Restoration of the Nabataean Hydraulic System in the Siq
Project start and end date: 1996 – 2002
Project Consultants: Middle East Engineering Management (MeeM), Intermonument Restauro Bellwald
Funding provided by: Jordanian-Swiss Counterpart Fund Bilateral Committee; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); and World Monuments Fund (WMF), Robert W. Wilson Challenge Grant
Project cost: JD 1,333,786 ($ 1,883,880)
The Siq is a natural gorge in the mountains 1209.5 metres long with a width ranging from 3 metres to 15.5 metres and is the main passage the Nabataeans developed into Petra’s formal entry way. The sacred nature of the Siq as a processional way is attested to by the numerous carved niches, betyloi, and Greek and Nabataean inscriptions. During the rainy season, water flows into the Siq from the surrounding wadis and water levels can rise to a height of 1.53 metres and flow at a velocity reaching five times the acceptable safety standard. To protect the citizens and their monuments from life-threatening and recurring flash floods, the Nabataeans designed and constructed an intricate network of hydraulic systems within the Siq and the areas flanking it.
Over 2000 years of neglect has allowed for large amounts of rubble from the surrounding mountains to be washed down and collected in the Siq; the entire hydrological network has largely been left to deteriorate.
In 1996 PNT conducted an extensive survey of the Nabataean hydraulic network in the Siq and the areas with direct impact flanking the Siq. Soundings were conducted to establish the original level of the pavement. They revealed that in places, the original pavement was 3.85 metres below the existing floor, whereas in the upper half of the Siq, in places it was up to 2.5 metres above the present floor level. Approximately 33,000 cubic metres of rubble were removed from the Siq, which restored the floor to its original grade of about five percent. By restoring the Siq to its original grade, the project succeeded in reducing the velocity of water flow during flash floods rendering the Siq safer and more comfortable for visitors.
Portions of the Siq floor that remained without pavement stones were covered with a layer of consolidated material that at the same time provided protection for the indigenous vegetation in the Siq from dust caused by pedestrians, vehicles and animal movement.
The project uncovered hydraulic features e.g. water channels, terra cotta pipes, filtration basins etc., sanctuaries, place of sacrifice, betyloi and numerous niches containing Nabataean, Greek and Latin inscriptions. The most exceptional findings were the reliefs of two camel caravans, carved out of the bedrock on the southern side of the street.
A report on the Siq Project was published in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (ADAJ), volume 43 (1999).
All proceeds from the sale of items will go towards the funding of PNT’s preservation projects in Petra
Area in the Siq where the original paving stones were best preserved – photo courtesy of Gaetano Palumbo