Petra: The North Ridge

Following its excavations of the Petra Church, ACOR turned its attention to two other Byzantine-era churches higher up on the same slope overlooking Wadi Musa: the Ridge Church, at the very top of the hill, and the Blue Chapel immediately below. ACOR carried out excavations and restoration works over twelve seasons between 1994 and 2002. Patricia M. Bikai, then assistant director of ACOR, was the overall project director, and Virginia Egan was project assistant director. The architects for the project were Pierre M. Bikai (1994–1997) and Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos (1998–2002). The North Ridge Project has continued after this period under the direction of Megan Perry and S. Thomas Parker, focusing on areas east and north of the churches.

A number of Nabataean- and Roman-era tombs were found in the North Ridge area, dated to the 1st and early 2nd centuries. These fell out of use around the time of the construction of a city wall after the Romans annexed Petra in A.D. 106. Two statue bases and a dedicatory plaque dated to the 2nd to 3rd centuries, as well as the North Ridge’s strategic location near the fortification wall, could indicate an association between the Roman military and this area. It was not until the Byzantine era, after A.D. 363, that this area was altered in a major way.

Named for its strategic location high above the city center of Petra, the Ridge Church was built by the late 4th or the early 5th century using Nabatean and Roman materials.  It may have been the first church built in Petra. The Ridge Church Complex contained a small building with a fountain. A commemorative inscription in Greek found installed in the building, which is dated to the late 4th or early 5th century, suggests that the fountain honored a prominent individual with a military background.

The Blue Chapel was built slightly later, in the mid-5th century, around the same time as the Petra Church. It is so named because of its blue granite columns and blue marble installations. The distinctive granite was likely imported from Egypt during Nabatean or Roman times and reused in the Byzantine era. The blue marble probably originated in Turkey. The Blue Chapel may have served as a pilgrimage hostel or as a residence for church officials.

ACOR conducted a restoration program of the Blue Chapel that included the re-erection of four columns and their Nabataean-style capitals, among other works that made the site safe and accessible to visitors. The restored ambo (pulpit) from the Blue Chapel can be seen on display at the Jordan Museum, Amman.  

The Petra North Ridge Project was supported by funds from ACOR’s Petra Endowment (which came from USAID), private individual donations, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. In-kind support was also provided from the Department of Antiquities and the Petra Regional Planning Council.

Subsequent excavations by Parker and Perry in 2016 in Petra’s North Ridge revealed the presence of a Late Roman (4th century) villa and associated bath in which were found two statues of Aphrodite, which were conserved at ACOR by conservator Michael Morris.

To find out more about the North Ridge Project, see:

Bikai, Patricia M. 2004. “Petra: North Ridge Project.”  Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 8: 59-63

Bikai, Patricia M. 2002. “North Ridge Project.” ACOR Newsletter 14(1): 1–3.

Bikai, P.M. and Perry, M.A. 2001. “Petra North Ridge Tombs 1 and 2: Preliminary Report.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 324: 59–78.

Bikai, Patricia M., Perry, M.A., and Kanellopoulos, C. 2020. Petra: The North Ridge. Amman: ACOR.

Morris, M. 2018. “Conservation and Restoration of the Petra North Ridge Aphrodite Statues.” ACOR Newsletter 30(2): 9.

For the general context of the Petra Church and the related Ridge Church and Blue Chapel, see:

Porter, B.A., Frösén, J. and Arjava, A. 2018. “An Evening of Presentation to Celebrate the Petra Papyri Final Publication.” (ACOR public lecture, 16 October 2018.) YouTube video,  1:10:30, 4 November 2018.

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