Capital Improvements

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Petra exhibition
© AMNH Photo Studio

The grand entrances of many tombs in Petra were carved on a giant scale to honor those laid to rest inside. Since it was part of Nabataean culture to display wealth, rich families spared no expense to hire master architects and masons to created elaborate facades for their funerary monuments. Many of the architectural elements hailed from Alexandria--a Hellenistic Greek city in neighboring Egypt--and were common throughout the ancient Mediterranean region. In Petra they have a unique Nabataean flair.

Based on Hellenistic Greek architecture, towering flat columns called pilasters topped with carved capitals supported the upper stories of rock-cut tombs. And freestanding columns lined courtyards of Petra's temples and civic buildings. The column capitals bear intricate floral patterns and animal shapes, representing aspects of nature that were important to the Nabataeans.