Jordan's Forgotten Urban Jewel- The Old City of As-Salt
Unfortunately under the pressure of modernization and like any other historic cities, as-Salt suffers from degradation in its traditional urban fabric due to invasion of cars, low level of maintenance, pressures on infrastructures, modern buildings that lack the ‘spirit of place’ and others. This pressure caused the removing of many important buildings such as the old Saraya which was one of the most important buildings in the city, in the meantime, many other heritage buildings still stands and preserves its position as an important landmarks and vital parts of the town culture and history such as as-Salt school, Abu Jaber house, Toukan building and many others.
This reachness and the irreplaceable legacies in as-Salt qualify the city to be a successful global tourist destination. However, using tourism potentials as a tool for cultural preservation was not sufficiently taken into account by the concerned authorities in as-Salt, although tourism is considered the main economic resource for Jordan. Indeed, as-Salt until now not well promoted in Jordan tourism map. On the other hand, it must be pointed out that recently as-Salt attracted the attention of many organizations, whether local or international, for its heritage and cultural context. Consequently, this led to a number of attempts and efforts to revitalize the old city of as-Salt and develop its tourism potentials. Nevertheless, all these efforts were fragmented; not part of comprehensive approach, and did not rise to the required level to promote as-Salt as a prominent heritage tourist destination.
Applications of efficient sustainable tourism strategies are vital to ensure this future vision and goal. HELAND will assess in understanding the required steps needed to establish a valid sustainable tourism management plan that aims to protect city’s irreplaceable heritage, while promote and manage as-Salt as a distinguished tourist destination
As-Salt as described by its residents “Salt is the nucleus of Jordan, it is not a Secondary city!” which is considered the only existing prototype for the ancient and old Jordanian city, having the most traditional urban environment in term of size and quality and the richest city of heritage buildings in Jordan.
More than 650 local yellow stone houses clustered on the hills, a city with rich history having a major role in the establishment of Jordan modern estate, full of tourist and archaeological sites with distinctive architectural style and traditional urban life, all of these characteristics gives as-Salt a very strong recognizable identity and special quality which distinguishes it from any other place in the world, and make it a unique valuable destination full of tourism potentials for Jordan that associated with strong desire to conserve this legacy for future generations.
The earliest evidence of human settlement at as-Salt goes back to 1600 B.C when Hyksos came from Egypt and settled in the region. Most of the present Salt was formulated in 1516 AD by Ottoman Empire after the Battle of Marj Bin Amer (1516) between Mamluks and Ottomans armies. That’s way this period called the “Golden Age” of as-Salt; between 1890 and 1920 AD, where the development of as-Salt was completely different from the one in the other periods.
Later on, as-Salt as all of the Jordanian villages declined due to the weakening of Ottoman power in the region. 1812 AD, as-Salt was the only inhabited area in the Balqa region specially after emigration of Nablus residents to live in the city, which cause increasing in Salt population and introducing new cultures, in addition to a construction boom led to expanding the city of as-Salt round the slopes of its hills with more sophisticated buildings of an urban character like court building, Al Saraya, and churches etc.
The boom continued into the early 20th century, and as-Salt became the first capital for the Hashemite rule. By 1922 AD the capital was moved to Amman resulting that most riche families moved to the newly established capital and as-Salt start to lose its influential position.
The geographical composition of as-Salt, in addition to the dense urban form, prevented the city from the formation of large natural spaces, and only limited to small gardens, as well as, individual natural elements like Grape arbor between houses and large trees within available urban spaces.
An ancient town located about 30 km northwest of Jordan’s capital, Amman, situated in the Balqa highland that overlooking Jordan Valley at an altitude of 850m. as-Salt is known as a city with steep topography located on well‐defined hills separated by deep valleys, special in its character built of distinctive yellow stone with more than 900 stacked houses, narrow streets, and old popular and traditional markets. This combination of built form and topography give Salt its distinctive physical identity.
As-Salt was known since ancient times by its central location with links to western bank of Jordan River including Nablus, Jerusalem and others, the desert to the east and Damascus to the north, which made it an attractive trading and market center.
Moreover, the biodiversity of its lands, the presence of a number of springs, and the moderated climate make as-Salt an attractive place for settlers and civilizations back to the bronze and stone ages. The city today is the capital of the Balqa governorate and has a municipal population of approximately 500,000 with an area of 38000 km2; the area regulated by the municipality is 48 km2 with only 10.7 km2 of built area.