Bir Madhkur is one of approximately 40 sites in southern Jordan with a connection to the ancient Incense Route. This major land and sea trading route stretched from India across the Levant and Egypt, linking eastern and southern incense, spices, and luxury goods with the Mediterranean world. The route existed between the 7th century B.C. and 2nd century A.D, and Bir Madhkur itself was occupied during the Nabataean, Roman, and Byzantine periods.

The most prominent features of the site include a late Roman/early Byzantine military fort, dwellings, and bath houses. Around the fort, excavations have revealed caravan stations, farmhouses, and nomadic encampments. Evidence also suggests the area was once home to a massive agricultural area and also served as a hub for copper trade, linking Faynan to the north with Abu Kushayban.

At its peak, Bir Madhkur was a bustling trade hub, home to communities of herders, farmers, and traders. These locals also mixed freely with those who traveled through the site including pilgrims, merchants, and soldiers.

The expansive site is most tightly concentrated along the ridge that separates the fort from a nearby spring, which was the ancient water supply. Today, locals get their water from a well nearby, which gave rise to the name Bir (well) of Madhkur.

Site Development :

The project worked to revitalize the trails that link Bir Madhkur to Petra, as well as to further conserve the site and make it more comprehensible to public audiences. One of the most visible signs of SCHEP’s work has been the establishment of clearly marked trails and installation of interpretive panels along the route. 

Another key component of the project included environmental protection, trying to fight erosion and other degradation. This included building terraced walkways to limit foot traffic in risk-susceptible areas.

SCHEP Support:

Capacity Building

SCHEP trained members of the local community with the skills necessary to conserve and protect archaeological features at Bir Madhkur, including those found along the routes to the site as well as the routes themselves, throughout the year and on a more sustained basis. Along these lines, SCHEP held workshops in site clearance and consolidation, use of GPS and survey equipment, and technical trainings in the repair, consolidation, and maintenance of the paths between Petra and Bir Madhkur.
Bir Madhkur community members who were interested in establishing a tourism business were invited to a workshop in Wadi Ramm to learn from their business models and observe the ways in which tourism has positively affected their communities.

Job Creation

The project at Bir Madhkur trained and offered opportunities for guides, surveyors, architectural consolidators and other similar functions. The project provided 21 employment opportunities.

Tourism and Economic Development

SCHEP worked closely with the local community at Bir Mahdkur and the PDTRA to help develop an ‘Incense Route Project’ that would connect the area with nearby Petra, as was the case in ancient times. SCHEP organized test hikes with community leaders and tourism professionals.

SCHEP installed interpretive panels at the site and along the route to Petra in order to make the area accessible and comprehensible to visitors. SCHEP also worked to refurbish a variety of houses in the area, in an effort to transform them into cabins for tourists to stay overnight and comfortably enjoy the area.


Host Community:

Bir Madhkur lies in Wadi Araba, within Aqaba governorate. Together with the surrounding communities of Qweilbeh, Quraygra/Feynan, Abu Kushayban, Rahma, Gharandal, Risha and Qatar together make up the municipality of Wadi Arabia, which has a total population of around 6,000 people. The area is classified as a poverty pocket, with more the 87% of the population falling below the poverty line.

The area’s mountains and wadis are ideal for hiking, climbing, and exploring the nearby canyons. USAID SCHEP teams, as well as projects from the Jordan Tourism Board, hope to continue to promote adventure, as well as cultural heritage tourism in the surrounding area.

Project Director: Dr. Andrew Smith II.

Site Stewards: Abdullah al-Sayyideen and Mohammed al-Sayyideen.

Read More About Bir Madhkur:

About Site Steward Mohammed al-Sayyideen

About Visiting Bir Madhkur

About the History of Bir Madhkur