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8th US/ICOMOS International Symposium:

Heritage Interpretation
Charleston, South Carolina, May 5-8, 2005

Case Study:
The Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo, Jordan:
Facing a Difficult Future

W. Brown Morton III, Fellow US/ICOMOS

Prince B. Woodard Chair of Historic Preservation
University of Mary Washington, Fredricksburg, Virginia,
e-mail:, (540) 654-1310

The Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo, Jordan:

Facing a Difficult Future

The on-going conservation, protection, and interpretation of the Memorial of Moses on

Mount Nebo in Jordan presents a dramatic challenge for international historic preservation in the
Middle East. Seventy years of success are now gravely threatened by rapidly shifting economic,
social, political and geophysical factors. These factors must be confronted in a comprehensive
and integrated manner if this place of outstanding importance to three major world religions is to
survive and retain its integrity.

Mount Nebo is identified in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy, Chapter 34 as the site of
the death of the prophet Moses in view of the full expanse of the Promised Land, which he,
himself, would never enter. On Mount Nebo, today, are located significant portions of the 4th to
8th century A.D. Christian basilica and surrounding monastery complex known as the Memorial
of Moses.

The site appears to have been gradually abandoned, commencing in the 9th century.
Then, in 1932, with the consent of Amir Abdullah ben Hussein, the great-grandfather of the
present King of Jordan, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, through the Studium Biblicum
Franciscanum of Jerusalem, was permitted to acquire the property.

Under the direction of archeologist, Father Sylvester Saller and the assistance of Brother
Jerome Mihaic, an exacting program of archaeological excavation and discovery began in 1932.
In 1963, an extensive shelter was constructed over the basilica to protect the outstanding mosaic
floors and to return the structure to active liturgical use. This shelter, covered in now-
deteriorating asbestos panels, is environmentally unacceptable and requires replacement. Since
1976 continuing conservation and interpretation work has been advanced under the supervision
of Father Michele Piccirillo, Director of the Franciscan Archaeological Institute at Mount Nebo
and author of The Mosaics of Jordan. In the year 2000, the Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo
received over 260,000 visitors, including His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

This case study identifies and evaluates the critical conservation and interpretation issues
facing this outstanding site and explore options for local, regional and international cooperation
that might insure an appropriate future for Mount Nebo and also serve as models for protecting
other historic sites caught in the maelstrom of current events.
W. Brown Morton III, was invited by the Franciscan Archaeological Institute to evaluate the
Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo and to make recommendations for its conservation and
interpretation. Morton’s recommendations were published in 2004 by the Studium Biblicum
Franciscanum, Jerusalem in: M. Piccirillo (a cura di), Un progetto di copertura per il Memoriale
di Mosè. A 70 anni dall'inizio dell'indagine archeologica sul Monte Nebo in Giordania (1933-
2003) (SBF Collectio Maior 45), Jerusalem 2004. 336 pp.; Part I: Interventi di Restauro e
Conservazione .

List of Illustrations [Not attached to this e-mail version of the text. Available as color
and black and white printed images.]

Frontispiece: Mount Nebo: Mosaic detail of a gazelle located in the floor of the
Theotokos Chapel. Photo: FAI.

Map 1: Map of Jordan from: Franciscan Fathers, Guide to Jordan, 3rd edition.
Franciscan Printing Press, 1982.

Figure 1: Mount Nebo: Courtyard of the modern Franciscan convent.

Photo: W. Brown Morton III (WBM)

Figure 2a & 2b: Mount Nebo: General site-plan of the historic basilica and monastery.
Plan: FAI.

Figure 3: Mount Nebo: Mount Nebo: Plan of the Mosaics in the basilica. Plan: FAI, from
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations
1967-1997. (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998, p. 266.)

Figure 4: Mount Nebo: His Holiness Pope John Paul with Fr. Michele Piccirillo, March
20, 2000. Photo: FAI.

Figure 5: Mount Nebo: Recently widened road between Madaba and Ghawr, showing
traffic and parking congestion at the entrance to the Memorial of Moses. The basilica is
seen in the upper right. Photo: WBM.

