessed through a gate from Roman times (after annexation of the Nabataean kingdom in 106 AD) at the end of the Colonnaded Street. Before reaching the majestic temple, one passes the ruins of an originally two-storey house to the east (left) of it, where cultic banquets may have taken place. In the courtyard in front of the Qasr al-Bint, and aligned with its central axis, is a large sacrificial altar, to which a wide staircase leads up. The west side of the Temenos is dominated by an elongated building, once with a row of columns in front of the walls. In its apse stood large marble statues that most probably represented the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, since this monument of Imperial cult, inaugurated between 165 and 169 AD, was dedicated to them.

The temple itself is an excellent example of the fusion of Greco-Roman and Eastern elements in Nabataean architecture. The façade was designed following the Greek model as a tetrastylos in antis, i.e. with four columns between the extended side walls that supported the elaborately decorated cornice and a flat triangular pediment. References to Roman temple architecture are seen, among other things, in the block-like structure of the building cube, the 3 m high podium on which the temple stands, and the wide open staircase. Eastern design principles were the basis in particular for the small-scale stucco decoration of the walls, which covered them completely, as indicated by the numerous anchoring holes.

From the entrance hall, the priests entered the cult chamber (cella) through a high door. The centre of its back wall was dominated by a room open to the front containing the innermost sanctuary: the cult podium (mōtab - Nabataean "seat" of the deity), on which an aniconic betyl was placed as a medium of the deity's presence. This central room was flanked by two-storey side halls, which probably served for ritual meals. From these, two staircases led up to upper floors (a kind of mezzanine or balcony over the two halls), and further to the temple rooftop, where incense offerings were made, and other cultic practices took place.

More detailed information on the pages of the photo tour.

Floor plan of Qasr al-Bint

© Drawing: Universes in Universe

© Drawing: Universes in Universe, based on a sign at the site and other sources

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