Last weekend was Regina Folk Festival and I was volunteering with the parking patrol. Loitering around Victoria Avenue, there was a lot of down time between chasing cars away from parking spots reserved for the festival.
Luckily for me, Victoria Avenue along the park is probably the greatest street in Regina for monumental buildings and variety in architectural styles. The Streamline Federal Building and glowing Balfour Apts., with Moorish stripes, bookend classical styles on the Hotel Saskatchewan, Land Titles Building and First Baptist Church.
The classical columns, pilasters, capitals and pediments remind me of another place who created monumental architecture with a Greek and Roman influence, the Nabataean city of Petra.
Petra (in Southern Jordan) was the Capital city of the Nabataean civilization. Located inside a formation of tightly grouped rocky hills (jebbel) and accessed by valleys (wadi) the city was known as Reqem (The Colourful/Multicoloured City) by the locals and Petra by Greek visitors (1). The city was an important trading centre between Arabia and the Mediterranean, a crossroads for land and sea trade from East to West.
Greek geographer Strabo, who lived during Petra’s prime described a cosmopolitan city with many Romans and other foreigners trading, living and traveling through via desert caravans (2). The Nabataeans met, fought, traded or were otherwise influenced by cultures near and far during the course of their civilization (roughly 4th century BCE to 2 CE). The Kingdom of Judea were near neighbours to the North, Babylon, Ptolemaic Egypt, Greece, Rome and Arab tribes to the South and East. Even India and possibly China would have traded in goods like for ivory (the ‘Great Temple’ has capitals with elephant heads) silk and spices. (3)
When I visited Petra last year, I found myself daydreaming about people living their lives in this place. Even though it’s best days were 2000 years behind it; the city felt more like a ghost town than a ruin.
Walking up and down Victoria Avenue, I was reminded of Rome’s orderly influence on city building. Both Petra and Regina have East – West roads with the most prestigious, and important civic buildings along side.
The Hotel Saskatchewan has elements in common with El Deir (below) and the Khaznet (‘treasury’), major funerary monuments cut out of the hill sides. You can see round and triangular pediments, pilasters and both have urns (though El Deir’s is singular, not quadruple, and full of bullet holes). The Khaznet has a Corinthian order just as the Hotel has Corinthian pilasters and dentils.
At times during the weekend, staring up at the huge brick facade, the Hotel Sask felt more like a man-made hill, with a classical style scratched out of it. The Hotel, also resembles, in the most basic way, the Qasr el-Bint the only free-standing structure left at Petra.
Seen here from on high, the pinkish square is the Qasr el Bint, thought to be a temple built on an older religious site (4). The two columns in front and to the right of the Qasr make up the West gate of the main road. You can see the columns of the ‘Great Temple’ just before the Qasr. To the left are the sweeping Southern hills where (just as in City Centre Square neighbourhood in Regina’s early years) many large homes/villas would have peered down on Petra’s commercial and civic heart. These well-to-do Western style dwellings, apparently, resembled stone encampments, because just as the early Nabataeans placed their tents randomly in flat spots so too did their newly wealthy descendents (5).
The Hotel Sask reminds me most of the rock-cut facades with their flat faces, simple pilasters, and pediment topped entrance ways. These rock-cut monuments were not just a copy of fashionable Greek architecture but chose elements from West and East, old and new to create something that was Nabataean.
In Petra, the pediments and pilasters usually lead to inside chambers, unlike the above example. Decay, however, is almost universal. The weathering processes have been working the toil of humans, over 2000 years, into a fine, pink, dust. The upshot of all this is the creation of wonderful smooth holes, lines and gouges. The exposure of the rock strata, which I can only compare visually to images of the howling gases on the planet Jupiter, combined with weathering creates a landscape of swirling colour, stretched like cloth, over melting forms.
Ok, so not everything compares to Regina. But, I find it very interesting how our architectural classicism relates to ideas of Western heritage, civilization, order, authority and prosperity in a similar way as it did for the Nabataeans two millennia ago. Both cities arrange their important buildings along grand avenues, near important natural elements (for us, the shade and order of the park and for them, precious access to water). And, most of all, the subjective visual connection born of experience and memory. In the Hotel Sask I have a talisman; a window to look back to my first rose-coloured evening in Petra.
1 Francesca A. Ossorio; translation, Mark Mahan. Petra : splendors of the Nabataean civilization Vercelli, Italy: White Star Publishers, 2009 (102)
2 Ibid. (41)
3 Glenn Markoe “Introduction,” Petra rediscovered : lost city of the Nabataeans Glenn Markoe, general ed. New York, N.Y. : Harry N. Abrams in association with the Cincinnati Art Museum, 2003. (13)
4 Francesca A. Ossorio; translation, Mark Mahan. Petra : splendors of the Nabataean civilization Vercelli, Italy: White Star Publishers, 2009 (150)
5 Ibid. (155)