King’s Academy, December 1, 2008—Acclaimed writer and photographer Jane Taylor spoke to King’s Academy students on Monday about the rise of the Nabataeans, the nomadic desert tribe that built and inhabited Petra.
Taylor explained that the Nabataeans grew wealthy exporting frankincense and myrrh-- harvested in current-day Oman and Yemen--to the Greeks and later, to the Romans. The Nabataeans successfully controlled the Arabian Peninsula trade routes through their ability to navigate the region’s harsh desert terrain and their mechanisms for drilling reservoirs along the routes.
According to Taylor, the Nabataeans built Petra in honor of their pre-Islamic Gods. Taylor projected several photographs highlighting the pre-eminence of Gods in the form of carvings and sculptures throughout Petra.
Taylor also drew attention to the surviving painted portions of Petra, suggesting that at one point, the city was probably gaudily plastered and painted in bright yellows, greens and reds. She showed one artist’s interpretation of Petra as it might have looked donned in the bright paint. A strange image, Taylor noted, given the natural serenity associated with the rock facades today.
She then proceeded to talk about Nabataean adaptations to the lack of water in Petra for the better part of eight months, and to the flash floods in winter. Photographs throughout the presentation highlighted canals, dams and pools which could inversely direct water into or away from the city. Taylor explained that when Petra was excavated, the effectiveness of the systems compelled the excavators to restore them to their original state.
During the question and answer session, one student asked about the fate of the Nabataeans. Taylor joked that some of their descendants might well be among the audience, but more importantly, she added, what has weathered the test of time are, “the hauntingly beautiful facades of Petra which remain in perfect harmony with the setting in which they were carved.”