Petra Roman Street Project

Petra, Colonnaded Street, looking west to Royal Tombs in background. Photo from the Jane Taylor Photographic Collection at ACOR (1990).

In the 1990s, with the support of the Department of Antiquities, ACOR initiated several archaeological projects in the city center of Petra, including the Petra Church and Petra North Ridge. Another of these was the Petra Roman Street Project, which took place between 1996 and 1999 with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The purpose of the project was to enhance the touristic attraction of Petra and to explore the city’s urban history by exposing a part of the civic center, namely the eastern end of the colonnaded street. The research conducted during those years included the documentation of the staircase to the so-called Upper Market and the landing in front of it, the remains of the so-called Trajanic arch at the edge of the street pavement, two rooms east of the staircase (shops XXIX and XXX), three rooms to the west of it (shops XXVI–XXVIII), and the propylaea of the Upper Market at the upper edge of the staircase. This entire area around the staircase that leads to the Upper Market was excavated under the direction of Zbigniew T. Fiema between March and June 1997 (Fiema 1998). The colonnaded street is particularly visible from the sites of the Temple of the Winged Lions and the Petra Church on the hill overlooking the site. The street runs east-west through the city center, with Wadi Musa on its north side, a series of monumental buildings on its south side, and ceremonial buildings at its west end. Civic and commercial buildings, including shops, are found in the central part and at the east end of the street.

An architectural survey of the structures conducted from August and October 1996 and from October 1997 to May 1998 resulted in plans and drawings by Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos (2001). The location of this area can be found in a detailed map of the city of Petra (Kanellopoulos 2002). Ueli Bellwald and Professor Hassan Safarini assisted in its consolidation and partial reconstruction. Further reconstruction was resumed in 1999 by Pierre Bikai and Dakhillallah Qublan.

Western pier of the Trajanic arch (left), shop XXVIII (center), and part of the colonnaded street next to shop XXVII as it may have appeared in Nabataean times. [Drawing by C. Kanellopoulos [2001: fig.2].)
Reconstructed plan of the street, shops, and “Upper Market” documented during the Petra Roman Street Project. (Drawing by C. Kanellopoulos [2001: fig. 1].)

The material from these excavations indicates use of the buildings in this area between the 1st century BC and the 7th century AD. Shops established in the Nabataean period (1st century BC to 1st century AD) along the early street expanded northward during the early 2nd century AD (Kanellopolous 2001), and a formal sidewalk was established. The sidewalk later acquired a portico. This considerably narrowed the early street, which was then densely paved with flagstones. Use of the shops continued during the Byzantine period, with simple commercial structures being built upon the southern colonnaded sidewalk. The frequency of storage jars, amphorae, and unused cooking pots among the finds indicates commercial operations here, as do the many coins were found in rooms XXIX and XXX. All these structures were damaged by the earthquake of AD 363, and the gradual abandonment of shops at the eastern end of the colonnaded street area, which had already begun in the later 5th century, was largely complete by the early 7th century.

Restoration work in 1998 involved enhancement of the remains of the western pier of the Trajanic arch, the facade wall of five shops and the colonnade, the reconstruction of arches inside the shops used original stones from arches and ceiling beams, and the partial re-erection of a column. The staircase was consolidated, and dislocated blocks of the street’s pavement in front of the shops, including many scattered flagstones, were reset. Iron doorframes were used to brace and buttress exposed doorjambs. Today, many of the Bedul Bedouin in Petra sell souvenirs to tourists along this colonnaded street from the very same shops where, in ancient times, merchants plied their trades.

The results of the Petra Roman Street Project are being prepared by ACOR for final publication.

To find out more about the Petra Roman Street Project, see:

Fiema, Z. T. 1997. “Petra: Roman Street Project,” ACOR Newsletter 9 (1): 8–9.

Fiema, Z. T. 1998. “The Roman Street of the Petra Project, 1997: A Preliminary Report.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 42: 399-424.

Fiema, Z.T. 2001. “Die Entdeckung der Antiken Innenstadt. Neue Forschungen im Bereich der Säulenstrasse in Petra/Jordanien.” Antike Welt. Zeitschrift für Archäologie und Kulturgeschichte 32 (1): 47–52.

Fiema, Z. T. 2008. “Remarks on the Development and Significance of the Colonnaded Street in Petra, Jordan.” In La rue dans l’antiquité: définition,aménagement, devenir. Actes du colloque de Poitiers, 7–9 Septembre 2006, edited by P. Ballet, N. Dieudonné-Glad, and C. Saliou, 161–168. Rennes: Presses universitaires.

Kanellopoulos, C. 1998. “Petra: Colonnaded Street and Shops” ACOR Newsletter 10 (1): 1–3.

Kanellopoulos, C. 2001. “The Architecture of the Shops and Colonnaded Street in Petra.”  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 324: 9–22. DOI: 10.2307/1357629.

Kanellopoulos, C. 2002. “A New Plan of Petra’s City Center.” Near Eastern Archaeology 65 (4): 251–254.

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