Lost City of Stone
April 7, 2005 to February 18, 2007
The city of Petra in Jordan © Jane Taylor









The city of Petra in Jordan © Jordan Tourism Board,North America

The city of Petra in Jordan
© Jordan Tourism Board,
North America


PETRA: Lost City of Stone tells the story of a once-thriving metropolis located, improbably, in the forbidding desert canyons of southern Jordan.

The Crossroads of Ancient Trade Routes

The ancient city of Petra was a true wonder of international commerce, stone-carved architecture, and waterworks engineering in the midst of the desert. Two thousand years later, Petra is one of the most significant sites of antiquity. Its founders — the Nabataeans — are still hailed for their business acumen, artistic talents, and technical innovations.


The exhibition includes more than 170 artifacts selected from museums in Jordan, Europe and the United States. Some of the artifacts were unearthed only recently and are being shown in North America for the first time. PETRA is organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Founded in the first century B.C., Petra prospered for centuries at the confluence of the famous silk and spice roads. Once home to an estimated 20,000 people, Petra eventually sank into obscurity. Forgotten by the outside world for hundreds of years, a thinly populated Petra was "rediscovered" by a Swiss explorer in 1812. It has been an object of Western fascination ever since.


The exhibition is divided into 12 sections, beginning with a dramatic visual introduction to the city and a celebration of its rediscovery in the 19th century. Visitors are then transported back to the founding of the Nabataean kingdom and begin a journey through time to the present day.

  • The Introduction provides a breathtaking view of the Treasury seen through the Siq, the narrow gorge that led traders into Petra.
  • Petra Rediscovered uses 19th-century paintings, drawings and prints to illustrate the city’s "rediscovery" by Burckhardt in 1812 and to underline Petra’s powerful allure to subsequent European and North American travellers.
  • The People of Petra examines the origins of the Nabataeans. Among the objects in this section is a striking gravestone bearing the likeness of a man’s head. Its style provides evidence that the Nabataeans interacted with the kingdoms of southern Arabia. Other highlights include several inscribed plaques with Nabataean dedications.
  • Caravans and Commerce explores how the Nabataeans built a commercial empire. Highlights include a recently discovered column capital with elephant heads, and a beautiful alabaster funerary plaque from southern Arabia — objects that confirm the extent of Nabataean trade.
  • Petra: Crossroads of the Ancient World is an eight-minute film created especially for the exhibition. It presents a brief cultural history of the city, and examines how the more than 800 tombs were literally cut into the rock using a unique process. The film also reveals the ingenious methods the Nabataeans developed to manage and store water.
  • City of Stone examines the architecture, engineering, and artistry of the Nabataeans. This section gives visitors a sense of the actual scale and grandeur of Petra’s rock-cut monuments. It does so by projecting panoramic views of the city onto a bank of screens 8 metres wide and two metres high. Other highlights of this section are a relief carving of a standing eagle, and a recently reassembled sculpted garland frieze from one of Petra’s major temples.
  • Daily Life offers a glimpse of day-to-day life in Petra. Among the section’s artifacts is an elaborately carved Roman marble vase with panther-shaped handles. Other highlights include a selection of gold and silver jewellery; and a collection of elegant, finely painted Nabataean ceramics. This section also examines Nabataean architecture. Featured are a sculpted limestone niche or window frame, and a selection of interior decorative stuccowork from temples and private residences.
  • Icons of the Gods focuses on the religious world of the Nabataeans, who drew upon the religious traditions of many surrounding regions. Highlights in this section include the two halves of an important Nabataean statue which were separated 1,500 years ago and are now reunited for the first time. Other highlights include eight impressive blocks depicting figures of the zodiac; a monumental one-tonne sandstone bust of Dushara, Petra’s primary male deity; and a striking portable alabaster eye idol of al-‘Uzza, Petra’s primary female deity.
  • Under Roman Rule examines the influence of Rome on Petra, which came under the control of the emperor Trajan in A.D. 106 and remained under Roman rule for the next three centuries. A major highlight in this section is a nearly life-size bronze statue of the Greco-Roman goddess Artemis, the only surviving statue of its type from Petra.
  • The Great Earthquake describes the violent tremors of A.D. 363 that caused considerable damage to Petra.
  • The Byzantine Era explores the history of Petra in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., when Petra became an important centre of Christianity within the Byzantine realm. A highlight of this section is a sixth-century A.D. scroll fragment that is part of an extensive will of a wealthy man named Obodianus.
  • Petra Today details ongoing archaeological research and conservation projects.


Abu Gassim © Vivian Ronay

Abu Gassim © Vivian Ronay

The main exhibition will be complemented by The Bedouin
of Petra
, a selection of photographs taken by photojournalist Vivian Ronay between 1986 and 2003. These images offer a compelling look at the lives of Petra's contemporary residents, Arab Bedouins known as the Bedoul.

For information or advanced ticket purchase call: (819) 776-7000 or 1 800 555-5621.