A Nabataean Pool-Complex and Garden: 
A Hellenistic Tradition

The main access into the pool-complex appears to have been via the adjoining Great Temple complex whose visitors could stroll freely between its 'lower temenos' and the garden through the open triple colonnade that separates the two spaces. The first phase of the Great Temple has been dated by the excavator to sometime during the second half of the 1st c. BCE, based primarily on the style of its architectural elements (Joukowsky 1999:136). The northern retaining wall of the pool-complex and the portico wall, which forms the northern façade of both the Great Temple and the pool-complex, have been assigned a terminus post quem of the end of the 1st c. BCE, based on the discovery of coins of the Nabataean king, Aretas IV, which were found in the corresponding floor and foundation trench (Parr 1970:364, fig.1).
  Therefore, the architectural and stratigraphic evidence indicates that a major construction project, including the Great Temple and pool-complex, was undertaken toward the end of the 1st c. BCE, early in the reign of Aretas IV (9BCE-40 CE). The quarrying activity to the south of the pool-complex and Great Temple would have supplied valuable material for such a building project.

The identification of a formal garden in Petra is remarkable in that such a feature is unparalleled at Petra and throughout the region of ancient Nabataea. Ornamental gardens, or paradeisoi, were introduced to the Mediterranean world following the eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE. The Persian gardens and hunting parks encountered by Alexander and his army were described by Xenophon (Oeconomicus 4.13, 4.20-24) and emulated by the succeeding Hellenistic rulers (cf. Gleason 1996:385). Certain palace complexes, such as those in Alexandria and Antioch, were directly influenced by Persian precursors, and they, in turn, inspired the design of palace complexes throughout the Hellenistic world. The paradeisos was an important element in Hellenistic palace complexes, part of the recreational facilities which included pavilions, pools, fountains, promenades, aviaries, zoos, and theaters (cf. Nielsen 1996).

Only a few other examples of paradeisoi dating to the Hellenistic and Roman periods are known archaeologically in the region. The palace of Hyrcanus the Tobiad at Tyrus (northeast of the Dead Sea), dated to the early 2nd c. BCE, stands at the center of an artificial lake which, according to Josephus Flavius (Antiquities XII:228-234), was surrounded by large park-like enclosures (Netzer 1998). The Hasmonean dynasty of Judea (168-63 BCE) built a series of winter palaces at Jericho which were set in a large paradeisos interspersed with pavilions, banquet halls, enclosed gardens and swimming-pools, watered by aqueducts from nearby springs (Netzer 1996). Upon his enthronement, Herod the Great (37-4 BCE) undertook an ambitious building campaign that included the construction and expansion of several private palaces. Although greatly influenced by Roman engineering innovations of the time, the overall design and layout of Herod's palace complexes were inspired by Hellenistic models (Roller 1998:95). Based on the archaeological and historical records, Herod's palace complexes--at Jerusalem, Caesarea, Masada, Jericho, and Herodium--included ornamental gardens and/or parks and, with the exception of the official palace at Jerusalem, all of these had monumental swimming-pools (cf. Netzer 1977 and 1981). Of particular interest in relation to Petra's garden is Herod's pleasure garden at Herodium. Situated at the base of the conical mountain fortress is a large garden terrace adjacent to a monumental pool (72 x 46 x 3 m) with a small round island-pavilion (Netzer 1981) (figs. 25 and 26). The overall plan of the Herodium garden and pool-complex is virtually identical to the one adjoining the Great Temple at Petra, but at a significantly  larger scale.
The long history of interaction between the neighboring kingdoms of Nabataea and Judea, and the close relationship with Herod--his mother was Nabataean and he spent several of his formative years in Petra for safekeeping--would likely have promoted a direct exchange of ideas and innovations between the two cultures. It is reasonable to expect that Aretas IV, whose came to the throne near the end of Herod's reign, sought to emulate the building program of his Judean rival. The Temple of the Winged Lions and the theater, both built during his reign, have been defined as "structures of Herodian inspiration" (Roller 1998:254), and thus it is possible that the Nabataeans modeled the paradeisos at Petra on the pleasure gardens that graced Herod's palaces. The close association of the paradeisos with the Great Temple brings to the forefront the question of the identity of this monumental building--the largest free-standing structure in Petra--and whether or not it functioned as a sacred space or a royal/palatial space (Schluntz in Joukowsky 1999:221f). The examples of similar structures associated with pleasure gardens and pool-complexes point to the interpretation of a royal/palatial function.
fig. 25 - Garden and Pool-Complex at Herodium as viewed from the fortress.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all photos, illustrations and text on this site
by Leigh-Ann Bedal ©1999. All rights reserved
Last updated: February 2000
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fig. 26 - Herodium's pool with a circular island and stairs in each corner.
The Pool-Complex at Petra
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fig. 24 - Aerial view of Pool-Complex ('Lower Market') and Great Temple complex from the northeast.
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