Nestled amid the sandstone
valleys and cliffs of southern Jordan, the Nabataeans made Petra their capital
more than 2,000 years ago. This nomadic group were traders of frankincense and
myrrh, whose kingdom spanned from Damascus in Syria to modern-day Saudi Arabia.
The Nabataeans ruled over the area for several centuries before being annexed
by the Roman Empire in A.D.106.
At the heart of the ancient
capital lies a wide, half-mile long colonnaded boulevard. Surrounding this
artery were the key institutions and monuments that facilitated daily life in
the bustling metropolis. These include the remnants of luxurious pools and
gardens, an elegant fountain, and a grand royal audience hall.
At the end of this main street is
Petra’s “Sacred Quarter,” which features three large temples. They are the Qasr al-Bint, a well-preserved
state shrine to the chief Nabataean god Dushara; the complex called the Great
Temple which had many phases and seemingly changing functions; and the Temple
of the Winged Lions, built to honor the goddess al-Uzza.
The Temple of the Winged Lions is
a large sacred complex with an ascending staircase, a grand entrance flanked by
columns, and an inner cultic chamber with a raised podium. While most of the
columns had Corinthian-style capitals, the dozen columns surrounding the main
podium were adorned with the unique “winged lion” capitals that give the
monument its name.
The temple’s spiritual focus was
likely a statue or an unadorned standing stone, representative of the goddess
al-Uzza, that was set atop the podium and around which priests and devotees
would circle. The walls and columns of the temple’s inner sanctum were brightly
painted with floral and figurative designs, while small recesses and niches
surrounding the podium held offerings and idols emblematic of the goddess.
Thought to have been built by the Nabataeans during the first century A.D., the
temple continued to thrive well into the Roman period and only fell out of use
following the devastating earthquake that struck Petra in A.D. 363.
Western explorers and
archaeologists were aware of the temple’s location in the early
19th century, although the building’s nature and function remained a
mystery until the 1970s when Philip C. Hammond led the American Expedition to Petra
(AEP) that excavated the site. It was during this period that the nominal
“winged lion” capitals were discovered. They were perched atop the columns of
the temple’s inner sanctuary.
Following excavation, the
temple’s exposure to wind, water, and erosion, as well as solar radiation, salt
efflorescence, and vandalism had caused severe damage . Although there had been
some small-scale conservation interventions, much more was needed to protect
the site. By 2009, it became clear that the temple would not survive if steps
were not taken to ensure its long term preservation.
That year, the American Center of
Oriental Research (ACOR), the Department of Antiquities (DOA), and the Petra
Development and Tourism Region Authority (PDTRA) established the Temple of the
Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management (TWLCRM) Initiative. The TWLCRM
Initiative employs a holistic approach to the temple’s preservation that is
environmentally conscious, highlights presentation and touristic potential,
shares information, develops and codifies best practices for cultural resource
management, and prioritizes community involvement.
USAID SCHEP support has focused
on conserving exposed structures, specifically the cleaning and removal of
destructive salts and cements and the application of clean mortars. Much of
this work was done in the southwest quadrant of the temple and in
the Cella and on the central podium. SCHEP funds also supported the
creation of paths and the installation of interpretive panels to help visitors
understand and navigate the temple.
Additionally, SCHEP supported the
"Experience Petra" program that allows visitors to the temple to
engage in various conservation activities, such as mortaring stones, sifting
through dirt, washing and sorting pottery, and documentation. So far, between
2015 and 2018, more than 750 students from across Jordan participated in the
program, many of them as part of their first visit to Petra.
The TWLCRM Initiative has
achieved success through its grassroots, community-based model of site
development. Through its training programs in site documentation, management,
surveying, conservation, and site presentation, SCHEP support led to employment
and professional development opportunities for over 100 community members,
roughly one third of them female.
Conservation of the temple has
been an ongoing effort. Beginning in November 2015, USAID SCHEP began
supporting a new local non-profit company founded by members of the TWLCRM
local team—Sela for Vocational Training and Protection of Cultural Heritage—to
implement critical tasks in the temple’s problematic southwest quadrant. Sela
worked as part of the TWLCRM Initiative until July 2017. Through training
programs in archaeology, conservation, documentation, and site presentation,
Sela provided members of Petra’s host communities with much-needed vocational
skills in heritage preservation, while also achieving important results on
site, including the construction of new, well-defined paths that link the
southwest quadrant to other parts of the site. Trainees and the TWL team were
involved in critical excavations to understand better the temple’s final demise
in A.D. 363, and with the support of PDTRA staff have carried out emergency
conservation measures that are required before the entire southwest quadrant
was backfilled for reasons of stabilization and safety in spring 2018.
Additional work in 2017 and 2018 supported by SCHEP, enabled leading
specialists in conservation and geology to help provide capping material for
the Cella podium, conserve and support leaning columns, and backfill the Cella
floor to help prevent the accumulation and seepage of rainfall. Graphic signage
has been created at the Temple of the Winged Lions and new pathways were added,
making this site better interpreted and more accessible to community members
and visitors than ever before.
While TWLCRM team members
primarily hail from Umm Seyhoun, the village created to house the families who
were moved out of Petra when it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985,
the TWLCRM Initiative has placed priority on providing training opportunities
to all of Petra’s surrounding communities, including Wadi Musa, Bayda, Dalagha,
Rajif, and villages in Wadi Araba. Recruitment and training was gender-blind
and emphasized the need for establishing merit and experience-based employment
in the cultural resource management fields.
The TWLCRM Initiative in Petra is
unique for the high level of female participation. To highlight this success,
SCHEP worked to support these women and document their sucess. We invite you to
help us celebrate the Women for Heritage by watching this video.
For some more information on the
achievements of the TWLCRM Initiative and its support by USAID SCHEP, see
ACOR’s past newsletters for Winter
2016, and Winter