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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Site Stewards: Bilal al-Deghemat and
Read More About Ghawr as-Safi
About Project Director Dr. Polis
About the history of Ghawr as-Safi