History:

The area around Ghawr as Safi is rich, and in mentioned under various names in ancient texts and records. In the Old Testament, it was known as Zoara, one of the ‘cities of the plain’ that was not destroyed by fire and brimstone. In the nearby mountains lies the Monastery at Deir Ain Abata, also known as Lot’s cave. According to Biblical tradition, Lot and his family fled God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, when his wife was turned to a pillar of salt for her lack of obedience to God. 
 The area is also pictured on the Madaba Map, dated to the 6th century, as a fortified city surrounded by palms, signifying the area’s agricultural and commercial importance. Records from the Fatimid period compare Ghawr as Safi, then named Zhughar, to Busra and Damascus, in terms of its economic significance. 
Sugar production dominated the area’s economy from the 11th to 15th centuries, an industry that demanded tremendous technology and tools. This gave rise to the ancient Tawahin as Sukkar or (Sugar Mill), which lies at the heart of USAID SCHEP’s work in the area. The historic stone mill gives great insights into the technology of the time, revealing an elaborate system of extracting, purifying, and storing sugar derived from sugar cane. The site shows that Ghawr as-Safi was at the center of the sugar industry, and that sugar was then sold across the entire Mediterranean region.

Site Development :

SCHEP’s site development work in Ghawr as Safi focused on Tawahin as Sukar, the sugar mill, aiming both to learn more about the site, and to make it accessible to tourists. This included clearing the site of debris, constructing a perimeter fence to keep the area secure, and constructing a path for tourists throughout the site. Interpretive panels were installed to allow visitors to enjoy the site even without a guide.

Within the sugar mill itself, the project made concerted efforts to stabilize the structure, specifically the storage and crushing chambers. The project also discovered and worked to preserve mosaic floors, repair walls, and create a drainage system that would protect the site from rainwater damage.

SCHEP Support:

Capacity Building

The Ghawr as Safi project held more than five training courses for unemployed youth in the local community. focusing on a variety of heritage related skills, including conservation of mosaics and pottery, site clearance and management, and museum care. These courses were in addition to more than a dozen short training seminars.

One of the signature elements of SCHEP involvement in Ghawr as Safi includes the work done at the nearby Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth. SCHEP supported training of locals’ community member in proper collection, storage, and presentation of artifacts. This project fulfilled an important gender component of SCHEP’s mission by engaging with the women of Ghawr as Safi. While skill and cultural barriers often make it impossible for women to work on archaeological sites, women comprise a vital element of the communities SCHEP works to connect with. Museum work allows women to engage with cultural heritage, earn income, and gain valuable skills they can use in finding future employment.

The work of these women, along with the men of the community who SCHEP trained in object retrieval and restoration, was celebrated at a community event that was patronized by the Director General of the Department on Antiquities. This ceremony served as an important element in the Department of Antiquities efforts to forge better relationships with its regional offices, and SCHEP was proud to support both their training as well as the graduation.

Job Creation

Ghawr as Safi created nearly 40 employment opportunities in the community, to say nothing of the advancement opportunities provided by the training SCHEP gave to local community members as well as staff from the regional Department of Antiquities office.

Tourism and Economic Development

SCHEP proudly supported the establishment of the South Valley Company for Sustainable Cultural Heritage and Tourism Development, led by former site stewards Bilal al Dghemat and Nayef Shamalat. The company seeks to develop alternative tourism to the entire Dead Sea area, focusing on agritourism tourism and introducing visitors to a truly locally focused experience. This company has begun hosting a number of farm to table style excursions, which are a dramatic shift from common-place tourist activities near the Dead Sea, which have traditionally focused on providing luxury experiences. By creating a new type of Dead Sea experience, the project has the potential to attract an entirely different type of visitor and expand the current visitors’ understanding of the culture, cuisine, and history of the Dead Sea region.  

Awareness

Project Director Dino Politis held several public lectures at ACOR to spread awareness of Tawahin as Sukkar amongst heritage and tourism professionals as well as the general public. These lectures, shared on social media, give the site historical context while also helping to educate the wider community of practice about SCHEP’s efforts to remake the traditional model of archaeology and tourism.

In an effort to promote cultural heritage as a value, SCHEP hosted an event on International Museum Day at Ghawr as Safi, as well as other locations across the country. More than 450 girls from across Jordan toured archaeological sites and visited museums. At Ghawr as Safi, the girls also engaged in hands-on learning activities including pottery restoration and mosaic making. These activities are part of a long history of school visits to the site, encouraged by SCHEP and the site stewards, who have been active in encouraging youth engagement. Many of these prior visits, organized with Her Majesty Queen Rania’s Madrasati Initiative, have brought children from across Jordan to visit the site.

 

Host Community:

Located near the southeastern end of the Dead Sea, the town of Ghawr as-Safi lies at the lowest point on earth, more than 400 meters below sea level, and has a population of around 20,000 people. Nestled in the heart of the fertile Jordan Valley, the community primarily relies on agriculture, supported by not only Ghawr locals, but also Sudanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Pakistani migrants.

Due to a fall in global food prices, as well as a historic lack of alternative forms of employment and opportunity, the people of Ghawr as-Safi find themselves economically marginalized. More than 50% of the population fall below the poverty line and the yearly household income is nearly 2,000 less than Jordan’s average of 8,842 JD.

The surrounding community is eager to diversify their economic opportunities, and has expressed interest in expanding tourism to entice visitors to the nearby Dead Sea to hike through Wadi Hasa or explore the historic sugar mill.

Additionally, Ghawr as-Safi is home to an ambitious and talented Women’s Association, which uses natural dies found in the area to die fabrics and create unique handy-crafts that depict scenes from their daily lives. Initially supported by UNESCO, Al Hima, and Drosos Foundation, the Women’s Association launched Safi Crafts, a collection of hand-dyed and eco-friendly textiles such as pillowcases and reusable shopping bags created using colors made from soil and natural dye plants. [link to more info]

Another attraction in Ghawr as-Safi is the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth, which hosts numerous artifacts from the area including Greek and Arabic inscriptions, Bronze Age tools, and many tools related to the sugar industry.

Most recently, SCHEP worked with its Site Stewards to establish the South Valley Company for Sustainable Cultural Heritage and Tourism Promotion. This organization provides alternative tourism to the entire dead sea area, focusing on agro tourism and introducing visitors to a truly locally focused experience.

Project Director: Dr. Konstantine Polis

Site Stewards: Bilal al-Deghemat and Nayef Shamalat

Read More About Ghawr as-Safi

About Project Director Dr. Polis

About the history of Ghawr as-Safi