Petra: Lost City of Stone

Petra: Lost City of Stone – traveling exhibition

October 18, 2003-July 6, 2004

Literally carved from the red sandstone cliffs in the Jordan Rift Valley is the ancient city of Petra, now mostly in ruins. Petra: Lost City of Stone, opening at the American Museum of Natural History on October 18, 2003, tells the story of this thriving metropolis at the crossroads of the ancient world’s major trade routes and of the technological virtuosity that allowed its founders, the Nabataeans, to build and maintain a city in the harsh desert environment, Developed in collaboration with the Cincinnati Art Museum and presented under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, Petra is the first major cultural collaboration between Jordan and the United States and the most complete portrait ever mounted on the amazing yet enigmatic city of Petra and its people.

“With its complex intermingling of nature and culture,” said Museum President Ellen V. Futter, “the fascinating story of Petra mirrors the very work and mission of the Museum. For more than 130 years, our curators have studied relationships between nature and humanity. Understanding how the underpinnings of other cultures flourish, and how they grow and spread has perhaps never been more relevant than it is today, as we embrace the challenges and opportunities of living in a truly global community.”

Petra: Lost City of Stone features approximately 200 exceptional objects on loan from collections in Jordan and Europe, many on view for the first time in the United States, and from collections in the United States. Stone sculptures and reliefs, ceramics, metalwork, stuccowork, ancient inscriptions, and a selection of some 25 19th-century paintings, drawings, and prints will be displayed alongside architectural sections from several of Petra’s famous monuments.

First conceived by the Cincinnati Art Museum in 1994, Petra: Lost City of Stone has been organized by the American Museum of Natural History and the Cincinnati Art Museum. The American Museum of Natural History has been renowned for more than 130 years as a leader in archaeological fieldwork and research, and has a long tradition of presenting exhibitions that illuminate complex cultural and scientific issues. The Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM), one of the oldest and most important visual arts institutions in the United States, has an extraordinarily rich permanent collection representing many cultures and historical periods, including the most extensive and important collection of Nabataean artworks outside Jordan. CAM’s Nabataean collection was excavated in 1937 at the site of Khirbet Tannur and was originally divided between American and Jordanian authorities. This exhibition will reunite the two collections, which contain some of the most important works of Nabataean art extant. The Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Antiquities, as well as the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, have assisted with the development of this project. After its premiere at the American Museum of Natural History, Petra will travel to other venues throughout the United States including CAM.

Among the highlights of Petra: Lost City of Stone will be several important architectural pieces, such as a sculpted garland frieze from a major temple at Petra, a sculpted window frame from a private villa, a portion of a monumental temple facade featuring figures from the zodiac, and a limestone pulpit from a sixth-century Byzantine church. Key masterworks will include a monumental limestone head of a Nabataean male deity, a seated sandstone cult statue of a storm god, a life-size cast bronze statue of the goddess Artemis, and a marble head of a Roman emperor.

One notable display will unite two halves of a sculpture believed to have been broken during an earthquake and separated some 1,500 years ago. The top of the sculpture, which depicts the 12 signs of the zodiac surrounding a bust of Tyche, a Nabataean goddess, resides in CAM’s collection, while the bottom is held at the National Archaeological Museum in Amman, Jordan. In Petra, the two halves of this intriguing piece will be reunited as a complete statue for the first time in 1,500 years.

From the second century B.C.. through the second century A.D., Petra prospered–it is estimated that at its height, the city was as large as lower Manhattan, with a population of more than 30,000. As the city grew to link far-flung regions of the ancient world, a cultural merging occurred that is expressed through the unique style of art and architecture found at the site, representing the heterogeneous nature of its society. A massive earthquake in A.D. 363, however, destroyed much of Petra. Although partially revived after that, Petra was no longer the economic powerhouse it had been. Much of the technological infrastructure that had made life in Petra possible fell into disuse, and political and religious changes in the ancient world led to the eventual abandonment of the city in the seventh century A.D.

The city was then “lost” to Westerners until a series of European explorers rediscovered it. In 1812, Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt reawakened European knowledge of the site’s existence after more than 1,000 years. The theme of European rediscovery of the ancient site also will be explored through paintings, drawings, and prints by David Roberts, William Bartlett, Edward Lear, and Frederic Church, including Church’s large-scale oil painting of the famous Treasury (1874).

Petra remains a source of deep fascination for Western visitors, with its savage beauty and natural grandeur, its desolate setting, the mystery and splendor of its rock-carved architectural ruins, and the variegated color of its cliff faces.

“Petra is one of the world’s most spectacular archaeological sites, combining an extraordinary natural landscape and monumental buildings,” said Craig Morris, Senior Vice President, Dean of Science, and Curator, Division of Anthropology at the Museum. “The exhibition re-creates many aspects of this impressive natural and human setting using artworks, photographs, and actual architectural elements to tell the fascinating story of life in this ancient city using the eloquent beauty of the work of its people.”

In New York, Petra: Lost City of Stone is made possible by Banc of America Securities and Con Edison.

The American Museum of Natural History also gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Lionel I. Pincus and HRH Princess Firyal.

This exhibition is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and the Cincinnati Art Museum, under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania AI-Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Air transportation generously provided by Royal Jordanian.


The Bedouin of Petra October 18, 2003-July 6, 2004 Photojournalist Vivian Ronay’s evocative color photographs taken between 1986 and 2003 document the Bdoul group of five sedentary Bedouin tribes living around the archaeological site of Petra in Jordan.

This exhibition is made possible by the generosity of the Arthur Ross Foundation.


The Petra Siq

Sunday, 10/19, 2:00 p.m. Petra’s remarkable hydraulic system, designed over 2,000 years ago, transformed a semi-arid land into a lush environment. The same conditions that challenged the Nabataeans complicate conservation efforts at the Petra site today. In this panel discussion, Aysar Akrawi and Ma’an Huneidi of the Petra National Trust, and Douglas C. Comer of Cultural Site Research and Management, will illustrate how archaeology and satellite imagery have influenced conservation measures at Petra.

COPYRIGHT 2003 American Museum of Natural History

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group