Al-Jaya Palace and the New Shawbak Town. A Medieval frontier and the return of the urbanism in the Southern Transjordan


  • Guido Vannini University of Florence



Jordan, Mission, Petra, Shawbak, Light Archaeology, incastellamento, Saladin, crusaders


Al-Jaya Palace and the New Shawbak Town. A Medieval frontier and the return of the urbanism in the Southern Transjordan

The recent discovery – made during the 2018 campaign ofthe ‘Medieval Petra’ Mission of the University of Florence – of the residential al-Jaya Palace at the bottom of the hill of Shawbak’s ‘incastellato’ site is of particular relevance both for medieval and Islamic heritage in Jordan (no architecture of a comparable quality from the Ayyubid-Mamluk periodhas ever been found in the country) and mostly for the archaeological confirmation that underneath al-Jaya, lays the ancient medieval capital city of southern Jordan, founded by Saladin, on the same site of the castle-capital of the previous Crusader Lordship of Transjordan. This result represents a triple confirmation for the scientific program of the Mission: the productivity of the ‘Light Archaeology’ methodology that characterizes our approach; the real existence of the city whose foundation we had deemed to be able to propose (owing solely to the ‘light’ reading son the walls of the ‘castle’); and the excellence of the formal level of the building – perfectly matching the quality of the political and productive structures documented earlier in the castle – that speaks of a cultured and refined city and of an extraordinary strategic project that can be attributed to Saladin’s political intelligence. A project that gave back a new centrality to the entire southern Transjordan and started a settlement and political tradition that is the basis of modern Jordan itself (it is not accidental that the first capital of the state was Ma’an). Once the urban structure that has now appeared is understood, future research will be able to direct the excavations so as to address another great historical question which 2018 investigations have highlighted: we know the birth and begin to read the life of this extraordinary town, butwhen, how and why did it perish so much so that it was forgotten by history (and to be rediscovered by archaeology)? Perhaps for the first time, we will have an opportunity to study archaeologically an aspect of the historical crisis that, probably during the 15th century, engulfed the Arab-Islamicworld, opening the way for the Ottoman conquest. It is an intriguing perspective to be addressed in tandem with a renewed public archaeology program: conservative restoration, social valorization, broad communication directed both to the local communities and to the international public with the implementation of the master plan 2010-14, and, finally, tourist routes connecting Shawbak with the Petra area.


Agnoletti S. 2009. Il bacile da zucchero. In Vannini, Nucciotti (eds), Da Petra a Shawbak, 144-145. Florence.

Andreini M., De Falco A., Giresini L. and Sassu M. 2014. Preliminary survey for the rehabilitation and seismic protection works of the Middle Age Castle of Shawbak in the UNESCO area of Petra (Jordan). In Proceedings 2nd Int. Conf. on Protection of Historical Constructions, Antalya (Turkey) May 7-9, 2014, 445-451. Istanbul.

Buko A. and Vannini G. (eds) 2013-2014. Archeologia Medievale fra Italia e Polonia. Tradizione e futuro (50 anni di lavoro comune), Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Varsavia, Accademia Polacca di Roma, IAEPAN, Un. di Firenze (Dip. SAGAS). Warsaw, Rome.

Berretti R. et al. 1987. Ricognizione agli impianti fortificati di epoca crociata in Transgiordania. Prima relazione. Castellum 27/28, 1-32.

Bonacchi C. 2011. Dalla Public Archaeology all’Archeologia pubblica: la mostra ‘Da Petra a Shawbak.’. In Archeologia pubblica in Toscana, Atti del workshop di Firenze (Rettorato, 12 luglio 2010), a cura di G. Vannini, 103-12. Florence.

Bonacchi C. and Burtenshaw P. 2012. Archaeology for Development: The need for holistic planning, case studies from Jordan. In ICOMOS 17th General Assembly, November 27-December 2, 2011, 540-541. Paris.

Bonacchi C., Nucciotti M. and Vannini G. 2014. Archeologia medievale e Archeologia Pubblica, in Quarant’anni di Archeologia Medievale in Italia. La rivista, i temi, la teoria e i metodi. Archeologia Medievale a cura di S. Gelichi, XL/2014, 183-196.

