Buildings, houses and public spaces

The traditional village of Umm Qais has a unique architectural heritage with much of the stone being reused from the surrounding archaeological site. The cream coloured limestone and dark grey basalt blocks have been reused to build the houses, but also provide a visual style of contrasting bands of colour. Ancient decorative motive carved stone are often seen throughout the village to provide embellishments to door lintels and window surrounds.

Many of the buildings in the village follow the line of buried ancient walls of Gadara, probably utilising them as strong foundations and the village thus has a uniquely spacious and ordered layout compared to other Ottoman period villages in the area.

Interview with Firas Al-Rousan: Design and materials of buildings in UmmQais

(C) ACOR: Decorative reuse of ancient carved stonework

Reuse of roman stonework to decorate house in Umm Qais (Image reproduced with kind permission of ACOR Photo Archive: Rami Khouri Collection)

Whilst the archaeological remains of Gadara provided a ready supply of dressed stone for building, the style, materials and colours of Umm Qais’s buildings also reflect the communities inherited knowledge of the local environment.

Many of the external shutters, and doors were originally painted blue using flowers of al-Neele (indigo) that grow in abundance locally as pigment in the paint and the internal walls were white washed with Jayr (lime) made from crushed local limestone to give a soft cream colour that reflects light and remains cool in summer.

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Blue shutters using indigo flowers for pigment (Image reproduced with kind permission of ACOR Photo Archive: Bert de Vries Collection)

The ceilings of most of the houses was made from local duflah (oleander wood) coated with mud and mortar. Duflah was chosen for it’s hollow stems which have excellent insulating properties and also because for it’s resistance to weevils and other insects.

Interview with Umm Hiba: Houses and Families in UmmQais

Interview with Firas Al-Rousan: Building with the past, living among the archaeology

“Duflah / oleander was used for a reason: it is a poisonous tree and weevils would not eat them. They would lay out the oleander densely and apply the clay on top”

Olive and al-keena (eucalyptus) were used for larger wooden construction as well as fences in the surrounding farmland.

Buildings in Umm Qais integrate passive cooling drawing in cool air at low levels and venting warm air out through openings such as the taga, an opening above the main door which is also often used to expresses some artistic and decorative individuality in the building.

The Living Museum of Umm Qais project has been interviewing the people of Umm Qais, recording the oral histories of the community. The following videos are excerpts from this archive in which people describe their memories of the community, it's rituals and events in the life of the community.

Throughout the project we are processing more interview material collected by our project volunteers in Umm Qais so look out for new material uploaded here.

“They designed windows to be low for passive cooling. Above the main door they created an opening for passive cooling, to expel hot air”

Whilst internal spaces were mostly private to a family, external courtyards, madāfa and roof tops offered areas for community social interaction. Women would socialise on rooftops used for drying laundry of adjacent houses and more formal business and social gathering between men was conducted within the Madafa of each courtyard house.