Petra Database and GIS

Winner of the Rolex Award for Enterprize in Cultural Heritage (2008)

Historical Note:

This note is only inserted to mention as many of the indinviduals and donor agencies who were directly or indirectly instrumental in making this project come to fruition.

After his first visit to Petra (1982) by Dr. Talal Akasheh, he got very interested in the weathering problems of the fabulous monumental works of architecture. As a physical chemist, working at the Chemistry Department of Yarmouk University in Irbid Jordan, and whose subspecialty is photochemistry and photophysics, he did not know enough about the issues of weathering. However, he felt he knew enough chemistry to pursue this line of research. He also recognised that he needed to learn a lot before he could contribute in any significant way to the understanding of the complex problems of Petra. He also felt he needed to team up with geologists whose expertise would be vey useful. He contacted the late Dr Kamal Khdeir, at the time Head of The Earth and Environmental Sciences at the same University. The President of Yarmouk, Prof. Adnan Badran was one of the earliest enthusiastic supporters of the project. Dr. Khdeir suggested that Dr. Bernd Fitzner, a well known weathering expert at the Geologic Institute of the Aachen Technical University RWTH, is consulted. He was invited in 1984 to visit Petra with the Jordanian team. Collaboration continued between the team and Dr Fitzner for many years, and a long learning process followed. Other Jordanian and German Geologists joined the team, including Dr Kert Heinrichs, a student of Dr. Fitzner and currently a professor at Aachen Technical University RWTH. For many years both professor and student visited Petra regularly and their campaigns resulted in a pioneer work on the weathering problems in Petra (for full info see http://www.stone.qth-aachen.de and Kert Heirichs' article in Environ. Geol (2008) 56:643-675). In 1985, Dr. Akasheh and Dr. Fitzner decided to apply to the German Economic Cooperation Ministry, and they had to convince the Ministry that their project is not only of a cultural nature but has strong economic ramifications as well. Dr. Mohammad Hamdan at the time the President of Yarmouk University took it upon himself to convince the Jordanian Ministry of Planning to support the application. The Minister at the time, Dr. Taher Kanan was very enthusiastic. Equally supportive was the late German Ambassador to Jordan, Dr. Thomas Bartels. As a result the project was put on the pipeline for support by the German Government. This meant that while the application was made in 1986, it was necessary to wait for the next cycle of project support. A delay of at least two to three years resulted.

Several other experts were invited to attend a workshop on Petra in 1989. This included Dr Farouq El Baz from the Center for Remote Sensing at the Univrsity of Boston, Dr. Ricardo Elia, an archaeologist from the same University, and Dr. Rafaella Manaresi from the Center for Conservation of the Cultural Heritage in Bologna. The National Resources Authority (NRA) and The Ministry of Water of Jordan were also represented. One main recommendation suggested that a technical committee be created to deal with problems with Petra. The NRA set out to produce a geologic map of the region as result of this workshop. 

Before the first Gulf War, a team of German experts came to conduct a preliminary assessment of the project proposed by Dr Akasheh and Dr Fitzner. They were very positive. However the War prevented further development of their evaluation process until 1991, when a planning workshop was held to begin the project design. The expert team was headed by Dr. Helge Fischer, a geologist and Dr Miachael Kuhlental, who at the time was the Director of the Bavarian Conservation Office. The workshop favoured placing the project at The Department of Antiquities, as the authority directly responsible for the site, but both Dr. Akasheh and Dr Fitzner maintained cooperation with the project, which lasted about nine years, ended up implementing a conservation intervention at monument 826, with plans for two more being laid out.

meanwhile Dr. Akasheh took sabbatical as Director of the Environment Sector at the Higher Council For Science and Technology (HCST) in Amman. HRH Prince Al Hasan Bin Talal of Jordan chaired the Council and he created at the advice of Dr Talal Akasheh and Dr Abdullah Toukan, Secretary General of the Council (another enthusiastic supporter), a technical committee to deal with the issues of Petra. The committee was chaired by Dr. Akasheh and included many representatives from universities, research centers, The Department of Antiquities, UNESCO Office in Amman, The National Resources Authority and all the foreign Archaeological Missions (especially ACOR and IFAPO) serving in Jordan. 

Dr Muawiyah Ibrahim who was member of the committee suggested that a library of all available literature on Petra be created and established at the Higher Council to serve the committee, Petra researchers, and other Cultural Heritage workers interested in the site. Dr Akasheh took it upon himself to start this process. Dr Jacques Seignes who was the director of the Amman Office of the French Institute for the Near East (IFAPO) was extremely helpful in gathering information form various sources. It was soon realized that collecting information on Petra can only mean that in addition to the already vast literature, reports, maps and photos, available on the site, it was necessary to create new data in the field to better serve the purpose of the committee. The Higher Council Of Technology agreed to financially support this effort. Many donors were approached and JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency then under the direction of Mr. Hiroto Hirkawa) and JCOV (Japanese Cooperation Overseas Volunteers) were by far the biggest donors of all. The French Embassy (Cultural Attche: Madame Janvieve Romatet) was also supportive. By this time the German funded project started in 1993 and its Project Manager Dr Helge Fischer joined the committee. The project through the German Technical Cooperation Office (Director: Mr. Thomas Werr) supported the Committee as well as Yarmouk University by providing a number of computers and useful laboratory equipment for the study of stone.

Dr. Akasheh also joined the Board of Trustees of the Petra National Trust under the Honorary Chairmanship of Her Majesty Queen Nour Al-Hussein and the direct Chairmanship of HRH Prince Rad Bin Zeid, in 1993 where he suggested and participated in in a study of the flashfloods risks in the Siq as well as Fauna and Flora study of the Petra region.

A special collaboration with the excellent friends Dr Patricia and Pierre Bikai from the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman. Together we produced advanced map of masonry excavations in Petra, a product that is most useful for researchers and tourists alike. The friendship and support of the Bikais made the difficult times and efforts on the project easier and more enjoyable.

Over the years several people have supported our efforts. These included HE Dr Hani Al Mulqi and HE Dr Khalid Al Shraydeh, both in their capacities as Secretary Generals of HCST. Several Ministers of Tourism and Antiquities in Jordan and General Directors of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan were extremely helpful in making the project aspirations become a reality. amongst them HE Mr. Abdul Karim Kabariti, HE Mr. Akel Biltaji, HE Dr. Talib Rifai, HE Dr. Ghazi Bisheh, HE Dr. Fawwaz Khreisheh, and HE MR. Sultan Abu Jaber. Previous Presidents of The Hashemite University. HE Mohammad Hamdan and HE Dr Anwar Battikhi deserve mention. The experience we gained on the project prompted the University to establish the Queen Rania Institute for Tourism and Heritage, which currently teaches Conservation Science, Cultural Resources Management and Tourism Guidance.