The setting sun casts light on the altar of Petra’s Monastery during the winter solstice. Photo: Juan Antonio Belmonte, Ph.D.
The famous rock-cut monuments of Petra in Jordan may have been constructed with the movements of the sun in mind.According to a recent study published in the Nexus Network Journal, the Nabataeans took into account how the sunlight would illuminate their major buildings during specific times in the year when erecting their towering capital city.
Originating as a nomadic tribe in northern Arabia, the Nabataeans settled into semi-permanence in the area of Petra in the late fourth century B.C. As described in the Bible History Daily feature “Solving the Enigma of Petra and the Nabataeans,”the Nabataeans rose to prominence in the ensuing centuries with their involvement in the lucrative South Arabian frankincense and myrrh trade:
By the first century B.C., Petra had become a full-fledged capital city, its rulers raking in considerable profits from an international spice trade that now extended from India to Rome. With such wealth and position, the Nabataean kings had to present both themselves and their city as equal partners in the international community, which at the time meant adopting the styles, tastes and the mores of “western” Hellenistic civilization. Petra, much like Jerusalem under the Herodian dynasty, was to be built as a first-order Greco-Roman city ruled by western-looking kings.
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