Российско-Иорданский Деловой Совет

‘Hisban – a window into the march of empires through Transjordan’

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HISBAN – Archaeologists and local residents are working to revive Tell Hisban, a link to several civilisations and long-lost cultures.

The site was originally excavated in a 1968 expedition designed to find out whether the modern-day village was connected to the Biblical Heshbon, where it is said Moses-led Israelites took refuge after fleeing Egypt and defeating Sihon, the area’s Ammorite King.

With excavations failing to unearth traces of the Bronze Age, the proposed time of the exodus focus has shifted to Tell Hisban’s rich Roman, Medieval and Islamic heritage sites which provide a unique glimpse into the Transjordan region over the past few thousand years.

The earliest documented occupation in Hisban is a cave dating back to the Iron Age, containing pottery from the 13 century BC, with records indicating an Ammonite settlement on the Tell around the 7 century BC, according to project leader Oystein LaBianca, anthropology professor at Andrews University in Michigan.

Hisban grew to new heights during Roman times, when it became an important stop for both travellers and merchants on the road from Jericho to Philadelphia, now modern-day Amman.

The town hosted a typical Roman acropolis with a market plaza and several public buildings extending beyond the Tell and onto what is now considered the present-day town of Hisban, with a temple at the summit.

In Byzantine times, the area featured a church, which may have been constructed on top of an existing Roman temple, which housed detailed mosaics currently on display in Madaba.

Hisban became a regional capital during Mamluk times around the 13th century, and the Tell stands as Jordan’s best-preserved site from that era, hosting a palace, governor’s residence, administrative buildings, residential homes and even a bathhouse.

Due to its fortified walls and bird’s eye view of the Jordan Valley, it is even said that Salaheddine Al Ayyubi and his men camped out on Tell Hisban during their campaign to liberate the land from the crusaders in the 12th century.

“Hisban is a window into the march of empires through Transjordan: Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, UmMayyads, Abbassids, Seljuks, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans. It is a story of rearkable resilience and survival by local inhabitants,” LaBianca told The Jordan Times.

Less physically imposing but just as impressive is the Tell’s extensive network of water cisterns and a moat dating back to the Iron Age, which are a testimony to the importance of rainwater collection to the survival Hisban residents past and present, according to LaBianca.

A series of tombs dating back to Roman and Byzantine periods were also found across the Tell and in adjacent hillsides, including two rolling stone tombs – the only such tombs known to exist in Jordan.

Community efforts

Archaeologists and community members have exerted extensive efforts to develop the site as an archaeological park for the benefit of local residents and tourists alike.

Generations of Hisbani families have joined in on excavations which started in 1968, with even HRH Prince Raad picking up a spade and working on the site in the 1970s.

Over recent years, experts have worked to renovate and highlight the site’s Roman plaza and stairs, columns at the Byzantine church, the site’s northern wall, governor’s palace, bathhouse and several other distinctive features.

Despite its proximity to growing attraction such as Madaba, Um Rassas and the Baptism Site, stakeholders have yet to harness the tourism potential of Hisban, which currently sees only an irregular trickle of visitors, many of them brought by tour operators playing up the site’s potential connection to the Old Testament Heshbon.

In order to promote the area, local residents and stakeholders are forming the Hisban Cultural Association, an NGO to manage the site and help the local community benefit from the Tell’s rising profile and open it to a larger market of tourists.

This summer, archaeologists from Andrews University and community members are scheduled to hold a two-week planning workshop in Hisban, working with the Department of Antiquities to develop a vision for the visitors centre, according to LaBianca.

“It will likely be five or more years before we will be able to begin work as we will first need to do preconstruction topographical and archaeological surveys and, if warranted, excavations,” he noted.

An Ottoman-style house owned by the Nabulsi family dating back to the mid-late 19th century, whose stones may even date back to the Roman era, will be used for the planned visitors centre.

The 4,000-square-metre grounds southwest of the Tell would be used for an interpretation centre, restaurant, viewing terraces, a heritage market and lodging for excavators and tourists, according to Andrew Gerard, who used to work on the site.

The next excavation for the area is slated for 2010, with experts believing much more remains to be discovered from several major periods in the region’s history.

“The site is of great importance to all three Abrahamic faiths, and as its history has been studied in such great detail by archaeologists, it holds a great deal of promise as an important tourism site in Jordan,” LaBianca noted.

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