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Heritage Sites of the Jordan Trail: Documenting and Interpreting 7,000 Years of Urban Living in Jordan

Jun 13, 2017 – Jun 26, 2017
Jordan Trail, Jordan
Research Question

In the spring of 2017, the Jordan Trail Association officially launched a 600+ km hiking trail connecting many of the historic sites in Jordan. The first 80km stretch of the route (from Um Qais to Ajloun) is likely to become one of the most popular with visitors due to the relatively temperate climate of the northern mountains as well as the relatively high density of cultural and natural sites.

The impact of greater visitation on the heritage sites and small towns along the way merits further attention. While well-known archaeological sites and historic towns such as Um Qais, Pella and Ajloun have some management infrastructure in place through the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, a series of lesser known sites including caves inhabited during the Neolithic period, Roman cisterns and farming centers, Byzantine churches, and outposts built by the Ottomans remain without any specific conservation plan or protective measure in place. As an ensemble, they are exceptional. Together, these sites provide a cross section of 7,000 years of continuous urban life, where residents have struggled and largely succeeded in reconciling the challenges of living together in dense communities. This summer workshop conducts a rapid assessment of current conditions of the lesser known and largely unprotected historic sites along the trail and anticipates preservation, planning, and interpretative challenges associated with the ongoing development of the route.

Methodology and Process

Participants in this workshop hiked from Um Qais to Ajloun, getting direct experience with the challenge of incorporating and protecting a diverse range of heritage sites along this section of trail, followed by site visits to the most notable sites along the trail: Jerash, Kerak, and Petra. The team documented heritage sites and discussed the trail with stakeholders along its route, anticipating preservation, planning, and interpretative challenges associated with the ongoing development of the trail. Activities included:

  • A rapid survey to characterize and assess relationships between the historic sites along the first 80km of the trail, including documentation through video, mapping, spherical photography and photogrammetry
  • Meetings with stakeholders (Jordan Trail Association, tour guides, local hosts, government entities) to evaluate perspectives and visions for the future of heritage conservation along the trail
  • Identification of key interventions that stakeholders can perform to improve the performance of the Jordan Trail as a connector of different communities
Output and Findings
Following time along the Jordan Trail, workshop participants presented preliminary impressions of opportunities and challenges confronting sites and disparate communities along the trail and hosted a conversation with stakeholders including members of the Jordan Trail Association, local hosts, through hikers, and USAID at the Studio X/Columbia University Middle East Research Center in Amman. Participants presented open source mapping tools that hosts and visitors along the trail could use to supplement the fundamentally important work of the guide, as well as documentation tools that the guides could use to better report disturbances like looting to the Jordanian authorities.
Al Khazaneh at Petra

The “treasury” of Petra was carved from the sourrounding cliff face by the Nabateans in the first century AD, and was originally intended to serve as a mausoleum. It is one of the most prominent stops along the recently established Jordan Trail.

Al Khazaneh at Petra

The Jordan Trail runs right through the heart of the ancient city of Petra, passing by the spectacular Nabatean mausoleum and crypt carved into the sandstone. While most visitors to Petra arrive in buses and have never heard of the Jordan Trail, the Bedouin running local tourist shops report seeing an increasing number of visitors “carrying their whole life on their back.”

The Jordan Trail

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