One of the largest Nabatean complexes in Petra, the Great Temple is a two-level structure dating from the 1st century BC. It was discovered in 1992 by Brown University archaeologists, who are still excavating the site today.
History of the Great Temple
Based on the style of fragments found at the site, archaeologists believe the Great Temple was built in the last quarter of the 1st century BC and further enlarged in the 1st century AD. It continued to be used until the Byzantine period (5th century).
As its name indicates, the structure is generally assumed to be a temple; if so, it was probably dedicated to the principal deity of Petra, Dushara. But the discovery of a small theater or bouleuterion within the complex, combined with written records of a popular assembly in Petra during this period, leave open the possibility that it was a large palace and assembly hall.
The temple remained hidden under dust and rubble until 1992, when it was rediscovered by Brown University archaeologists. Excavation and restoration work began in 1993 and continues today.
What to See at the Great Temple
The Great Temple is the largest freestanding building uncovered so far in Petra, covering an area of 7,560 sq m. It rises about 25 meters above the Colonnaded Street, the main street running through the ancient city center. Archaeological evidence indicates the temple itself rose 19 meters (57 feet) tall.
The complex consists of a Lower Temenos, accessed by steep staircases, and an Upper Temenos that contains the temple proper. The Lower Temenos is paved with hexagonal stones and was enclosed on the east and west side by astonishing triple colonnades that contained 96-120 total columns.
Each of the colonnades lead into a small apse or exedra. The West Exedra seems to have played an especially important role in the temple; it was reconstructed several times and was full of artifacts including coins, lamps and ceramics. The archaeologists were also surprised to discover a carving of an elephant, unique in Petra, on a capital adjoining the West Exedra. A large cistern was found behind the East Exedra.
The Upper Temenos consists of east and west walkways flanking the temple (or assembly hall) proper. The temple was fronted by a facade of four sandstone columns on limestone bases. In the center of this area is the puzzling odeon or theatron, a semi-circular place of assembly with five rows of seats.
Continuing excavations will reveal more of this important ancient structure and shed more light on its use and purpose. The progress of excavations can be followed on the Brown University website (see Sources, below).
Quick Facts on the Great Temple
|Categories:||temples; ruins; World Heritage Sites|
|Dates:||1st C BCE - 1st C CE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||30.328407° N, 35.442055° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Great Temple|
- Sign posted at the site by Brown University.
- The Great Temple Excavation - Brown University
- Sue Rollin and Jane Streetly, Blue Guide Jordan, 3rd ed. (London: A&C Black, 2001), 280-81.
Map of the Great Temple, Petra
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Great Temple. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.