Umm Al-Jimal


The Nabataeans were people of   surprises. Not only did they create the amazing city of Petra, they built the   northern city of Umm Al-Jimal. Using the local rough black basalt instead of   the soft rose sandstone of Wadi Musa, they created an eerie black city whose   name, "Mother of Camels", indicates its function as a trading town,   as it had precisely what caravans needed: water, food, shelter, and people to   buy things. Built only 6 kilometers from the Roman Via Nova Triana, which   linked northern Jordan and the Decapolis with the south and trading points   farther out, Umm Al-Jimal was well-placed to take advantage of the spice,   incense, and silk routes.


Evidence points to Umm Al-Jimal   being inhabited since the 1st century AD. The town seems to have gone through   three stages: a small village in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, a protected Roman   town from the 4th - 5th centuries, and a flourishing trading and agricultural   city between the 5th and 8th centuries. The earthquake of 747 AD leveled many   buildings, and the city was not really inhabited after that, aside from   serving as a base for Druze refugees in the early 19th century and for French   troops during WWI. Sometime in the 3rd century, the town faced some kind of a   threat, for they reinforced their defensive wall with tombstones. Like   Nabataean sites elsewhere in Jordan, the inhabitants of Umm Al-Jimal were   canny about water harvesting. There are several large cisterns still evident,   which would have allowed for water needs and for irrigation.


The Nabataean inhabitants of Umm   al-Jimal did not take the time with the stone here as they did in Petra.   While their architecture was clever, there is little decoration. Walls,   doors, even ceilings were made from the locally available basalt. They used a   technique called corbelling, placing large stones over intersecting stones to   cover a large roof area. The fact that they used almost no wood is probably   why so much at the site is still standing. The Romans, and those who   followed, followed similar building plans but there is no sign of any attempt   to control or plan building in the town. One of its charms is how everything   is all together.


There are many things to see in Umm   Al-Jimal. There are the ruins of a Nabataean temple, several churches, and   the great barracks just at the entrance. The Gate of Commodus was built   during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and his son, Commodus. The best way to   enjoy the site is to wander and imagine.


The cleverness of the Nabataeans,   who seemed to make communities everywhere they went, is clearly underscored   here in Umm Al-Jimal. Their ability to catch and retain water made this   lonely outpost into a trade city. While quite different from the planned city   of Petra, Umm Al-Jimal has an eerie charm which haunts visitors until they   return.