The Monastery, also known as Ad Deir (Arabic for the monastery) wasn’t really a monastery; it was a temple dedicated to Nabataean king Obodas I. The structure was called the Monastery by early European explorers, who thought the mountain setting of Ad Deir, high above the city of Petra, was in keeping with that of a monastery. Several crudely etched crosses on the inner walls of the central chamber seemed to corroborate this assumption. And that was that. The Monastery had its name.
Mislabelling archaeological ruins is common practice. Examples are easy to come by; there’s the Nunnery at Uxmal, Mexico, which is in fact a government palace. Or there’s the Temple of the Moon at Machu Picchu, Peru, which isn’t a temple, and has nothing to do with the moon – it’s a tomb. Or, for a closer example, there’s Petra’s Al-Khazneh, the Treasury, which is actually a mausoleum.
The hike to Ad Deir
Ad Deir is located in the mountains above Petra city; it’s an easy enough one-hour-long hike, if a touch hot in the heat of midday. There are more than 800 steps to climb along the way.
Donkeys are available for those sightseers that are incapable, or unwilling, to hike to the top. The donkeys should be avoided if at all possible though, as their hooves chip away at the 2,000 year old, Nabataean-carved stairwells causing irreparable damage.
On the way to Ad Deir you’ll pass the Lion Triclinum, a small shrine with several severely eroded lion carvings guarding the door, and two medusa heads decorating the upper frieze.
Further along the trail you’ll find Qattar Ad Deir, a holy spring that supplies year-round flowing water.
As you climb you are treated to increasingly impressive views, first over the Petra basin, then over Wadi Araba.
Ad Deir was a temple dedicated to the Nabaeatean king Obodas I, who ruled Petra in the 1st Century BCE. Obodas I was one of those special individuals who was deified after his death.
Ad Deir is 50 metres wide and 45 metres high. Inside the structure is a single austere chamber with stairwells leading to the niche. The plaza in front of Ad Deir also had to be chiselled out of the bedrock, and would have held thousands of individuals during religious gatherings
And what of the crosses that grace the inner walls of Ad Deir?
The most likely answer is that Ad Deir, at some point in history, was re-appropriated as a church, in similar circumstances to that of the Urn Tomb of Petra, Jordan.
There is even a slim chance that Ad Deir was temporarily used as a hermitage for monks; a function which, if you were feeling generous, you might say was similar to that of a monastery. 🙂
The Nabataean city of Petra is accessed from the new city of Wadi Musa, a 4 hour drive (250 km) from Amman, the capital of Jordan.
Read more on Petra in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.