First Published: 2017-04-10

Jordan’s ‘City of Mosaics’ struggling to preserve its heritage
Madaba, former winner of World Crafts City competition, struggles to maintain rich history of handicrafts for which it is famous.
Middle East Online

By Roufan Nahhas - AMMAN

Madaba once had 60 handicraft workshops but more than half have closed

For years, handicrafts and antiquities shops in Mada­ba provided a wide selec­tion of handmade gifts and souvenirs. Today, shops lining the city’s most popular street face challenges that threaten the ex­istence of the mosaics artwork for which the area is famous.

“Madaba has so many things to offer and tourists enjoy visiting the city and admiring its (sixth-century) Mosaic Map, which covers the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George but lately we don’t see many visitors,” said antiquities shop owner Salem Twal.

The number of visitors to Mada­ba, known as the “City of Mosaics” 30km south-west of Amman, fluc­tuated in recent years. In 2014, it received 208,959 visitors, a figure that dropped to 129,485 in 2015 and picked up to about 147,900 visitors in 2016, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said.

“We depend on monthly loans from private financial institutions, banks and government funds, and due to the increase in the cost of licensing and lack of tourists who are willing to spend money here, we have been plagued by debts,” Twal said.

Artists in Madaba used 3.5 million mosaic pieces to produce The King’s Way, at 30 metres long and 6 metres wide, the largest mosaic portrait in the world. The work displayed the famous ancient caravan route from the southern port of Aqaba to Bosra Sham. The portrait is at Mount Ne­bo’s new La Storia Museum, which is the largest one in the city.

In 2016, Madaba won the World Crafts City competition for mosaics organised by the World Crafts Coun­cil, a non-profit non-governmental organisation that seeks to strength­en the status of crafts as a vital part of cultural and economic life.

However, despite its unique at­tractions, Madaba, the fifth most populous town in Jordan, is strug­gling to survive.

“Winning the competition was great news for us and for the city and we really hoped that we will be able to present more of our mosaic work but slow tourism had a nega­tive effect on the industry. That forced many artisans to close down and find something else to do,” said Anas Bani Hani, owner of a mosaic handicraft centre.

“There is no doubt that this sec­tor is suffering and things are not the same anymore due to the politi­cal situation in the region. I used to have 40 to 50 employees in 2010 but now I have half that number.”

The city once had 60 handicraft workshops but more than half have closed or stopped producing in the past few years, he said.

Bani Hani said he survived the crisis thanks to a strong financial situation but many others did not have that kind of support.

Yahya Ammar closed his mosaic shop after ten years in the business due to high costs and weak sales.

“I used to hire more hands to ac­commodate the rush of tourists to the shop but lately I had to do the work myself after my employees quit because I could not afford pay­ing their salaries,” he said.

While some tourists still head to Madaba, Ammar said they spend very little time in the shopping area.

“They come in buses for short vis­its, led by greedy tourist guides who take around 30% in commission to bring them into your shop. In the past, we could afford that but now it is a different story,” Ammar said.

Khaled Hourani, who has placed his handicraft shop up for sale, called on the government to pro­mote internal tourism to compen­sate for the drop in the number of foreign visitors.

“There are few programmes for internal tourism that attract Jorda­nians to certain touristic sites and we believe that due to the political situation around us Jordanians will focus more on visiting their country rather than travelling abroad but I fear it is not enough to have a re­versible impact on our business,” said Hourani.

Mosaic portraits in Madaba vary in price from $15 to $15,000 depend­ing on the size, complexity and so­phistication of the work.

Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration (MIMAR) trains Jor­danians in the production and res­toration of mosaics and offers the only diploma programme special­ised in scientific methods of resto­ration and conservation to prepare students to open their shops and work in the field.

Madaba resident Naheda Horani said she feels sad about the situa­tion in the city.

“We used to sit on the porch of the house and watch buses filled with tourists passing by and even tourists walking in the streets but nowadays we rarely see any, which means things are not going well,” Horani said.

 

Dubai ruler uses poetry to urge Qatar turnabout

Rome struggling to stem migrant influx by sea

Nearly 80 police hurt in latest Morocco’s Rif unrest

Yemen cholera outbreak shows signs of slowing

Lebanon’s grocery business booming thanks to refugees

Rosaries and rifles as Christians face jihadists in Syria

Yemen battle for central province sees troops, rebels killed

Fears stirred over planned location of Lebanon dam

Iraq military says it has retaken iconic Mosul mosque

Egypt announces new sharp increase in fuel prices

Mosul rescuers risk lives to find buried civilians

Gulf crisis taking its toll on Asian workers in Saudi

Children in the lead as families escape Raqa

Turkey remembers Istanbul airport attack

30 civilians dead in Syria air strikes

Celebrating Eid al-Fitr, even if worries abound

Libya’s cash crisis worsens three years into civil war

Turkish army clashes with Kurdish militia in Syria

Qatar says Garcia Report 'vindicates' 2022 bid

US Supreme Court to decide on Iran artifact case

US court halts deportations of Iraqi nationals

Saudi insists demands on Qatar non-negotiable

Hamas says travel documents for sick Gazans being refused

Former Syrian defence minister Mustafa Tlass dies in Paris

Over 8,000 migrants rescued in Med in 48 hours

Iran says US reinstating travel ban 'regrettable'

GCC construction outlook to improve with oil prices recovery and implementation of reforms

57 dead in US-led strikes on IS Syria prison

Kremlin denounces US ‘threats’ against Assad

Mattis says US wants to steer clear of war in Syria

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline