History:

The area around Ghawr as-Safi is rich with history, as mentions of the area under various names abound in numerous texts and records.

In the Old Testament, it is known as Zoara, one of the Old Testiment as 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. The map depicts 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 economic significance.

Sugar production dominated the area’s economy from the 11th to15th century, 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 insight into the technology of the time- revealing an elaborate system of extracting, purifying, and storing sugar from sugar canes. The site shows that Ghawr as-Safi was the center of the sugar industry, and that sugar was then sold across the entire Mediterranean region.

Excavation and Conservation:

Dr. Konstantinos D. Politis of the Hellenic Society for Near Eastern Studies led surveys, excavations, and conservation in Ghawr as-Safi since 2000. He and his team have excavated and conserved large portions of the site.

The team discovered an elaborate water system where water from nearby Wadi Hasa travelled through a canal system to irrigate the surrounding fields as well as facilitate sugar production. The water flowing through the canals was used to rotate large stones to break down the sugar cane, in a process similar to that needed to make wine or olive oil. In spring 2016, the team made tremendous progress unearthing and understanding the complex gear system. There is much work still to be done at Tawahin as-Sukkar, and USAID SCHEP looks forward to continue its involvement in both the archaeological work and in the surrounding community.

Site stewards Bilal al Deghemat and Nayef Shamalat have advocated for protection of the site with various stakeholders, and raised awareness for the site’s cultural heritage value through activities with local grade-school students.

As part of a long-term initiative to create a tourism cluster at Ghawr as-Safi, USAI SCHEP’s goal is to bring the Islamic sugar factory of Zughar to a level of preservation and interpretation such that it can be presented comprehensibly to the public, and conserved and protected by skilled local teams. With USAID SCHEP funding, the project seeks to formalize their skill-sets into three teams of 4 to 5 skilled workers from the local community.

In parallel with the site activities and training, basic improvements will be made to the sites in order to welcome visitors and make the sites more understandable.

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.

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