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The lost city of Um Jimal, Mafraq, Jordan

Note to ancient history and/or religious tourism buffs, don’t forget to visit Umm el-Jimal while in Jordan.

A recent Jordan Times article reports that the historic site of Um Jimal, rich in Byzantine and early Islamic, ruins remains “undiscovered” – overshadowed by the larger Roman city of Jerash and the rose-red city of Petra among others.

Yet this well preserved ancient city, whose Arabic name translates a “Mother of Camels,” is only a 45 mile (72 km) drive east of Jerash, and/or northeast of Amman.

Offering visitors a unique visual reward due to the numerous above-ground artifacts it offers, this photo-ready demonstration of “Haurinte architecture” attributes its distinctive blackish hue due to the stones hewn from the nearby basalt plains.

Strategically located near the modern-day crossroads to Syria and Iraq, 10 miles (17km) east of Mafraq, this once Nabataean village along the Via Nova Traiana was incorporated into the Roman empire by Trajan in the 1st Century AD – later becoming a military outpost along the King’s Highway with walls and fortifications to defend Roman-occupied territory that stretched into the eastern desert and the borders of modern-day Saudi Arabia.

Eventually, Byzantine churches were built on the site during the 5th and 6th centuries, while its stone barracks, water cisterns and administrative buildings were gradually converted to a rural village under the Umayyad rule around the 7th century.

Devastated by an earthquake in 749AD, the basalt fortifications were left abandoned for around 1,000 years until later re-inhabited at the turn of the 20th century by Druze families who resided in the ruins, some of which still stood over two stories high, before the city fell into complete disrepair and obscurity.

Currently, the greatest threat facing the ruins is encroachment from the surrounding community, as reported in said Jordan Times article, with the modern-day village of Um Jimal built right up to the gate fencing off the ancient city – including residents taking some of the rocks and stones for their homes and gardens until the Department of Antiquities (DoA) established an office to oversee and protect the site.

And though just an hour or two out of the way, the provincial town of Umm al-Jimal is ready to welcome travelers willing to make the journey.

Me? I’m definitely adding this to my list of places to photograph if and when I can get back to Jordan. I also wonder if the DoA couldn’t boost tourism here by making it a jumping-off place for various ecotourism expeditions?

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