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How Did Ancient Civilization Managed To Flourish In Arabian Desert 2000 Years Ago?

You don’t need to spend weeks exploring the weather conditions in Petra to experience all the pleasures of cruel Arabian Desert. Yet, 2000 years ago rough weather didn’t stop the ancient civilization from flourishing, on the contrary it manage to develop in one of the wealthiest ancient civilizations in the world! How did they do it? First of all the story goes back to high demands in Egypt, Greece and Rome for fragrant frankincense, myrrh and other goods, which could be traded on the Incense Route and of course the skillful water and hydraulic engineering of Nabateans’.


The information boards in Petra state that Nabateans got a water control across the 900, 000 square mile of Arabian desert around 300 BC, which is long time before they established their capital – Raqmu. Nowadays, Jordan gets around 4 inches of rain a year. Arab people hid the water cisterns around all the desert in case of attack and to retreat deep into otherwise formidable territory. But as they grew in number, Nabateans managed to work out the landscape, utilize gradients and springs to their advantage only and build the city that could sustain   20, 000 people.


You can still admire the Nabateans’ engineering skills while walking through the Siq, a narrow passage that used to be the only entrance into the city. Along its sides there are still visible the channels, which used to bring the funneled rain and spring water to all the corners of the city. All the reservoirs and cisterns were connected with waterproof cement to prevent leaking and make the water as pure as possible.

There are five major aqueducts in the city: the Siq one used to transfer the water from a spring in Wadi Musa to Qasr al Bint, while a dam and tunnel by the entrance of Siq was changing the route of flood waters, which are common in this area. It kept residents safe and made sure not even one single drop of water was wasted.


The most amazing symbol of Nabateans’ water management was the fountain in the center of the city carrying the name of Nymphaeum, a female nature spirit well known in the classical mythology. The fountain was a place for collecting drinking water and also as a place where community could get together.


But besides controlling the water supply Nabateans managed to control their food as well, by building terraces into the hills which weakened runoff and prevented erosion. People were cultivating figs, olives, pomegranates and grains and even managed to make wine, taking into account that there were 40 rock out wine presses discovered. They were using the knowledge of developing oases for traders on the roads starting from Saudi Arabia to Gaza, the road was controlled by a system of taxes and tolls, giving the citizens more time to focus on the arts.


You can admire their love for art by looking at carved tomb facades, houses, banquet halls, altars and temples.


Featured Image: whc.unesco

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