Outline of the International Wadi Farasa Project

The ancient city of Petra saw the peak of its existence in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD But also after the incorporation of the formerly independent Nabataean kingdom into the Roman Empire under the emperor Trajan in AD 106, the city continued to flourish. Therefore, Petra offers a very fascinating combination of huge buildings and richly developed crafts, showing the merger between traditional Arab culture and strong Graeco-Roman influences.

During the Middle Ages knowledge about the city of Petra was forgotten in the West, until the Swiss John Lewis Burckhardt in 1812 not only visited the site, but also recognised it as the ancient capital of the Nabataeans and wrote about it. Although archaeological exploration started almost a century ago, only about 2% of the former city are excavated so far.

Fig. 1: Impression of the Soldier Tomb in the Wadi Farasa East around 1897/1898 (Foto: R. E. Brünnow – A. v. Domaszewski)
Fig. 1: Impression of the Soldier Tomb in the Wadi Farasa East around 1897/1898 (Foto: R. E. Brünnow – A. v. Domaszewski)

The Wadi Farasa East with the main complex of the Roman Soldier Tomb and related installations was created probably during the 1st century AD and is the result of a very well organised city planning by the Nabataean authorities. In this area installations for religious purposes – like cult shrines – and for habitation purposes – like rock carved living caves – existed together with funeral monuments embedded in a flourishing nature creating a kind of utopia or paradeisos – forms of a better life intensively discussed in ancient literature.

Fig. 2: General plan of main installations in the Wadi Farasa East by Bachmann, Watzinger and Wiegand (1921)
Fig. 2: General plan of main installations in the Wadi Farasa East by Bachmann, Watzinger and Wiegand (1921)

In a wider frame, a complete virtual reconstruction of the two main terraces of the Wadi Farasa East and the related installations is envisioned, including the collaboration with archaeobotanists (for the analysis of the ancient flora of the area), architects and engineers. During the fifth season conservation and a partial reconstruction of endangered archaeological remains in the area is planned. For instance, as there is no working water drainage, the winter rainfalls continously destroy the above mentioned monuments. With a conservation and improvement, i. e. partial reparation of the ancient water supply system, much of the seasonal rainfalls could be controlled.

Fig. 3: Section across the upper part of Wadi Farasa East by Bachmann, Watzinger and Wiegand (1921)
Fig. 3: Section across the upper part of Wadi Farasa East by Bachmann, Watzinger and Wiegand (1921)

The different installations are placed on two major and several minor terraces within the small valley, connected to each other by steps and passages. The creation of this complex entirely changed the landscape of the area, including the building of access roads and complicated water supply systems. Further, the huge amount of natural rock that had to be cut away in order to offer space for these constructions was most probably used for building the nearby habitation areas of the city’s eastern part. Therefore, the creation of the installations in the Wadi Farasa East was part of a much bigger project of city planning within the 1st century AD

Fig. 4: Hypothetical reconstruction of the Roman Soldier complex in the Wadi Farasa East
Fig. 4: Hypothetical reconstruction of the Roman Soldier complex in the Wadi Farasa East

Beside the purely scientific aspects the International Wadi Farasa Project will also offer the possibility for an improvement of the quality for visits to the ancient site of Petra. Nowadays, about 70% of visitors to Petra spend only one night in the over 70 (!) hotels at Wadi Musa, the modern village outside Petra. This is mainly due to the rather uniform type of arrangements booked, offering only a one day visit to the huge site of ancient Petra. Especially the southern part of the city, where the Wadi Farasa is located, can not be visited within a one day programme.

Fig. 5: Alternative route for visitors to Petra through the Wadi Farasa East (drawing: Official tourist map, modified by S. G. Schmid)
Fig. 5: Alternative route for visitors to Petra through the Wadi Farasa East (drawing: Official tourist map, modified by S. G. Schmid)

Already with the very basic works of the first seasons of the IWFP, i. e. a simple cleaning of the area, the infrastructure for visitors within the Wadi Farasa East will considerably improve. By such means alternative paths for visitors could easily be created and therefore offer a variety of new approaches to this fascinating site. Logically, this would mean that more people would spend a second or even thirth day at Petra. Therefore, the International Wadi Farasa Project not only unifies the interest of science and of a wider public, but it also creates the base for an improvement of the local economic situation. So far, only very punctual scholarly observations on single monuments were made, mostly dating from the beginning of the 20th century.

Fig. 6: Triclinium tomb opposite the Soldier Tomb in the Wadi Farasa East (Photo: S. G. Schmid)
Fig. 6: Triclinium tomb opposite the Soldier Tomb in the Wadi Farasa East (Photo: S. G. Schmid)

A complete study, including cleaning, excavation and documentation of the Wadi Farasa East is still outstanding. Therefore, the International Wadi Farasa Project (IWFP) will focus during the first four seasons on cleaning, excavation and documentation of the courtyard of the Roman Soldier Tomb complex, as well as of the related installations such as the „Garden Temple“ and the huge cistern that fed the water supply system of the complex.

Stephan G. Schmid
Athens, January 2000