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Petra Great Temple Accettola, Anna


The capital of the Nabataean kingdom was the city of Petra. In the heart of Petra lay the Great Temple, an enormous complex for worship and community gatherings. Given its prominent location in the center of Petra’s main valley, the Great Temple was the dominant building in the city’s skyline. While the use of the Great Temple remains at the center of on-going debate, the various phases of building show the its integration with the cultural and political development of the city and her people from the height of independent Nabataea to its annexation by Rome. Theories about the Great Temple range from a purely religious center for worship to the palace for the king, as well as many combination of the two options. Archaeological excavations have added more questions than they have answered, but destruction and rebuilding layers have shown that the Great Temple was in use for over 400 years. Given that Nabataea was highly dependent on foreigners for trade and the kingdom’s economic prosperity, it stands to reason that the Great Temple played at least a moderate role in the bureaucratic regulation of the state and its markets. Located directly next to the Pool/Garden complex or “lower” market area, as well as the “middle” and “upper” markets, the Great Temple was uniquely positioned to provide structure and support to the activities taking place in the center of the city. This is not to say that it did not have a religious function as well. In many polytheistic societies, religious practice is intertwined with daily political and economic decisions. As such, the worship of Dushara, the Nabataean high god, was linked to the Propylaeum and the burning of incense and prayer would have been clearly visible to visitor and passerby. However, “Nabataean religion” included many practices were scattered across the city to various sacred areas. Triclinia, both public and private, indicate feasting on small and larger scales. Sacrifices were particularly conducted in the sacred high places in the mountains around Petra. The Propylaeum areas for worship, then, may indicate that the Great Temple was a space for the king, as Dushara is a patron deity of the monarchy of Nabataea.

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