Greek know-how for new museum

A new museum, a joint Jordanian-Greek project, is currently being constructed on the new 400-kilometer highway linking the capital of Amman with Aqaba, just three kilometers outside the town of Safi. The shell-shaped edifice enjoys a view of the Dead Sea on one side and a huge, bare mountain on the other. The program for the construction of the building is already under way, while the museological study and lay-out of exhibits, the organization of exhibitions and educational programs, as well as the website design and development is being undertaken by a team of Greek experts. The museum is scheduled for inauguration in 2008. Launched in 2002, the project was assigned by the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to the Greek Society of Middle Eastern Studies (EEMES), under the supervision of Dr Constantinos Politis, who spearheaded the program. The professor has a profound knowledge of the region after conducting excavations and research there for over 23 years as a special envoy of the British Museum. «Thanks to the finds yielded by those excavations, and especially the discovery of the Monastery of Saint Lot and the remnants of an Early Christian basilica containing mosaics with Greek inscriptions, the area was designated a holy site by the late King Hussein of Jordan,» explains archaeologist and museologist Giorgos Papaioannou, general secretary of EEMES and professor at the University of Ioannina, who is in charge of the museological study. Bronze Age relics «Bronze Age cemeteries containing literally hundreds of thousands of graves that are of great architectural interest have been excavated by experts as well as illegal excavators. The Israelites, Egyptians, Nabataeans, Greeks and, after Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, all passed through the region, influencing the indigenous Arab communities,» explains the archaeologist. Each has left its mark in the area, he says, be it in the form of architectural structures, ceramics, weaponry, grave sites, mosaics, inscriptions, jewelry or clothes. «Monasticism developed in the early Byzantine years, as attested by the Monastery of Saint Lot, which dates to the 5th to 7th century and was excavated by Dr Constantinos Politis, as well as by the large number of places of retreat that have been found, most of which were carved into the rock of the wadis that can be found in the area. The site is mentioned in the Bible and in the Koran. It is said to be the site of Sodom and Gomorrah and a place visited by Moses, the prophets, Jesus, Mohammed and even Lawrence of Arabia,» says Papaioannou. All this and more was what prompted the Jordanian government to promote and develop the area, which is, moreover, of special geological and geographical interest. Invaluable displays The material that will comprise the new museum’s displays is rich and varied. «Some of the artifacts are of equal value to the Dead Sea Scrolls,» says the Ioannina University professor.