Magnificent Gardens of Petra Discovered After 2,000 Years

by Natalia Klimzcak
Ancient Origins

Long forgotten gardens of the amazing city of Petra have been discovered after two thousand years. Wonderful fountains and a huge pool, which were at the heart of the gardens, were supported by advanced irrigation and water storage systems. This enabled the magnificent gardens to exist in the middle of the desert.

Haaretz reports that the excavations in the old capital of the ancient Nabataeans revealed a treasure, and is one of the most amazing findings the World Heritage site has yielded in decades. The researchers unearthed an advanced irrigation system and water storage system. These systems allowed people to survive, the city to flourish and the garden to blossom. Moreover, archeologists discovered fountains, ponds and a huge swimming pool dating back to the 1st century BC.

The World-Famous Site of Petra, Jordan. Source: BigStockPhoto

The monumental gardens were constructed 2,000 years ago, when the city was renewed. The Nabataean capital was upgraded when it became one of the most important water stops of the region. In the heart of the desert of Jordan the city was shaded by vines, date palms, trees, and many other plants, identified through the discovery of nut shells and seeds, which were placed around the 44-meter-wide swimming pool. The unearthed gardens would have appeared as a paradise, an oasis in the dry and barren surroundings. The advanced hydro technology also allowed the inhabitants to harness as much water as possible.

The location of a monumental swimming pool, which reflects the sheer power and wealth of the ancient city. Credit: Leigh-Ann Bedal

As Leigh-Ann Bedal, associate professor of anthropology from the Penn State Behrend College said:

"The pool marks the terminus for an aqueduct that transported water from one of the springs, 'Ein Brak, located in the hills outside of Petra. The pool’s monumental architecture and verdant garden served as a visual celebration of the Nabataeans’ success at providing water to the city center." [via Haaretz]

The magnificent site of Petra in Jordan. Source: BigStockPhoto

During the excavations the researchers also discovered a shaft, which led water more than 10 meters downward. It was able to deliver water from the aqueduct system to the level of the pool. A system of underground channels created to help control runoff during the rainy season were also discovered. The entire system was composed of channels, ceramic pipelines, underground cisterns and water tanks. It brought enough water for farming and hygiene purposes.

Aqueduct channel showing rock cover that once covered the aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Larry W. Mays

The Nabataeans were an ancient Semitic people dating back to the 6th century BC, who inhabited northern Arabia and the Southern Levant. Their homeland was possessed by the Romans in 106 AD and finally succumbed around 700 AD. As M.R. Reese from Ancient Origins explained in her article:

''The desert climate created agricultural difficulties for the Nabataeans, but they rose to the challenge, creating a sophisticated water collection system, which allowed them to build an impressive trade empire in the heart of Arabia.

The first records of the Nabataeans show that they lived in Edomite territory, although there is some dispute as to how and when the Nabataeans arrived there – some believe that they lived alongside the Edomites for hundreds of years, while others maintain that the Nabataeans migrated to the Edomite territory after the Edomites moved north. They eventually chose the site of Petra to build their city.

The biggest challenge for the Nabataeans was the dry, arid climate of the canyon in which Petra was located. This made agriculture challenging, as they had to work towards ways to ensure that there would be an adequate water supply for the inhabitants and to support whatever they planted. One method for gathering water was to plant a single fruit tree in the middle of an area that had been contoured into a shallow funnel. When it rained, all water would flow down into the center of the funnel, and would be sealed in by the silt-sized sediment called loess, and the water would be preserved. But their impressive water channeling technology included many other processes, including the construction of aqueducts, terraces, dams, cisterns, and reservoirs, as well as methods for harvesting rainwater, flood water, groundwater, and natural springs.

Inside large cistern at the Nabataean city of Little Petra. Photo courtesy of Larry W. Mays

Using their sophisticated water technology, the Nabataeans were able to ensure a continuous water supply throughout the year. They had an intimate understanding of every possible source of water available to them, and of how to best monitor, harness, maintain, and utilize that water supply. They balanced their reservoir water storage capacity with their pipeline system, ensuring a constant water supply. The system design also utilized particle-settling basins to purify their potable water. The Nabataeans’ extensive understanding of hydraulics allowed them to create a system that maximized water flow rates while minimizing leakage. It is not surprising that this highly-advanced technology was used first to benefit the civil elite, eventually filtering down to the lower levels of society. ''

Reservoir at Nabataean city of ancient Hawara, modern Humayma or “Humeima”. Photo courtesy of Larry W. Mays.

The researchers said that the discovery gives credence to the words of ancient historian Strabo following his visit to Petra in the 1st century AD: "abundant springs of water both for domestic purposes and for watering gardens" (Geography, XVI.4.2 1). Excavations at the site of the newly-discovered garden will continue.

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