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"Petra: Lost City of Stone" At the American Museum of Natural History

Maybe it’s the memories of all those school trips we went on as kids to see skeletons of dinosaurs and dioramas of life-sized grizzly bears lurking before dark forests. 

But there’s something about the American Museum of Natural History that continues to exert a pull. Only now we’re drawn more to its superb exhibitions like last year’s on Albert Einstein and this year’s groundbreaking “Petra: the Lost City of Stone.”

A carved stone interior architectural frame, and a nearly life-sized cast bronze statue of a Greco-Roman goddess - Photo by D. Finnin / Amnh - click to enlarge
A carved stone interior architectural frame, and a nearly life-sized cast bronze statue of a Greco-Roman goddess
Photo by D. Finnin

A monumental frieze - Photo by D. Finnin / Amnh - click to enlarge
A monumental frieze - Photo by D. Finnin / Amnh
Petra, the magical city of red and gold at the edge of the Jordanian desert, familiar to filmgoers as the locale for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” was a major metropolis of the ancient world. Settled in the third century B.C. by the nomadic Nabataeans, it was a place of advanced engineering with complex public water channels and reservoirs, streets, gardens, and farms on the outlying plateau. Spectacular temples, tombs, and residences were carved directly into its red sandstone cliffs; its roads were the crossroads of international trade routes from as far east as India, as far west as Rome.

A prosperous commercial center with a rich cultural life for more than three centuries, Petra was largely destroyed by a violent earthquake in 363 A.D. and although subsequently rebuilt, never again returned to the glories of its previous state. It was not until the 19th century that archaeological excavations uncovered some of its past and the process of rediscovery began.

In this exhibition, one is transported back in time to this extraordinary center of ancient civilization. The entrance is a narrow, darkened passageway suggestive of the “Siq” that traders crossed as they approached the city. At its end, a ten foot-high image of a royal tomb in the Hellenistic style looms. This is the Treasury, Petra’s most famous monument. The drama continues throughout the exhibit which showcases some 200 objects, a good number of which are on loan from collections in Jordan and Europe and never before displayed in the United States.

There are stone sculptures and reliefs, delicately beautiful ceramics, intricate jewelry, stucco and metalwork, ancient inscriptions, a stunning elaborately carved vase with panther-shaped handles that is the largest and finest of its kind to survive from classical antiquity. There are objects unearthed in recent digs: a frieze from a Nabataean temple, a 2,100-pound sandstone bust of the god Dushara, an elephant-headed capital.

Nineteenth-century prints and paintings recreate impressions of the rediscovery of the “Lost City of Stone”.  A brief film outlines the city’s history and the Nabataeans’ artistic and technical accomplishments. An overall panorama of the city as it appears today is presented via a  26- foot-wide montage projected onto screens to dazzling effect while contemporary photographs give a sense of ongoing archaeological research.

“Petra: Lost City of Stone” runs through July 6, 2004 and then moves on to the Cincinnati Art Museum which has its own impressive collection of ancient art, conceived the exhibit and developed it along with the American Museum of Natural History.     

The American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: 212 769-5800
Web:  http://www.amnh.org 

(Travel-Watch Link) The Book "Petra Rediscovered: The Lost City of the Nabataean Kingdom" - http://travel-watch.com/nabataean.htm .

Photos by D. Finnin / Amnh, American Museum of Natural History

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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