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The Colors of the Prince: Conservation and Knowledge in Qusayr 'Amra

On October 22 and 23 I was back in my hometown, Rome, to participate in an international conference organized by the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro, our partner in the Qusayr 'Amra conservation project. The conference, titled “The Colours of the Prince: Conservation and Knowledge in Qusayr 'Amra,” addressed the vast amount of information derived from four years of research and conservation activities at the site.

The first day was dedicated to the presentation of the project results by various members of the team after the welcome by ISCR Director Gisella Capponi and authorities including Princess Wijdan al-Hashemi, the Ambassador of Jordan to Italy Zaid al-Lozi, the Director of Antiquities Monther Jamhawi, the Director of ICCROM Stefano De Caro, and I on behalf of WMF.

Giovanna de Palma, project co-director, provided a general overview of all the activities conducted so far and of the stunning discoveries of previously unknown inscriptions, figurative details, and iconographic elements that have characterized the past three years of mural painting conservation. Other presentations tackled specific topics: detailed descriptions of the conservation activities inside and outside the building, of the environmental monitoring program, of the archaeological surveys, and the production of accurate site documentation. I presented a paper, with the Director General of Antiquities Professor Jamhawi, on the subject of the site management plan completed this year.

During the second day several scholars who had worked in the past on subjects related to the archaeology, art history, and iconography of the site made presentations using the new data available, in some cases completely reviewing previous theories. Princess Wijdan presented a paper on Walid Ibn Yazid, crown prince under caliph Hisham, who was probably the person who commissioned the monument and a controversial figure now being re-evaluated by recent scholarship. Other scholars investigated the meaning and significance of representations found on site, such as the “six kings” scene, or the newly discovered “cycle of Jonah,” a series of representations illustrating various episodes of the life of Jonah narrated in the Bible and in the Qur’an and found both in Paleo-Christian and Islamic figurative art. A panel exhibition displayed in the hall of the conference also provided the numerous participants with further information on the work conducted on site so far.

The two day of conference may be considered the culmination of a first phase of work at Qusayr 'Amra, a period that has allowed this unique site to be thoroughly documented, studied, and its exterior components conserved. The partial conservation of the interior has revealed surprising elements of Umayyad artistic achievements, which could not be imagined before, and rich historical and iconographic elements that will occupy scholars for years to come. Full conservation of the mural paintings, together with the investigation and conservation of the new archaeological elements discovered in the areas surrounding the monument and the development of implementation guidelines for the site management plan, could characterize a second phase of this project, thus completing one of the most complex conservation interventions conducted in Jordan in recent decades.