Petra PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
The Siq
The "Treasury"
"Qasr al-Bint"
Civic Center
"Deir" ("Monastery")
High Place

"Qasr al-Bint" ("The Palace of Pharaoh's Daughter")

The "Qasr al-Bint" was a temple. Its present name adhered to it as a result of legend . We know its real function because of its similarity, in ground plan, to known temples in southern Syria: at the rear is the inner sanctufary, divided in three, with a square cella in the middle; in front of this was a vestibule, and beyond it, outside, an altar. The roof, on the other hand, was pitched like that of Greek temples (the Parthenon's for instance). Fragments of stucco and paint testify that the building was plastered and brightly colored. 

Qasr al-Bint

The axis is not quite north-south. Rather, the temple is angled in such a way that its length is parallel to the scarp of a high rock to its west (al-Habis). Its front is parallel to Wadi Musa, just before this turns and drains out of the city through another wadi on the west. (Enlarge the satellite photo.)  We have seen the reasons for dating Qasr al-Bint to a time before 25 BC.

We do not know which god the Nabataeans worshipped here. A large marble hand was found in the ruins, but it may have belonged to the statue of a Roman emperor. Also from the Roman period are Greek inscriptions mentioning Zeus and Aphrodite. The ancients had a strong tendency to identify Isis with Aphrodite . But the Nabataeans, in particular, identified Isis with the chief goddess of Petra, al-'Uzza. Egyptian documents attest to a major cult of Isis at Petra, but only a few direct representations of her have turned up there. More frequent are the stelae of al-'Uzza. The apparent contradictions disappear if we assume that the Nabataeans understood Aphrodite, Isis and al-'Uzza to be one and the same.   

The appearance of Aphrodite's name in the Temple may echo an earlier time when al-'Uzza was worshipped here. But we often find al-'Uzza together with her son Dushara, the chief Nabataean god. It seems reasonable to suppose, therefore, that the Roman worship of Zeus and Aphrodite in this temple reflects the earlier Nabataean worship of Dushara and al-'Uzza here. 
Now if Dushara was worshipped in the temple, his image would have been in the cella. But in keeping with the main Nabataean practice, the "image" would have been a standing stone. We have, in fact, a text that describes the worship of Dushara at Petra, and the dimensions it gives for the stone would enable it to fit well into the cella of Qasr al-Bint.    

I refer to a 10th-century document called the Lexicon of Suidas, or Souda, which preserves material from earlier sources, includes a heading for "Theus Ares," (a corruption of Dous Ares, i.e., Dousares, the Greek form of Dushara). Thus it mistakenly finds the war god Ares (Mars) at Petra. But what follows the mistake is interesting:

That is the god Ares at Petra in Arabia. The god Ares is worshiped by them, for they venerate him above all others. The image is a black stone, rectangular and unshaped, measuring four feet in height by two feet in width. It is set on a base worked in gold. To this they burn incense and against it they pour the blood of the sacrificial animals. And that is their form of libation. The whole building abounds in gold and many dedications.

After quoting this passage, Robert Wenning writes: "It is commonly held that the entry describes the cultic image of Dushara at Petra, possibly in the Qasr al-Bint. At the rear of the central adyton is a recess of approximately the same size as the cultic image described in the Souda, which may indicate the place of that image. Molded stucco fragments from that temple coated with a gold leaf seem to illustrate the above passage."