December 3rd, 2010


Reconstruction and the relative youth of Amman

When visiting historic sites, especially ancient ones in seismically active regions, one must assume that significant reconstruction has been done. I am always torn between wanting to see it "as it was" and wanting to see it "as it was found", free of the assumptions made and license taken by the rebuilders. It's one thing to take the blocks found at the scene and pile them up again. It's another to create new blocks to fill the voids. Sometimes that may be necessary to make a reconstructed wall stable, and I am OK with that, but when most of a structure is recreated it borders on a movie set. I'm not so sure about that.

Here is the Roman Theater in Amman as seen today:

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Here it is as they found it:

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As you can see, extensive rebuilding has happened. Some of it was of course from building materials found on site that had simply fallen down, but, as is evident from the following picture from Jerash, much was recreated out of whole cloth. Note that the original parts of the structure are in the minority, while crude filler pieces dominate.

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How much is too much? I don't know. I didn't mind so much what I saw in Jerash or Amman, but one of the places I visited in the eastern desert was almost completely a recreation. I'm not sure I want to see that. Petra, being carved whole out of the stone, was all original except for the Roman portions, and even they weren't overly rebuilt. I much prefer that, I think.

On a side note, take a look at the second picture again and note how small Amman was in 1917 when it was taken. Bear in mind that the Theater is in the center of Old Amman downtown. The only thing in modern Amman that dates from before the 1920's is the Roman ruins. As a major population center, Amman is very young.