Discover a colossal city of antiquity – PETRA: Lost City of Stone

April 6, 2006

Discover a colossal city of antiquity – PETRA: Lost City of Stone

Gatineau, Quebec, April 6, 2006 — The ancient city of Petra was a 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 fascinating city of Petra and its people are the subject of PETRA: Lost City of Stone, a major exhibition opening at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC), in Gatineau, Quebec.

Petra was a thriving metropolis located in the forbidding desert canyons of southern Jordan. Literally carved from stone, this city of 3,000 temples, tombs, and dwellings was once home to an estimated 20,000 people. The city was notable for its sophisticated water system that ensured its people a reliable water supply — an engineering feat in the harsh desert environment.

“Even today, Petra has the power to astonish visitors with its physical setting and the scale and artistry of its stone work,” said Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. “Its impact on desert caravans 2,000 years ago was profound. This exhibition explores the essence of the colossal city and allows us to share an enduring sense of wonder and respect.”

PETRA: Lost City of Stone 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. The exhibition is organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The exhibition offers a rich portrait of the city and its people. It features stone sculptures and reliefs, ceramics, metalwork, inscriptions, and a selection of nineteenth-century paintings, drawings and prints. Among the highlights are pieces such as an elephant-headed capital, a beautifully sculpted frieze from a Nabataean temple, and a monumental bust of the Nabataean god Dushara.

Complementing the artifacts are large projection screens that convey the grandeur of Petra’s physical setting, and the size and magnificence of its major monuments. Some of the stone façades the city is famous for are over 30 metres tall. One of the most celebrated of these appeared in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Petra prospered for centuries at the confluence of major trade roads. The city drew its wealth from the camel caravans that ferried precious cargoes from India and Arabia to markets in Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Syria.

“By linking the Roman Empire to the Far East, Petra grew into one of the great crossroads of the ancient world — benefitting her citizens financially and culturally,” added Dr. Rabinovitch. “The mixing of peoples and ideas is evident in the city’s art, religions, and architecture.”

By the seventh century, however, the city had sunk into obscurity. Its decline had started with the development of ocean trade routes and accelerated after a massive earthquake in A.D. 363. Forgotten by the outside world a thousand years, a thinly populated Petra was “rediscovered” by a Swiss explorer in 1812. It has been an object of Western fascination ever since.

The Bedouin of Petra
The main exhibition is complemented by The Bedouin of Petra, an exhibition of 25 photographs taken by ph