Figure 6: Mount Nebo: Intrusive modern residence built in the view-shed of the
Memorial of Moses. The basilica is seen to the left of the house. Photo: WBM.

Figure 7: Mount Nebo: The Al-Mukhayat Handicraft Center on the left, an unfinished
tourist venture on the right. The basilica is seen in the center. Photo: WBM.

Figure 8: Mount Nebo: The Siagha Restaurant and American Express sign. The basilica
is seen between the two trees on the right. Photo: WBM.

Figure 9: Mount Nebo: New government built parking lot east of the Memorial of Moses.
The basilica is seen on the right, beyond the new residential construction. Photo: WBM.

Figure 10: Mount Nebo: Western courtyard from the steps of the basilica showing a
contemporary sculpture suggesting Moses’ lifting up of the serpent in the desert. Photo:

Figure 11: Mount Nebo: The pedestrian walkway from the entrance gates up the hill to
the plaza on the east side of the basilica. The contemporary sculpture, seen on the right,
carries inscriptions relating the Memorial of Moses to different religious traditions and
cultures. Photo: WBM.

Figure 12: Mount Nebo: Roman milestones from the region, which have been moved
from their original location and are now displayed at the Memorial of Moses. Photo:

Figure 13: Mount Nebo: Interior of the new Mount Nebo Interpretation Centre. Photo:

Figure 14: Mount Nebo: Model of the historic monastery and the basilica, presently
displayed in the basilica. Photo: WBM.

Figure 15: Mount Nebo: Mosaic panel removed from the Church of Saint George at
Mukhayyat and displayed in August 2001 in the basilica. Photo: WBM.

Figure 16: Mount Nebo: East end of the exterior of the basilica showing the raised walls
and the roof covering. Photo: WBM.

Figure 17: Mount Nebo: South wall of the exterior of the basilica showing the “leveling-
up” of the stone walls to receive the modern concrete block and plaster upper walls.
Photo: WBM.

Figure 18: Mount Nebo: Interior view of the basilica, showing the three modern arched
windows at the east end. Photo: WBM.

Figure 19: Mount Nebo: Interior view of the basilica, showing modern circular window at
the west end. Photo: WBM.

Figure 20: Mount Nebo: Detail of the interior of the basilica showing a corrugated
plastic light panel in the roof and, on the upper left, an oscillating electric fan. Photo:

Figure 21: Mount Nebo: Detail of the exterior stonework on the west elevation of the
basilica, south pf the west entrance door, showing cracking and attempts at repointing of
the cracks. Photo: WBM.

Figure 22: Mount Nebo: Detail of cracking of the interior stonework of the basilica in a cross-
wall between the New Baptistery and the Theotokos Chapel. Photo: WBM.

Figure 23: Mount Nebo: Detail of cracking of the interior stonework of the basilica at the
east end of the New Baptistery, also showing a crack gauge on the modern east wall.
Photo: WBM.

Figure 24: Mount Nebo: Detail of crack gauge and of cracking of the interior stonework
of the basilica at the west end of the nave, south of the west entrance door.

Figure 25: Mount Nebo: Mosaics of the diakonikon-baptistery. Photo: FAI, from
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations
1967-1997. (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998, p. 264.)

Figure 26: Mount Nebo: Modern liturgical furnishings in the east end of the basilica.
Photo: WBM.


The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo in Jordan is an historical and

archaeological site important in the history of three of the world’s major religions:
Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the place where the prophet Moses died, with the
Promised Land stretched out before his fading gaze. The site bears testimony to his
obedience to God. Mount Nebo is located 42 km. south-west of Amman. [Map. 1].

The ownership, conservation and care of the Memorial of Moses have been the
responsibility of the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land since 1932. Current
work is carried out by the Franciscan Archeological Institute under the direction of Fr.
Michele Piccirillo.