Cardini F. 1987. I castelli crociati. Note per una ricerca interdisciplinare. Quaderni Medievali, 24, 1987, 88-99.

Cardini F. 1999. Il Saladino. Una storia di crociati e saraceni. Milan.

Cherubini G. 2009. Le città europee del medioevo. Milan.

Cobb P. 2016. La conquista del Paradiso. Una storia islamica delle Crociate. Turin.

Crescioli M. and Niccolucci F. 1999. PETRA data: an integrated environment for archaeological data processing. In Barceló J. A., Briz I., Vila A. (eds), New techniques for old times, BAR International Series 257, Archaeopress, 133-136. Oxford.

Donato E., Tonghini C. and Vannini G. 2006. Siria Islamica e Oriente crociato: una frontiera medievale. Schola Salernitana - Annali, XI, 184-224.

Drap P., Durand A., Nedir M., Seinturier J., Papini O., Boucault F., Chapman P., Viant W., Vannini G. and Nucciotti M. 2006. Towards a Photogrammetry and Virtual Reality Based Heritage Information System: A Case Study of Shawbak Castle in Jordan. In M. Ioannides, D. Arnold, F. Niccolucci, K. Mania (eds), The 7th International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, VAST, 67-74. Cyprus.

Drap P., Merad D., Seinturier J., Boï J., Peloso D., Nucciotti M., Pruno E. and Vannini G. 2012. An information system for medieval archaeology based on photogrammetry and archaeological database: the Shawbak Castle

Project. In International Conference on Cultural Heritage Conference Proceedings. EUROMED 2012 (Lemesos, Cyprus, Oct 29-Nov 3), 119-128. Cyprus. DOI:

Falahat H. 2012. The Cultural Role of Shawbak Castle during the Medieval Periods. In Vannini and Nucciotti 220-224. Florence.

Faucherre N. 2004. La forteresse de Shawbak (Crac de Montréal). Une des premières forteresses franques sous son corset Mamelouk. In N. Faucherre, J. Mesqui and N. Prouteau (eds), La fortification au temps des Croisades, 43-66. Rennes.

Incontro con Karol Modzelewski (PAN). Un caso di storia pubblica: Lo storico del ‘barbaricum’ europeo, fra cultura scientifica e impegno civile (27 maggio 2014, Aula Magna del Dipartimento SAGAS, Un. di Firenze), a cura di G. Vannini. Florence.

Kołodziejczyk P. (ed.) 2018. Discovering Edom. Polish archaeological activity in southern Jordan, 51-67. Krakow. DOI:

Little D. 1986. Data from the Haram Documents on Rugs in Late 14th Century Jerusalem. In R. Pinner, W. Denny (eds), Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, Carpets of the Mediterranean Countries 1400-1600. London.

Nashef K. 2009. La produzione dello zucchero nel Medioevo. In Vannini, Nucciotti (eds), 142-143. Florence.

Nucciotti M. 2020. Archeologia Pubblica, distretti turistici e ‘nuove storie’ rurali. In C. Bonacchi, C. Molducci, M. Nucciotti (eds), Atti del I Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Pubblica (Firenze 29 e 30 ottobre 2012 Palazzo Vecchio | sala d’Arme), Coll. ‘Archeologia Pubblica’, 3, 223-240. Florence.

Nucciotti M. and Fragai L. 2019. Ayyubid reception halls in southern Jordan: towards a ‘Light Archaeology’ of political powers. In Study in the History and Archaeology in Jordan 13, 489-501. Amman.

Nucciotti M. and Pruno E. 2016. Great and Little Traditions in medieval Petra and Shawbak: contextualizing local building industry and pottery production in cc. 12-13. Archeologia Medievale, XLIII, 309-320.

Nucciotti M. and Segnini C. 2013. New districts for rural tourism: “Liaisons for Growth” in Italy, Jordan and Armenia. Parliament Magazine, 10, 15-16. Brussels, London.

Nucciotti M. and Vannini G. 2003. Fondazione e riuso dei luoghi forti nella Transgiordania crociata. La messa a punto di un sistema territoriale di controllo della valle di Petra. In R. Fiorillo, P. Peduto (eds), III Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Medievale, 2-5 ottobre 2003, Vol. 1, 520-525. Florence.

