Ongoing archaeological digs at Petra have revealed a sophisticated irrigation system and water storage system that once enabled legendary gardens, luxurious pools, and incredible fountains in the middle of the desert. Petra’s decadent and perhaps indiscriminate use of such a rare resource is a symbol of the ancient Nabatean capital’s former wealth and power in southwest Jordan. For the first time, archaeologists are beginning to understand the extent of its luxury.

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Recent excavations unearthed an advanced irrigation system that made it possible to grow lush botanicals in an otherwise arid desert region. The garden is comprised of walking paths that archaeologists posit were once shaded by vines, trees, date palms, and grasses. Nearby, a 144-foot wide swimming pool suggests the Nabataeans developed their hydraulic water system not only to sustain daily life, but to lounge in the lap of luxury, thus spreading the message far and wide about the extent of their power.

Related: How an ancient civilization flourished in the desolate Arabian desert 2,000 years ago

“The pool marks the terminus for an aqueduct that transported water from one of the springs, ‘Ein Brak, located in the hills outside of Petra,” Leigh-Ann Bedal, associate professor of anthropology from the Penn State Behrend College, told Haaretz. “The pool’s monumental architecture and verdant garden served as a visual celebration of the Nabataeans’ success at providing water to the city center.”

The archaeological study found a shaft nearly 33-feet-deep that would have led water from the aqueduct system to the pool level. Also uncovered during recent excavations were a series of underground channels that controlled rainwater runoff, illustrating that the sophisticated system was just as functional as it was decadent. Maximizing Jordan’s sparse rains by collecting water, storing it, and routing it where it was needed (or wanted) shows a more complex engineering feat than would be expected for a 2,000-year-old civilization, and archaeologists are still working to unearth more secrets of the ancient garden site.

Via Haaretz

Images via Leigh-Ann Bedal