Amman Nymphaeum project: rebuilding the niche requires skill


by our referent from Jordan, Marwan Asmar

The Amman Nymphaeum project is a concrete preservation and reconstruction project where the operations on field are supported with 3D digital scanning. The  main aim is to set up conservation and restoration plan to safeguard one of the most important Roman Monuments in Jordan at the Down Town of Amman “The Nymphaeum”.


The niche of the left facade of the Nymphaeum apse is truly being reconstructed. Dr El Khalili and his team of craftsmen and artisans have embarked on rebuilding some of the bottom rows of the niche which have simply weathered away over the centuries.

The start of it all was the scaffolding to make the work around the niche possible. Made-to-measure stones had to be carefully cut and crafted and placed underneath the apse. ”It has been a satisfying job,” says Dr Mohammad El Khalili, the field supervisor. “The reconstruction of the rows involved lots of time because they had to be dug, according to the right measures and then the stones, one-by-one, had to be literally rolled down the planks and hoisted down by a pulley and then stuck together through limestone,” he said.

Four rows have been reconstructed, each requiring blocs of stones carefully crafted with corners and surfaces made to fit with one another. It had been a slowly process, made over a four-week period. El Khalili said it takes so long to complete a section of the Nymphaeum because of the traditional implements they have to deal with, simple tools like chisels and hammers to make sure such a heritage structure maintains its poise.

“This of course makes it harder because the stones have to be dug carefully, also through traditional implements and then have to make sure they fit with one another,” adding they have to fit sideways, from the corners, and once they are placed on top of each other.  This is easier said than done. “This kind of heritage consolidation is doubly hard, than building modern blocks, because you are dealing with rugged surfaces while at the same time you have to make sure they fit,” he added.

There was many a time when the digger had to be called to discuss corners or lengths of blocks that had to be chipped or re-dug to different measures because they wouldn’t fit. This would be “back-to-the-drawing-board” meeting so to speak. Its  getting the on-site engineer, craftsman, workers and the digger to find a solution to the problems which tend to surface in the case of the niche once the stone is placed in rows with the aid of the pulley which is an extraneous job in itself.

Sometimes other members of the team come on board. Dr Abeer Al Bawab, the Nymphaeum Project overall supervisor, attends. She is shown the work that is being done and offers her insight. Sometimes Nizar Al Adarbeh, another team member involves in rehabilitation, attends and offers his input. Sometimes, the experts says, its good to have an opinion to a possible solution from outside the people involved in the day-to-day running of the project. An alternative idea can lead to an effective solution.

“The problem with the structure is you are dealing with stones that have weathered away over the centuries, they have been “eaten up” and some of them turned into soft sediments that just need to be reinforced,” Dr El Khalili added.

What this means of course they have to take extra-care with the reinforcement and reconsolidating process and have to make sure other rock pieces don’t fall apart or even crumble in laymen terms.

Aside from that, many stone pieces during this time in the niche reconstruction were dug but in the end had to be thrown away because they either simply didn’t fit and their corners just didn’t go in the area they were supposed to within the framework of the construction section. These challenges are constantly faced when you are dealing with a heritage structure like this one, you just have to think of ways of overcoming them.”

The good thing of course is the rows have now been built, and the team goes on to different sections of the Nymphaeum.

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