Marcotulli C. and Pruno E. 2018. Teindre ou ne pas teindre. Là est le problème! Le cas du site de Shawbak (Jordanie). In S. Burri, M. Ourefelli (eds), Artisanat et métiers en Méditerranée médiévale et moderne, 187-202. Aix-Marseille.

Marcotulli C., Ruschi P. and Vannini G. 2013. Shawbak between Crusaders, Ayyubids and Early Mamluks and the history of medieval south Jordan. Archaeology and restoration of the Mamluk productive plant. In Studies in the History and the Archaeology of Jordan, vol. IX, Paris 2010. 359- 380. Amman.

Pampaloni G. 1973. Firenze al tempo di Dante: documenti sull’urbanistica fiorentina. Roma.

Parker S. 1987. The Roman Frontier in Central Jordan: Interim Report of the Limes Arabicus Project, 1980-1985. BAR. Oxford.

Rugiadi M. 2012. Il complesso di ricevimento del palazzo ayyubide a Shawbak. Vicino Oriente, XVI, 201-225.

Runciman S. 1952. A History of the Crusades, 4. Cambridge.

Ruschi P. and Sodi E. 2009. Il progetto di restauro. In Vannini, Nucciotti (eds), 2009, 178-183. Firenze.

Ruschi P. and Vannini G. 2001. The Fortified Crusader-Ayyubid Settlements in the Petra Valley: A Study for a Project of Restoration. In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan (Copenhagen, June 1998), VII, 695-705. Copenhagen.

Schmid S. 2012. From the Nabataeans to the Crusaders. The transformation of the Wadi Farasa East at Petra. In Vannini, Nucciotti (eds), 2012, 81-94. Oxford.

Sznura F. 1975. L’Espansione urbana di Firenze nel Dugento. Florence.

Tabbaa Y. 1997. Constructions of Power and Piety in Medieval Aleppo, Pennsylvania State University, USA 1997.

Tonghini C., Vanni Desideri A. and Vannini G. 2002. ‘Medieval’ Petra and the Crusader-Islamic frontier. Archaeological Mission of the University of Florence. In Actes du colloque international de Gwatt (Suisse), 2-10 Septembre 2000. Chateau Gaillard 20. Etudes de castellologie médiévale, 271-276. Caen.

Tonghini C. and Vannini G. 1997. Medieval Petra. The stratigraphic evidence from recent archeological excavations at al-Wu’ayra. In Studies in the History and the Archaeology of Jordan VI, 371-384. Amman.

Vanni Desideri A. 2018. Una nuova chiesa rupestre a Petra in Transgiordania. In Atti dell’VIII Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Medievale, Matera 12-15 settembre 2018, vol. 3, 247-250. Florence.

Vanni Desideri A. and Sassu M. 2014. Prolegomena to the preservation ofthe site of al-Wu’ayra (Petra) and to the restoration of the north-east tower. Restauro Archeologico 2, 94-107.

Vanni Desideri A. and Vannini G. 1995. Archaeological research on Medieval Petra: a prelimitary report. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, XXXIX, 509-540.

Vanni Desideri A. and Vannini G. 2016. Light archaeology and historical landscape. For the global history of the site of al-Wu’ayra (Petra) in Transjordan. In P. Kołodziejczyk, B. Kwiatkowska-Kopka (eds), Landscape Conference (Krakow, 29-30 May 2016),’Landscape as impulsion for culture: research, perception & protection, Cracow landscape monographs 2 (Landscape in the past & forgotten landscapes), 197-206. Krakow.

Vanni Desideri A. and Vannini G. 2017. Changing water management and exploitation strategies at al-Wu’ayra (Petra). A “longue durée” perspective through light archaeology methodology. In L. Nigro, M. Nucciotti, E. Gallo (eds), Precious Water: Paths of Jordanian civilizations as seen in the Italian archaeological excavations (Proceedings of the International Conference held in Amman, October 18th 2016), 43-54. Rome.

Vanni Desideri A. and Vannini G. 2019. Light archaeology and territorial analysis: perspectives and experiences of the Italian medievalist school (in III Forum Architecturae Poloniae Medievalis 2012, Krakow), Archaeologia Polona, 50 (2012), 149-169. Warsaw.

