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[abs] Shawbak between Crusaders, Ayyubids and Early Mamluks

Shawbak between Crusaders, Ayyubids and Early Mamluks and the history of medieval south Jordan

Archaeology and restoration of the Mamluk dyeing plant

Guido Vannini*, Chiara Marcotulli*, Pietro Ruschi**


*Università degli Studi di Firenze (I)
** Università degli Studi di Pisa (I)


The role of Shawbak as a major archaeological site of medieval Jordan is clearly perceptible in the survived archaeological documentation.

Furthermore, the territorial approach adopted by the Italian archaeological mission in Petra and Shawbak of the University of Florence, focussing on ‘light procedures’ (notably the stratigraphic analyses of upstanding structures), allowed recognition of Crusader Shawbak as the political fulcrum of Latin Transjordan.

Placed on the road network connecting Egypt and Hijaz with Syria and Iraq, medieval Shawbak was strategically and logistically backed by Latin 12th century settlement of Petra: one of the largest (and most successful) incastellamento experiments ever attempted outside Jerusalem mainland.

13th century Ayyubid Shawbak maintained and in fact enhanced a central political role to south Jordan, as a medieval frontier land. According to the new rulers’ needs and customs, though, the old Crusader castle is now transformed into an Islamic city: a medieval heir of Petra and Udruh.

The 1212 earthquake that devastated the site shows a clear, archaeologically readable, turning point in the site material-history. Rebuilding, funded by Mu’azzam ‘Isa, marked the final transformation of Crusader “Mont Real” into a regional capital-city.

Three elements clearly point out this shift: the monumental new palace built (significantly) on the ruins of the former Crusader one; the totally re-planned urban axis connecting the citadel gate to the palace; the impressive dyeing plant that, although dating to early Mamluk period, fits very well in the genetic mutation inspired and promoted by Shawbak Ayyubid lords. Most significantly in the latter is indeed recognisable an exceptional witness of the first-class ‘economic restructuring’ that paralleled and supported the administrative and political ambitions of Shawbak: the one and only new urban foundation between Dead Sea and Red Sea in the Middle Islamic period.

The paper presents the results of archaeological study at Shawbak Mamluk dyeing plant as well as restoration plans for its future protection and preservation.

The 13th-14th century setting up of the dyeing plant caused a thorough rearrangement of the former knights Hospitalier quarters, located in the south fauburg (or barbican) of the castle. The production architectural complex is composed of three interconnected buildings housing a dye hot-bath cylindrical tube, its oven/heating system and a room with a series of little basins for dye cold-baths. This productive area is particularly interesting as one of the rare archaeological testimony of Mamluk fabrics production. The proposed interpretation is the outcome of stratigraphic analyses of upstanding structures, archaeological excavation and archaeometric analyses of building materials (notably cocciopesto coatings of the basins).

The Mamluk dyeing plant in Shawbak represents, also, an excellent opportunity to test restoration procedures that shall extend, in the future, to the entire site. Restoration planning was carried out by the University of Pisa in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, in the frame of Jordanian-Italian Shawbak Project. Restoration project is grounded on point-to-point acquisition of archaeological results, conceived as indispensable critical supports. The primary objective has been to respect and highlight the different historical and construction phases of the architectural complex (Crusader, Ayyubd and Mamluk). In order to preserve and protect the very fragile structures of the dyeing plant, besides cleaning and consolidation, a new covering will be set in place, with re-proposition in light modern materials of the original cross-vaulting for the room of little basins.

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