by Melanie Hasbrook

By Paul Banks, Interpretive Program Assistant

There is no greater insider at Olana than Frederic Church himself. The collection at Olana contains not only a great number of his works of art, but a great number of works from his pen as well. We have letters, journals, diaries, cancelled checks and ledgers all in Church’s hand. One of these was donated to Olana by Maria Burroughs Livingston, a descendent of Church, and it’s quite special as it is the diary he kept as he journeyed to Petra in the Middle East. On February 24th and 25th 1868 Frederic Church and his traveling party explored the “lost city” of Petra. Below is an excerpt from pages 66 through 71 of the diary—original spelling, line breaks, and punctuation retained. The diary provides insight into, not just his travels, but also his artistic process–so much of it is a written description of a site that would become the subject of one of Church’s acclaimed masterworks. The masterwork that has resided in the Sitting Room of Olana since the 1870’s, El Khasne Petra!

150 years ago this week, Church’s writes in his journal:

We started off I carried
my large sketching portfolio-
We started for the Khasne
We presently came in sight
of a mass of tombs temples
etc cut out of the face of a
rocky mountain at the
South- We began to enter
a ravine of wild
rocks of surprising beauty
of color ribboned with graded
stripes and crossed barred with
other tints and worn by time
etc into fantastic honeycombed
forms yet with the edges rounded
and softened-
The scenery became wilder &


wilder- and presently
we were walled in by lofty
ragged precipices which
overhung the narrow pathway
we followed the tortuous
road until we came in
sight of the far famed Khasne
This wonderful temple is
cut in the face of a
tremendous precipice
which where it has not been
comparatively recently broken
is of a black coler
with an olive tinge in it
greys of various shades and
occasional warm tints run
in seams and layers
The rock when freshly exposed
is of a beautiful rich reddish
salmon coler- Miscalled
pink by some travelers
It is of a light hue delicate
and remarkably uniform
considering the great size


of the temple There are
of course some variations and
indeed a beautiful clove tint
and blue grey breaks out
in bands in a few places
The general effect on the
inexperienced eye must qive
the impression of a uniform tint
It is wonderful to see
so lovely and luminous a
color blazing out of black
stern frightful rocks
and to still heighten the
effect behold the beautiful
temple rich in sculptured
ornament shining as if
by its own internal light
some of the sculptures are
as sharp as if but just
finished. The capitals are
very rich and beautiful
among the ornaments of the
frieze I observed grapes and


pomegranate with
appropriate leaves,
Eagles were sculptured
at the corners- also some
animals probably
lions- & & &-
We followed up the Sik
which is a narrow cliff
or gorge opening directly
upon the Khasne- this
is so narrow that we could
hardly follow it with out
wetting our feet in the little
stream which flowed along
the stony bed- on one
side we noticed a small
aqueduct sometimes built
of tiles but generally cut
in the rock- it was very
small the tiles not being
more than seven or 8 inches
in diameter quite insufficient


to carry off the amount
of water which was flowing
today- The bed of the
stream was once a road-
way as many parts are
paved with large stones
A half mile or so
brought us to the Arch
springing over the chasm
this I believe is settled to
be a portion of an acqueduct
I did not go further in
that direction but thought
that the acqueduct formerly
carried the water to the
city which now flows over
the pathway-
Oleanders are very abundant
in all these gorges and many
plants & vines-
I made some rapid
sketched in this vicinity
and one in coler of a part


of the Khasne
Showers came
up and we retraced our
steps to the tent- lunched
and started for El Deir
which lies diagonally opposite
to the Khasne across the
valley where the city
formerly stood-

We hope you enjoyed this look into the past and can come to Olana sometime soon to admire the magnificence of El Khasne Petra and more.