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Ancient Rome reawakened

Dec 27,2015 - Last updated at Dec 27,2015

In September of 2015, Jordan has officially announced the completion of the Kingdom’s first and largest wind farm. Located in the Tafileh Governorate, a group of 38 wind turbines are now majestically standing on the Sharah mountain range in southern Jordan providing the country with about 3 per cent of it’s energy production.

In 2006, I have visited their vicinity several times to complete some missing gaps in my knowledge of the Jordanian landscape. Lately I have been examining the site from satellite images available on Google Earth. The more I navigated with Google Earth, and drew lines and took notes, the more my fears intensified.

On December 8, 2015, I visited the finished project, equipped with a good collection of satellite images printed on large sheets of paper with my added lines to inspect the grave matter. Results of that sad day confirmed the worst of my fears: some of the wind turbines are standing on the Ro-man Antiquity highway, the Via Nova Trajana.

During this field visit, I decided to arrive from the north, like a Roman emperor on his way from Rome to Aqaba. I started from where Via Nova crosses the modern road between Jurf Ad Daraweesh and Tafileh, heading southwards. Already at this intersection a fallen milestone lies next to the fence of a house west of the road.

Driving along Wadi Al Twanah, an-other milestone was spotted after few kilometres, to the east of the road just when Khirbet Al Twanah, a large Ro-man settlement with a fort, appears across the wadi to the east. Further south, more milestones are spotted, and with each new location I found, I got excited and anxious at the same time.

Excited that my lines on the satellite images are truly the Roman road, and anxious because the direction of the pavement heads strait towards the wind farm. On the north-facing slope at the eastern edge of the wind farm, the Ro-man pavement has survived in good shape at the base of the mountain.

The line of stones climb uphill to cope with a challenging high slope, and approaches the platform of one of the wind turbines (WTG 38).

Between the turbines’ synchronised choreography, the Roman road continues in some remaining sections that were drastically separated, not necessarily by the steel turbine towers, but by the intensive cutting in the gradient of the terrain to allow for constructing massive underground foundations, and, above them, to create large flat pads for the cranes to manoeuvre.

On some stretches of the Via Nova, the bedrock is cut up to 8 metres deep. The effacing of the land profile that used to carry the ancient Roman road was further intensified by the cuttings for the network of roads that connect the crane pads together.

The Via Nova, which is 6-metre wide in average, perfectly collides with the tubular steel tower of the lucky tur-bine WTG 32.

The alignment is so perfect, in fact quite eerie, with a level of precision as if the modern Jordanian contractor brought the genius of Roman land-surveying tradition, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, a master of architecture, who wrote the “De Architectura Libri Decem” (10 books on land surveying and planning) in about 20 BC, to place the fortunate turbine tower.

The Via Nova then continues to enter the crane pads of turbine WTG 29 and WTG 26, passing about 100 metres west of turbine WTG 17 and exiting the wind farm and going downhill, heading towards the relatively flat planes east of Qadisyyeh.

A group of four large fragments of milestone lay only 250 metres away from turbine WTG 17 and its elegant turning blades appear to almost touch them at every turn.

How comes the surveyors and re-searchers did not see these milestones, and later on the contractor’s staff during years of construction? Yes, this $287 million USAID project did a very thorough “Environmental and social impact assessment” to make sure that its implementation does not have any avoidable negative impact on the environment, archaeology, cultural heritage, and local community.

Posted online, one finds a 404-page document that does not miss to tell us that the Tafileh Governorate has 14 dentists, and that 15 per cent of Jordanians have more than one mobile phone. The report succeeded in caching any possible wild flower or mammal that might exist on the site, but it completely missed Jordan’s 500-kilome-tre-long Roman monument.

Maybe turbine WTG 32 will become famous, as a case to be taught in universities. It might even become the hero that saves the rest of the neglected Via Nova Trajana, of which many parts are bulldozed without any 404-page environmental impact assessment.

Maybe it will help the Department of Antiquities know where the Via Nova passes, and thus put the entire archaeological monument on the official map of the Kingdom.

Tafileh wind turbine WTG 32 might have entered history literally by accident. The writer, an architect and artist with a multi-disciplinary knowledge of the land of the Kingdom, has became a reference in the overlapping areas of earth sciences of Jordan, including geography, geology, geomorphology, ecology, botany, archaeology and anthropology.

He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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