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Petra’s Water System

In addition to its strategic position, two other factors led to the development of Petra as an important political, economic, and cultural center despite its arid environment - a natural fortification and the presence of water - as described by the Greek geographer Strabo in the 1st century B.C.:

Petra . . . is situated on a spot which is surrounded and fortified by a smooth and level rock, which externally is abrupt and precipitous, but within there are abundant springs of water both for domestic purposes and for watering gardens.

(Strabo, Geography, 16.4.21)

Natural springs provided a reliable source of water in an environment where the annual rainfall is less than 10 centimeters. However, a populous center such as Petra could not rely solely on the local springs, and so Nabataean engineers designed a complex hydraulic system that captured and stored rainwater for use through the long arid summer months.
Schematic reconstruction of Petra’s hydraulic system.
Schematic reconstruction of Petra's hydraulic system. from Laureano, P. Abitare il deserto: il giardino come oasi. Giardino Islamico: Architettora, Natura, Paesaggio, A. Petrucciolo, ed. 1994: 63-84. Electa, Milano.