Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Petra is revealing precious wall paintings

In a previous article (see: Hellenistic Petra, an indirect heritage of Alexander) I explained how Petra, although it was not explicitly conquered by Alexander the Great, the land of the Nabataean of which Petra is the capital city inevitably became part of his empire after he swept through Greater Syria on his way from Egypt to Gaugamela in 331 BC.

The Hellenistic influence is everywhere and it is not surprising to hear that recently Hellenistic-style wall paintings have been found in a cave complex in what is called Little Petra, about five kilometers away from the main site of Petra that draws busloads of tourists. The pictures were hidden underneath layers of black soot and smoke that covered the walls and ceilings after many people like the local Bedouins lived there for centuries.

This discovery is even more significant since only very few Hellenistic paintings survive today and we have only hints of lost masterpieces. With great care, the Petra National Trust (PNT) has restored the paintings which slowly emerge from the blackened layers of dirt.

The uncovered and cleaned paintings are of exceptional artistic quality and it is clear that the Nabataean artists found their inspiration in earlier Hellenistic work. The frescoes that are brought to light were found in a dining area, a main chamber and a smaller alcove apparently used for ritual dining. The best quality frescoes are found on the vault and the walls of this niche. They all are very naturalistic and so far three different kinds of vines – grapes, ivy, and bindweed – have been identified, all referring to the Greek god Dionysus. As for the birds, a demoiselle crane, and a colored Palestine sunbird have been recognized. Also exposed are scenes with cupid-like figures picking fruit and chasing birds. It is important to note that the quality of the paintings is enhanced by the use of gilding and glazes; they provide a rare insight into the lifestyle of these still mysterious Nabataeans.

Little Petra was home for the affluent Nabataeans and the paintings probably date from the first century AD, although they may be older. From a historic and artistic point of view, they are very important and represent a unique synthesis of Hellenistic-Roman culture.


So far, the paintings in this cave complex are the only surviving figurative frescoes from the Nabataeans still in situ. A good reason to include Little Petra more often in future visits as the site is very much at a human scale where one can get the feeling that the ancient Nabataeans have just left the premises.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Little Petra]

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