Treasury at Petra (Al Khazneh)
Published 17 March 2007 by markzmann
Petra is an archaeological site in Jordan famous for having many stone structures carved into the rock. One of Petra's most magnificent structures is the Treasury (Al Khazneh), a building carved in sandstone cliff.The first sight visitors see upon emerging from the 1.5 kilometer-long Siq (dark, rock passage ) is the Treasury. One of the most elegant remains of the ancient world, the Treasury is carved out of solid rock and stands over 40 meters high and was probably constructed in the 1st century BC.
The purpose of the Treasury remains something of a mystery. One thing that is fairly certain, however, is that it was not a treasury. The Treasury is generally believed to be a temple or a royal tomb, but neither conclusion is certain.
The tomb/temple got its popular name from the Bedouin belief that pirates hid ancient treasures in the tholos (giant stone urn) which stands in the center of the second level. Bullet marks are visible on the urn itself, as evidence of attempts to "break" it and claim the treasure. Such attempts were useless since the urn, like the structures surrounding it, is solid rock.
When the first Western visitors arrived at Petra in the 19th century, a stream ran from Siq and across the plaza. The stream has since been diverted and the plaza leveled for the sake of tourists.
The Treasury's façade has two levels, decorated with columns, classical rooflines and badly weathered sculptures. The central figure on the upper level tholos may be the fertility goddess of Petra, El-Uzza. The vertical footholds on either side may have been made to aid the sculptors. Perched atop the façade is an eagle, a Nabataean (and Greek) male deity symbol. The portal on the bottom level is reached by small flight of steps, and is flanked by mounted figures believed to be Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus. Inside, a colossal doorway dominates the outer court and leads to an inner chamber of 12 square meters. At the back of the chamber is a sanctuary with an ablution basin (for ritual washing), suggesting that the Treasury was a temple or some other kind of holy place.