This concerted project investigated the two urban centers Petra and Gadara and their surrounding countryside using comparative formulations and methods in seeking to determine the causes of similar and dissimilar developments and phenomena. In order to gain an understanding of the importance of the interaction between environmental and social factors in the formation and historical development of the urban form, interaction between several disciplines is required (e.g. geography, topography, geology, meteorology, technical sciences, ecology, demography, sociology, building law, building economy and cultural studies).


During the Bronze and Iron Ages a steady stream of highly advanced urban cultures came and went in the region that today is called Jordan. The Persian period in particular seems, strangely enough, to have left a noticeable mark, so that for long periods (though certainly with exceptions, e.g. Amman) in the Hellenistic era (from 330 BC) and the Roman Imperial period, urban sites and infrastructure had to be built anew. The two project sites, Gadara (in the north) and Petra (in the south), belong to this category.

When, in the course of the Hellenistic period (330-30 BC), the Nabataeans, a formerly nomadic Arabic tribe, became at least partially settled and founded their future capital, their leaders chose a location that strikes modern visitors as highly unfavorable. The choice of location can only be understood from a nomadic point of view; it is in fact a good choice for a temporary campsite that can be dismantled on short notice should the need arise. The main features of Petra’s urban area are fairly well known. But the question of road and street connections within the urban area remains shrouded in mystery. The research conducted so far has been limited to fundamental questions, e.g. public buildings were excavated to determine their functions and when they were built. More penetrating questions, e.g. regarding the choice of sites for certain monuments and public squares, remain unanswered. It is particularly interesting to investigate what criteria were applied (visual axes, acoustic axes) in choosing locations for public squares and religious or secular monuments. Did pagan temples and Christian churches follow the same strategies in selecting locations? How did the road networks present themselves, and did this change over the centuries?

Gadara was founded in an area of the highest geo-strategic importance in the conflict between the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire. The known structures date back primarily to between the 2nd century BC and the 8th century. AD. The ancient city of Gadara, present-day Umm Qais in northeast Jordan, was situated in a conflict zone between various oriental cultures, thus making it a suitable subject for a study of autochthonous development and knowledge transfer. The field research that has been conducted there by the DAI since 1987 and focuses on the following questions: How and under what conditions did the urban space of Gadara come into existence? What concrete social (hence economic, social, political, historical and cultural) and environmental factors and processes conditioned the “becoming” of the city of Gadara.

These questions are being addressed primarily on the basis of current cultural, technical-historical and urban-sociological research. One priority is the so-called Theatre-Temple Area on the east side of the city where the significance of and the interaction between environmental and social determinants in Gadara’s urban development can be demonstrated just as emphatically as the manifold appropriations and uses of the nascent urban (sub)space.

Related Publication

Stephan G. Schmid, “Remarks on the Western Building from the perspective of Nabataean sacral architecture”, in: Zbigniew T. Fiema, Jaakko Frösén and Maija Holappa (Eds.), Petra – The Mountain of Aaron, II. The Nabataean Sanctuary and the Byzantine Monastery, 2016, 67–73

Wiebke Bebermeier, Dennis Beck, Iris Gerlach, Torsten Klein, Daniel Knitter, Kay Kohlmeyer, Jan Krause, Dirce Marzoli, Julia Meister, Bernd Müller-Neuhof , Claudia Näser, Philipp von Rummel, Dorothée Sack, Stephan G. Schmid, Brigitta Schütt and Ulrike Wulf-Rheidt, “Ancient Colonization of Marginal Habitats. A Comparative Analysis of Case Studies from the Old World”, in: Space and Knowledge. Topoi Research Group Articles, eTopoi. Journal for Ancient Studies, Special Volume 6 (2016), 1–44

Stephan G. Schmid, “Petra als Hauptstadt der Nabatäer. Geschichte einer explosionsartigen Entwicklung”, in: Stephan G. Schmid and Ella van der Meijden (Eds.), Petra – Wunder in der Wüste. Auf den Spuren von J.L. Burckhardt alias Scheich Ibrahim. Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung, Basel: Schwabe, 2012, 134–141

Zbigniew T. Fiema, “Petra in byzantinischer Zeit”, in: Stephan G. Schmid and Ella van der Meijden (Eds.), Petra – Wunder in der Wüste. Auf den Spuren von J.L. Burckhardt alias Scheich Ibrahim. Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung, Basel: Schwabe, 2012, 305–311