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 it.

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 inhabitants.

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.

Site Development :

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 Jimal.
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 city.

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.

SCHEP Support:

Capacity Building

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 site documentation.
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.

Job Creation

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 conservation.
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 visit.
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.

Host Community:

The 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 exists today.

Currently, 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 community.

One 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. 

Additionally, 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, income-generating programs.

The 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 community itself.

For More on Umm al-Jimal check the project's website and Facebook

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About the history of Umm al Jimal 

Project Director: Bert DeVries