According to ancient literary sources, Nabataean kings had royal quarters in the city of Petra in southern Jordan. Recent survey conducted by the Northeastern Petra Project (NEPP) on the high-ground location at the foot of al-Khubthah massif in Petra revealed the existence of a large architectural complex of monumental design, which clearly dominated the entire valley. During the five seasons of the intensive NEPP survey (2011-2015), fourteen large buildings and several other structures and installations were fully documented, surface material collected and assessed for chronological information, and more than 900 architectural decoration blocks, many of the highest artistic quality, were recorded. The complex may preliminarily be dated to the early 1st century A.D. One of the rooms in the largest, monumental building (Structure 2) at the site was excavated in 2016, confirming the initial impression that the building was richly decorated with painted wall plaster and floor mosaics.
At first, the locational analysis and a brief description of the specific components of the architectural complex will be presented, followed by the interpretive commentary and conclusions. It is apparent that in locational and spatial terms, the NEPP complex draws upon the concept of Hellenistic urban basileia while its architecture and decorative repertoire find some parallels in Herodian palaces and late Republican-early Imperial villas of otium type. However, no close parallel to the overall architectural design of the complex nor to specific architectural solutions has been found so far. It will be suggested that the complex represents the luxurious palatial quarters of the Nabataean elites, not unlikely of the Nabataean kings. If so, this consequently calls for the re-evaluation of other locations in Petra, previously proposed as Nabataean royal residences. Finally, the paper will underline the importance of the NEPP complex for the spatial organization and the urban development of the city of Petra.