Petra Tombs and Temples

Petra – Tombs and Temples

Tombs carved in al-Khubtha mountain are designated ‘royal’ from their magnificence – who but Nabataean kings, it is supposed, would have such grand tombs? But which king was buried in which tomb is unknown.

The vast Palace Tomb is named from its likeness to a Roman palace. Next is the eroded Corinthian tomb, a less aesthetic copy of the Treasury, perhaps made for Malichus II. To its right are some smaller tombs that hardly warrant being called ‘royal’; but one has vivid rock strata, like moire silk – hence its name: the Silk tomb.

The tall Urn tomb, named after the small urn at the top, is called by the bedouin al-Mahkamah (court of justice), and the vaults supporting the terrace as-sun (prison) – perhaps myth, or reflecting a later use. Dated to the mid-Ist century AD, it could have been made for Malichus II, or for his father, Aretas IV some 30 years earlier. In 446 it was converted into a church. Ringed around with its fine tomb façades, Petra may seem like a grand cemetery – but it was primarily a place for the living, and for ship.

The 1st-century BC building called Qasr al-Bint was probably the city’s main temple. Across the Wadi another temple is named after carvings found in it – the Temple of the Winged Lions. And the newly excavated ‘Great Temple’ may not have been a temple at all – perhaps a royal or civic meeting hall. Originally built in the 1st century BC, it was later transformed by having a 600-seat theatre built inside it.