In 2001, Fr. Michele Piccirillo invited W. Brown Morton III to come to Mount
Nebo to meet with him to develop conservation recommendations for Mount Nebo. [Fig.
1] What follows is the result of Morton’s work on site at Mount Nebo between August 5
and August 15, 2001 with the archaeological and religious community then in residence
there. This work included extensive discussions with Michele Piccirillo and the other
members of the community, and site visits to many of the other historical and
archeological sites in the vicinity of Mount Nebo. Fr. Piccirillo also made available
virtually all of the relevant published and unpublished literature and scientific studies
relating to the site. Many hours were devoted to the inspection of the place itself and
reflecting upon its deep history, artistic value and the nature and extent of the
conservation questions that effect Mount Nebo’s future.

The author would like to acknowledge the intellectual debt he owes to Thomas
Dailey, whose work with USAID in Jordan, Egypt and Israel has so enriched his
appreciation of this part of the world.

This mission was made possible through the generosity of the United States
National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites
(US/ICOMOS), the Samuel Kress Foundation and with the support and encouragement of
the Department of Historic Preservation of Mary Washington College.

Summary History

The principal importance of the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo is that it is

the traditional site of the death of the prophet Moses. The Memorial site is not, however,
believed to be the place of his burial. Chapter 32 of the Book of Deuteronomy relates:

“Yahweh spoke to Moses...and said to him, ‘Climb Mount the land of
Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan which I am giving the sons
of Israel as their domain. Die on the mountain you have climbed and be gathered

to your people...because you broke faith with me among the sons of Israel at
Meribath-Kadesh... because you did not display my holiness among the sons of
Israel, you may only see this land from afar; you cannot enter it, this land I am
giving to the sons of Israel.” i

Chapter 34, elaborates:

“ Moses went up Mount Nebo...and Yahweh showed him the whole land; Gilead as
far as Dan, all Napthali, the land of Ephraim and Manssah, all the land of Judah,
as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the stretch of the Valley of Jericho, city
of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Yahweh said to him, ‘This is the land I swore to give
to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you
shall not cross into it.’ There in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of Yahweh,
died as Yahweh decreed; he buried him in the valley...opposite Beth-peor; but to
this day no one has ever found his grave.” ii

Contemporary biblical scholarship is not in agreement about the dates of the

Moses story. However, many scholars place the time of the Exodus in the 13th century
B.C. iii The Book of Deuteronomy, traditionally attributed to Moses himself, is believed
by many contemporary scholars to have been assembled from a variety of sources in the
7th century B.C. iv

Although references to Mount Nebo appear in Christian texts explaining biblical

place names as early as the 4th century A.D., the earliest known eyewitness account of a
pilgrimage to the site itself is found in the diary of the pilgrim Egeria in the early years of
the 5th century. v She describes the presence of a small church at the summit of Mount
Nebo, and what she believed, then, to be the tomb of Moses.

She was also shown by the monks and priests there the incredible view west,
across the Jordan Valley and south to the Dead Sea: a view that has caught the breath of
visitors ever since vi

The existing archaeological and historic resources at the Memorial of Moses are
composed of a basilica and a surrounding monastery complex [Fig. 2a & 2b].
Contemporary analysis of the archaeological record at Mount Nebo divides the
development of the architectural remains of the Memorial of Moses into nine periods
prior to twentieth century rediscovery and consolidation. According to the work of
Eugenio Alliata and Susanna Bianchi these phases are:

“ I. The pre-existing walls (4th cent.)

II. The cella trichoria (beginning of the 5th cent.)
III. The development of the monastery around the cella trichoria (5th cent.)
IV. The reconstruction of the cella trichoria (mid-5th cent.)

V. The diakonikon baptistery (530/31.)
VI. The basilica (mid-6th cent,)
VII. The south baptistery and the north hall (end of 6th cent.)
VIII. The Chapel of the Theotokos (beginning of the 7th cent.)
XI. The final results (8th Cent.)” vii

The outstanding mosaics found on the floors of the Memorial of Moses [Fig. 3]
according to Michele Piccirillo, who is also author of the definitive Mosaics of Jordan,
are “fundamental for understanding the development of Byzantine-Umayyad mosaic art
in the territory of Madaba from the 4th-5th century to the first decade of the 7th
century...The numerous inscriptions accompanying the mosaics with the names of the
bishops of Madaba, the name of the hegumens of the monastery of Moses, and those of
private and public benefactors, clerics, monks and laity are of great historical value.” viii

