By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Experts will work to save one of the Kingdom’s World Heritage Sites from degradation under an agreement signed on Thursday.

The Department of Antiquities (DoA), the Italian government and the World Monuments Fund (WMF) will embark on a project to restore and protect the 1,300-year-old frescoes of Quseir Amra.

Under the $500,000 project, financed by the Italian government, the WMF and the DoA, experts from the Rome-based Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration will work alongside DoA teams at the Umayyad Palace, which has been suffering from degradation and weathering.

“We think this is an urgent projectة to preserve what we can preserve, especially of the paintings,” DoA Director Ziad Saad said during the signing ceremony on Thursday.

As part of the initial phase of the joint project, which will last one to one-and-a-half years, experts will work to conserve the exterior of the Umayyad Palace, which was once a hunting lodge and bathhouse for caliphs and dignitaries.

The project also calls for better interpretation and interior lighting so that the millennial paintings can be seen clearly in the late afternoon and evening hours.

“We wish to have this site ready for tourists,” added Saad, who signed the agreement with project director Giovanna de Palma in the presence of Geatano Palumbo of the WMF.

The DoA director pointed out that German archaeologists are working to conserve and restore Qasr Mushatta, while a Spanish project is working to improve interpretation at Qasr Halabat, both Umayyad-period castles.

Once complete, the DoA in conjunction with the Tourism Ministry can introduce visitors to “the desert castle experience”, he said.

According to experts, in addition to nature, time, and vandals, Quseir Amra faces a more pressing threat: Previous restoration efforts.

“Previous restoration attempts were done wrong with the wrong materials and they caused a lot of harm,” Saad told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of the signing ceremony on Thursday.

According to the DoA director, previous restoration teams over the last decade had applied organic polymers that yellowed the paintings and degraded them to the point that parts of the plaster began to crumble.

The Italian team has tested and come up with solutions to stabilise the paintings, safely remove the previous materials and restore them to their original colours, according to the Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration.

The project, which also entails training DoA staff in Rome in mural restoration, will start this December.

Officials expressed hope that the conservation project will continue past its initial phase.

Quseir Amra, built under Umayyad Caliph Walid Bin Abdul Malik, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, mostly for its rare secular murals depicting civilisations, hunting scenes and animals.