Vannini G. 1999. ‘Medieval’ Petra: a question of archaeological ‘visibility.’ A project for the preservation and exploitation of a historical site in Trans-Jordan. In Aa. Vv., Culture in sustainable development. An Italian strategy. Research and pilot projects on archaeology and anthropology, 53-57. Rome.

Vannini G. 2006. Archaeologie einer exportierten mittelelterlichen Feudal gesellschaft: Die territorial Organisation der Gegend von Petra - Shobaq in der Zeit der Kreuzzuge. In U. Bellwald (ed.), Die Kreuzzuge. Petra, Eine Spurensuche, 27-44. Ritterhaus gesellschaft Bubikon.

Vannini G. (ed.) 2007. Archeologia dell’insediamento crociato-ayyubide in Transgiordania: la valle di Petra ed il castello di Shawbak (Biblioteca di Archeologia Medievale, 21). Florence.

Vannini G. 2011. A medieval archaeology experience in Jordan. The ‘medieval’ Petra Mission of Florence University, ADAJ, LV, 295-312.

Vannini G. 2012. Archeologia di una frontiera mediterranea; Introduzione; (with M. Nucciotti), Shawbak: strutture materiali di una frontiera. In Vannini, Nucciotti (eds), 2012, 13-14; 35-48; 135-144.

Vannini G. 2013. L’incastellamento della valle di Petra in Transgiordania e la frontiera crociato-musulmana come problema archeologico. In D. Chrupcała (ed.), Christ Is Here! Studies in Biblical and Christian Archaeology in Memory of Michele Piccirillo ofm, Edizioni Terra Santa, 381-398. Milan.

Vannini G. 2014. Per Shawbak, erede medievale di Petra. In C. C. Lamberg-Karlovski, B. Genito, with B. Cerasetti (eds), ‘My life is like the summer rose.’ Maurizio Tosi e l’archeologia come modo di vita. Papers in honour of Maurizio Tosi for his 70th birthday (BAR, International Series 2690), 727-732. Oxford.

Vannini G. 2016. Esperienze di Archeologia Pubblica in Giordania. Sulle tracce di una identità territoriale nel Mediterraneo medievale. In A. Chavarría Arnau, M. Jurko (eds), Alla ricerca di un passato complesso. Contributi in onore di Gian Pietro Brogiolo per il suo settantesimo compleanno, 359-370. Zagreb, Motovun.

Vannini G. 2017. Archaeological communication for the history of Jerusalem and the courage to address the weight of a cultural ‘resource.’ In F. Fabbrizzi, Around the walls. Four projects for Jerusalem, 15-24. Florence.

Vannini G. 2019. The archaeological missions: for a new cultural approach, beyond the crisis. The ‘future’ experience of the European Archaeological Mission ‘Medieval Petra’ of the University of Florence. ICHAJ, 14 (2016), 295-309. Amman.

Vannini G. 2020. Experiences in Public Archaeology: a disciplinary field in the process of being defined. In Politechnika Krakowska Im. Tadeusza Kościuszki, Università di Firenze, Conference of Cracow (2017). Krakow.

Vannini G. and Nucciotti M. (eds) 2009. Da Petra a Shawbak. Archeologia di una frontiera. Catalogo della Mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, Limonaia di Boboli, 13 luglio-11 ottobre 2009). Florence.

Vannini G. and Nucciotti M. (eds) 2012. La Transgiordania nei secoli XII-XIII e le frontiere del Mediterraneo medievale (Atti del Convegno di Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio-Palazzo Strozzi, 5-8 novembre 2008), BAR, International series, ‘Limina / Limites. Archeologie, storie, isole e frontiere nel Mediterraneo (365-1556)’. Oxford. DOI:

Walker B. 2011. Jordan in the Late Middle Ages: Transformation of the Mamluk Frontier Chicago Studies on the Middle East, 8. Chicago IL.

Fiema Z., Frosén J. and Hollapa M. (eds) 2016. Petra – The Mountain of Aaron. The Finnish Archaeological Project in Jordan. Helsinki.




How to Cite

Vannini, Guido. 2020. “Al-Jaya Palace and the New Shawbak Town. A Medieval Frontier and the Return of the Urbanism in the Southern Transjordan”. Studies in Ancient Art and Civilisation 24 (December):83-98.