A World in Mosaics

Part of the Petra exhibition.

The Petra Church, the city's cathedral, must have been among the most magnificent sights in Byzantine Petra. Vivid mosaics--of stone and glass cubes, or tesserae, some enhanced with precious gold leaf--once gleamed from the floor, walls, and ceiling of the building just north of the Colonnaded Street.

In their bold colors and soft hues, these intricate mosaics echo the landscape. Artisans quarried much of the stone for their tesserae from the sandstone, limestone, and volcanic basalt of the surrounding hills, though the imported white marble was salvaged from older Roman buildings. While many of the designs are Greco-Roman, these artists drew inspiration from the world around them, too: the pomegranate trees and grapevines shading city gardens, the camels and donkeys trudging dusty paths.