Ancient Water Technologies of the Nabataeans

Nabataean City of Petra (Jordan)

Nabataean Petra began around 300 BC from nomadic settlement origins.  The city was also occupied starting around 106 AD with final occupation to the 7th century AD.  Petra location was located between Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian territories.  As a result over time many exterior cultural, political, and technological influenced the history of the Nabataean City.  The Nabataean kingdom included Jordan, the Hawran in southern Syria, Sinai, the Negev, a large part of the Hijaz in north-western Arabia, and for a short time it even included Damascus.   The verb “nabat” in Arabic means for water “to percolate from underground to the surface.”


Petra’s location as an intersection for caravan trade from Arabia, Africa, and the Far East sustained the life and wealth of the city and allowing appropriate water supply infrastructure for its survival as a result of the complex topography and the limited water resources of the area.  Water infrastructure technology passed on through the ages obviously from the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Minoan, Hellenistic Greeks, and the Romans, Petra was able to develop magnificent water infrastructure for the arid area.  The Nabataeans had a tremendous understanding of the natural flow of water in the unique surroundings.  Water infrastructure included terraces, channels, settling basins, aqueducts, dams, rainwater harvesting, flood harvesting, groundwater harvesting, a large range of size and types of cisterns, reservoirs created by dams, water distribution tanks, and springs.  Throughout the Petra area there are hundreds of cisterns.


DSC_3888 - Copy

The Treasury (Al Khazna)

DSC_4486 Road to entrance along Wadi Musa

DSC_4488 Near entrance along Wadi Musa

DSC_4489 At entrance showing new additions for diverting flows from the Siq and the ancient tunnel built by the Nabataeans for diverting flows from the Siq

DSC_3254 Entrance to Siq where Wadi Musa originally flowed.

DSC_4494 Flood bypass tunnel built by the Nabataeans near entrance to the Siq from Wadi Musa into Wadi Mudhlim through the tunnel Figure 1.16 W. Bachmann’s 1917 reconstruction of the entrance to the Siq with the plan above and the elevation above.  Also shown is the location of the flood bypass tunnel.


Aqueduct along Siq , which is Wadi Musa.

DSC_4566 Outlet from cistern/settling basin

DSC_4786 Wadi Qantara inlet  with newly constructed dam structure in the background.  Cross-drainage structure for water channel (aqueduct) is shown with the two outlets.


Wadi Qantara inlet showing the rock-cut steps to the sanctuary in the western cliff.


DSC_4561Aqueduct channel showing rock cover that once covered the aqueduct

DSC_4623 Stilling basin in Siq at bottom of Wadi Jilf after restoration.


Shows stilling basin at outlet of Wadi Jilf. Two outlets in cross-drainage structure in background.


DSC_4534Settling basin along aqueduct in the Siq

DSC_4533 View of aqueduct along Siq

DSC_4562 Along Siq

DSC_4717 Along Siq showing aqueducts on both sides.

DSC_4811 At end of Siq is the Treasury (Al Khazna)

DSC_4927 Steps of the path to the High Place of Sacrfice along Wadi Al-Mahfur

DSC_4997 The High Place of Sacrifice.  Notice the outlet on the right for cleaning the sacrifice area.

DSC_4987 Small sacrifice area with drain and carved out area that could also collect water carved out chamber for storage of water.

DSC_4974 Cistern at the High Place

DSC_5087 Cistern at Triclinium of the Garden measures 18.2 m long, 6 m wide and 3.6 m deep.

DSC_5165 Retaining wall for cistern with an outlet

DSC_5157 Basin below the retaining wall of large cistern

DSC_5150 The Garden Tomb with the cistern retaining wall on the right at the Triclinium

DSC_5212 Showing Garden of the Tomb and the retaining wall

DSC_5170 Small cistern showing the foundations for the arches covering the cistern at the Garden Tomb DSC_5119 Sedimentation basin on path (steps) down from High Place to Triclinium

DSC_5129 Another view of sedimentation basin on path (steps) down from High Place to Triclinimum

DSC_5264 Channel leading into cistern


Cistern filled with sediment, channel leading to cistern in background.

DSC_5048 Channel leading along steps

DSC_5049 Channel DSC_5050 Showing small cistern and channel


DSC_5356 Tombs


Showing a natural system of runoff.  Water harvesting cavities can form at the base of this type of natural system.

Nabataean city of Little Petra


In Little Petra looking back to entrance.

DSC_5998 Little Petra DSC_5960

Little Petra


A cistern at the base of the cliff.





Note the level of the water in the cistern.


Entrance to large cistern near entrance to Little Petra


Steps into large cistern


Inside large cistern.  To the right and above is where water entered the cistern


Inside large cistern showing opening where water enters cistern.


Outside of large cistern showing entrance and where water flows over the cliff to enter the cistern.

Wadi Al-M’aysra Ash Sharqiyya


Reservoir embankment (dam) along Wadi


Lower reservoir showing upper reservoir in the background.


Embankment for upper reservoir.


Looking downstream at two reservoirs.


Caravan road along Wadi


Caravan road along Wadi


Caravan road along Wadi


Settling basin for flow entering the larger cistern


Shows the settling basin and the cistern


Settling basin and cistern

DSC_5619   DSC_5616   DSC_6389 Cistern near entrance to Little Petra showing that the cistern was modified at some time


Cistern showing channel into the cistern

DSC_6643   Cistern



Cistern entrance and water channels leading to cistern


Inside cistern above

DSC_6530  Cistern with steps receiving tank to left and then the settling tank.

DSC_6532  Cistern with settling basin and shows steps down into cistern


DSC_6432   Cistern

DSC_6447   Cistern

DSC_6789  Cistern with receiving tank and settling basin

DSC_6805   Channel to a cistern

DSC_6810 Entrance to a cistern



Nabataean city of ancient Hawara, modern Humayma or “Humeima”

Humayma was a small trading post and caravan way-station, founded by the Nabataean King Aretas III in the 80’s B.C.

The water management system was impressively developed for the settlement area taking in account the runoff potential of the area and the ability to design the settlement to capture the water.


Reservoir possibly swimming pool)


Each corner of reservoir (swimming pool) above has the step.


Cistern that has been referred as a flood harvesting system.


Closer view of cistern showing the arches used to support the cistern roof

DSC_7127 Rock-cut cistern with plaster on walls and support locations for the arch cover.

DSC_7098 Reservoir



DSC_0809 Settling tank for reservoir in above two photos showing aqueduct in background


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2 Responses to Ancient Water Technologies of the Nabataeans

  1. Beautiful pictures Thank You!

  2. Nick Lipkowski says:

    After spending a day at Petra and Little Petra I became interested in the ancient water technologies related to these wonders. These photos reveal much of what the average tourist misses in the underlying structure that made these settlements viable.

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