Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa'a)

Since 2004 • Cultural

Visited by 4

Most of this archaeological site, which started as a Roman military camp and grew to become a town from the 5th century, has not been excavated. It contains remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods (end of 3rd to 9th centuries AD) and a fortified Roman military camp. The site also has 16 churches, some with well-preserved mosaic floors. Particularly noteworthy is the mosaic floor of the Church of Saint Stephen with its representation of towns in the region. Two square towers are probably the only remains of the practice, well known in this part of the world, of the stylites (ascetic monks who spent time in isolation atop a column or tower). Um er-Rasas is surrounded by, and dotted with, remains of ancient agricultural cultivation in an arid area.

Umm er-Rasas is strongly associated with monasticism and with the spread of monotheism, including Islam, throughout the region. The artistic and technical qualities of the mosaic floor of St Stephen's church justify describing Um er-Rasas as a masterpiece of human creative genius. It also presents a unique and complete (therefore outstanding) example of stylite towers.

This is an archaeological site of the Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods. The site was founded in the 3rd century AD as a Roman military camp, closely associated with the frontier (limes) of the Roman Empire, the border with the desert and possibly with the eastern branch of the incense route.

The large camp (castrum) gave the site its ancient name - Kastron Mefa'a. The roughly square fortified castrum (about 50 m by 150 m is almost unexcavated. While the castrum itself became the core of the later settlement, the ruins of the Byzantine settlement outside it cover an area of about 200 m by 300 m.

Among the visible and partly excavated structures on the site are several churches. These can be easily identified before excavations, and attracted the main attention of archaeologists working on the site since 1986. For this reason much less is known of the character of housing, town plan and daily life.

Among the extraordinary remains on the site are several mosaic floors, one of which of special importance. The mosaic floor of the Church of St Stephen shows an incredible representation of towns in Palestine, Jordan and Egypt, including their identification. At a short distance from the town, a well-preserved tall tower from the Byzantine period is probably the only existing remain of a well-known practice in this part of the world - of the stylite ascetic monks (i.e. monks sitting in isolation for long periods on top of a column or tower). The tower has no stairs and is in a relatively isolated area.

Um er-Rasas is surrounded and dotted with remains of ancient agricultural cultivation, from water reservoirs to terracing, water channels, dams and cisterns. There are two small cemeteries on the site, one immediately to the west and the other to the east. The Eastern is an old Bedouin cemetery, whereas the Western is a modern one. About 150 m separate the site and the main modern north-south road.

In this area there are several ruins of relatively new structures, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, but now abandoned.

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

Criterion (i): Um er-Rasas is a masterpiece of human creative genius given the artistic and technical qualities of the mosaic floor of St Stephen's church.

Criterion (iv): Um er-Rasas presents a unique and complete (therefore outstanding) example of stylite towers.

Criterion (vi): Umm er-Rasas is strongly associated with monasticism and with the spread of monotheism in the whole region, including Islam.


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