While the ancient site of Petra (or originally known as Raqmu) is renowned for its intricate facades of fascinating rock-cut architecture (thus making it Jordan’s most visited site), there was more to this ancient city than its impressive series of structures. After more than 2,000-years, researchers have now discovered the long forgotten gardens of Petra that were painstakingly conceived within the arid conditions of the desert. Complemented by fountains and a large pool in the central section, the secret to these gardens’ existence lied in the advanced irrigation and water storage systems that sustained the verdant ambit.
The fascinating gardens were laid down in their massive scale when Petra itself was reconstructed circa 1st century BC. During this refurbishment period, the ancient city was ‘bedecked’ with vines, date palms, trees and small plants – all made evident by the discovery of nut shells and seeds that were found near the aforementioned central pool (which had a width of over 144 ft). In essence, the striking nature of lush greenery in midst of the desert must have endowed the gardens with the ‘air’ of a paradisiacal oasis. As Leigh-Ann Bedal, associate professor of anthropology from the Penn State Behrend College, said (to Haaretz) –
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.
The scope of irrigation and water storage was confirmed by the discovery of a shaft delivered water at a level of 30 ft downwards, and was used for connecting an aqueduct network with the pool. This system was accompanied by an array of strategically constructed underground channels that were instrumental in controlling the run-off during the scant rainy season. This entire network not only consisted of channels but also included a planned patchwork of underground cisterns, water tanks and even ceramic pipes. These infrastructural components allowed the salvaging of clean water for hygienic consumption, while also channeling water for agricultural activities.
In fact, in an ironic twist, the very arid nature of the surrounding desert rather bolstered the importance of Petra. Simply put, the ancient city with its ingeniously planned irrigation systems attracted the merchants, traders and travelers who traversed the rigorous lands to arrive in the safe haven. This was complemented by strategic location of the settlement which put at the crossroad of trade routes, one of which connected Red Sea with Damascus, while the other linked Persian Gulf with Gaza (and ultimately Mediterranean). So after a hard day’s journey, Petra symbolized comfort with its food, lodgings and more importantly clean cool water. As Strabo, the Greek historian from circa late-1st century BC, said about Petra-
…abundant springs of water both for domestic purposes and for watering gardens.