Located just south of the Syrian border in northern Jordan,
the ancient city of Umm al Jimal is known for its signature black basalt stone.
Inscriptions found at the site span five languages: Arabic, Greek, Latin,
Nabataean, and Safaitic, showing the rich and diverse groups who have inhabited
Paleolithic hunter-gatherers laid traps in the area, and
after the domestication of animals, nomads would graze their herds in the area.
The first recorded settlement was by these same nomadic Arab peoples hosting
Nabataean trade caravans who used Umm al Jimal as a stop in their routes
between Petra and Damascus. A few structures from this period remain and
excavation teams have found inscriptions on stones that were reused by later
When the Romans came to occupy the area in the second
century AD, they constructed military fortifications and used the city as part
of Limes Arabicus, the line of garrisoned forts that protected the
Roman province of Arabia. The castellum (watch tower), great reservoir,
praetorium (emperor or general’s residence), temple, and other structures that
still stand today can be traced back to the time of Diocletian and Constantine.
By the fifth or sixth century AD, the town was a prosperous
Byzantine hub that was home to more than 6,000 people, marking its transition
to a primarily civilian population. It was also during this period that many
residents converted to Christianity, explaining the remains of fifteen churches
and other Christian symbols that can be found at the site today. After the
Muslim conquest, the agricultural community continued to prosper, and additional
buildings were constructed.
Tragedy struck in 749 CE when an earthquake rocked the town
of Umm al-Jimal. This combined with a pandemic, drought, and the shift of the
seat of political power to Baghdad from Damascus, led to the gradual
depopulation and eventual abandonment of the city by the ninth century. As
urban living fell out of favor, the nomadic economy that existed before the
Nabataean settlement returned.
For more than one thousand years, the city lay deserted, the
basalt masonry remaining largely unperturbed by the passage of time. In the
early 20th century, Druze fleeing persecution in Syria and Lebanon arrived
in the area reconstructing existing buildings, where they lived until 1932 when
the modern border between Syria and Jordan cut their access to Jebal Druze.
After the Druze departed, Arab Bedouin settled in.
Umm al Jimal encompasses a vast swath of land, holding an
entire city that has been occupied since Nabatean times. One of the primary
goals of SCHEP’s work in Umm al Jimal was establishing paths for tourists to
help them most of the churches, mosques, homes, and other buildings in Umm al
Throughout Umm al Jimal SCHEP supported the production and instillation of more
than 33 interpretive panels. with vital information about the architecture,
history, flora and fauna, and other aspects of the site itself. They allow
visitors the chance to give themselves a self-guided tour and learn about the
In pursuit of these goals, UJP worked to preserve and present
the area of the ruins close to the urban core in order to direct guests into
commercial areas and provide the best possible linkages between historical and
present-day Umm al Jimal.
Training and capacity building were sewn into the fabric of
the project, with regular training activities for staff in restoration,
preservation, archaeology, site security, personnel supervision, project
oversight, photography, video, graphic design, HTML and CSS web design as well
as the history of Umm al Jimal that could be shared with visitors.
The Umm al Jimal Project (UJP) sponsored the creation of a
3-D model of the site which also activities as a training service for employees
of the Department of Antiquities and the Umm al Jimal Project. Trainees learned
basic concepts of aerial photography and its applications in archaeological
SCHEP and the Umm al Jimal Project are proud to partner with the DOA, MOTA, the
Umm al Jimal Community, the Umm al Jimal Municipality, UNESCO, ACOR, and the Umm
es Surab Project to develop a comprehensive Site Management Plan which will
strengthen its future application for WHS statues. This task force sought to
represent all the diverse perspectives of the various stakeholders in order to
set a new standard for Site Management. One of the key aspects of this plan is
to protect against vandalism, an issue which showcases the importance of
including the community alongside important institutional partners.
The Umm al Jimal Project hired two full-time architectural
interns out of more than 20 applications. Given their success they were offered
full time positions on the project. Other training opportunities on site
include giving informative tours, site management, and digital communications.
The Umm al Jimal Project supported the creation of Hand by
Hand, a community based company that produces signs of the type featured at
heritage sites. So far, they have produced interpretive signs for all of the
USAID SCHEP sites and are looking to expand beyond to other customers.
UJP created some 34 other employment opportunities in total,
most of them focused on archaeological preservation and site management.
Tourism and Economic Development
The Umm al Jimal Project has developed literature to help
tourists engage with the site in addition to the interpretive panels mentioned
above. These projects include brochures and a specially designed application
for mobile phones.
One major goal of the project was to attract more tourists from within Jordan
and abroad and to see Umm al Jimal added to the list of World Heritage Sites in
Jordan. SCHEP has been instrumental in leading this process, with the SCHEP’s
Tourism and Cultural Heritage Resources Leads collaborating to ensure that this
gem is recognized for its tourism and heritage potential. SCHEP worked closely
with the DOA and MOTA in order to ensure that the site maintains its integrity
during this important process, which meant highlighting its historical
importance, specific values, risk assessment, public use, and history of site
The Umm al Jimal Project also worked closely with the city of Umm al Jimal in
order to combine tourism strategies. The town is working to develop a tourism
complex near the western gate that will contain shops, restaurants and other
facilities, which would allow tourists to make a full day experience of their
Project Director Bert de Vries worked to expand visibility for the project by
speaking at conferences for local and international tour agencies.
The Umm al Jimal Project developed an educational manual in
order to begin education and appreciation of the site at a young age. Now
available in both English and Arabic on the project’s website, it is integrated
in the Ministry of Education’s curriculum starting in spring 2018.
Msa’eid tribe, who had long been grazing animals in the area made a home for
their community among the ruins beginning in the 1930’s. They not only
repurposed existing structures, but they also constructed a town surrounding
the area, which has grown steadily since the 1950s. In an effort to preserve the ruins, the
Department of Antiquities fenced off the area in 1972 and the people of Umm
al-Jimal moved outside of the site itself to form the community that still
the population of Umm al-Jimal is around 6,500 people, with more than 45% of the
population living in poverty. Zaatari
refugee camp, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, lies directly
outside of Umm al-Jimal. The influx of the Syrian population has also directly
impacted the community. Despite these
challenges and poor economic indicators, the area is home to a vibrant
piece of this community is the Umm al-Jimal Women’s Cooperative Society, which
provides training, participation, and leadership opportunities in the fields of
handicraft production, food and hospitality, cultural tourism, site
preservation and maintenance, and business development.
residents of Umm al-Jimal have come together to form the Black Jewel
Cooperative Society. The main goal of this cooperative is to improve community well-being
by preserving its cultural heritage and environment through sustainable,
community of Umm al-Jimal is inexorably linked to the site itself, and SCHEP is
proud to work with archaeologists and community members to showcase both the
town and historic site. Continued exploration of the site of Umm al-Jimal will
be pared with responsible, sustainable, and grassroots development within the
For More on Umm al-Jimal check the project's website and Facebook
About the history of Umm al Jimal
Project Director: Bert DeVries