According to Piccirillo, the mosaics in the basilica can be dated to four periods:

“ A. Mosaics related to areas of the primitive sanctuary of Moses

(4th-5th cent.).
B. Mosaics resulting from intermediate restoration works carried out before the
construction of the basilica (first years of the 6th cent. up to 530).
C. Mosaics of the basilica (mid 6th cent.).
D. Mosaics of the lateral chapels (end of the 6th cent. beginning of
The 7th cent.).” ix

By the close of the 9th century the monastery was in steep decline and the site appears to
have been abandoned by the 10th century. x During the second half of the 19th century
several exploratory expeditions visited the mountain crest, known locally as Siyagha.
The collective opinion was that this archaeological site was that of the long covered over
basilica and monastery. xi

Encouraged by the results of a site visit from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
in Jerusalem in 1931, Franciscan Brother Jerome Milhaic and the archaeologist Fr.
Sylvester Saller worked with the local community and the Jordanian authorities to
purchase the site for the Custody of the Holy Land in October, 1932. Extensive site
investigations were carried out in 1933, 1935 and 1937. In 1963 further consolidation
work was undertaken and a modern steel frame was raised on the ancient exterior walls
of the basilica. The roof was covered with light panels of corrugated asbestos cement. In
1976, the archeological program at Mount Nebo was assigned to Fr. Michele Piccirillo.
In 1978, in order to make the basilica once again a fully enclosed functional liturgical
space for worship, the 1963 steel frame shelter and the roof covering was further
modified. The present modern liturgical furniture was in place by 1983. xii

During the millennium year 2000, Mount Nebo received a visit from His Holiness
Pope John Paul II. In that same year 261,248 pilgrims and tourists from across the world
came to Mount Nebo. xiii [Fig. 4] Visitors are welcomed year around by the staff of the
small modern monastery tucked gently into the hillside just below the historic basilica
and ancient monastery ruins. In the summer months the community grows to include
archaeologists and other scholars assembled under the direction of the Franciscan
Archeological Institute to carry out continuing research in the Mount Nebo area.

Conservation Recommendations

I. Mount Nebo Archaeological Park

Observation: The traditional setting of the Memorial of Moses, an unspoiled desert

landscape, is being destroyed by modern development. The prominent location of
the historic basilica and monastery at the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo is at
the crest of the hill called Siyahgha. The west door of the basilica is at an
elevation of 692.95 meters. The basilica, monastery and monastery garden and
grounds can be seen from a great distance in every direction.

The paved road between Madaba and Gwhar is located on the east flank of
the monastery garden. This road has recently been widened and extended toward
the Jordan Valley and carries increasing traffic. [Fig.5].

Increasing residential development on the Madaba - Mount Nebo road is

Marching towards Mount Nebo at an alarming rate.

Large and uncompromising houses built on formerly agricultural land are having a
severely negative impact on the integrity of the landscape southeast of Mount
Nebo. [Fig. 6].

Immediately east of the entrance gates to the site, uncontrolled tourist

oriented development of a souvenir shops, such as the Al-Mukhayat Handicraft
Center [Fig. 7], and restaurants such as the Siagha Restaurant [Fig. 8], have
sprouted along the sides of the road.

Agricultural enterprise such as large scale chicken farming and field

clearance and leveling with bulldozers is adversely affecting the extensive
archaeological sites that date back to the prehistoric era.

Recommendation: The proposal for the creation of the Mount Nebo

Archaeological Park put forward by Michele Piccirillo and Caetano Palumbo
on January 10, 1993 should be implemented by the Government of Jordan
immediately. xiv

II. Visitor Services

Visitation and Parking

Observation: Visitation to Mount Nebo was documented by the staff in 1995 at

125,506 people. Visitation peaked in the Millennium year 2000 at 261,348. The
first eight months of 2001 saw 72,960 visitors. xv The drop in tourists because of
regional difficulties has affected recent visitation. In any event, parking for tour
busses and private automobiles poses an ongoing Problem. Parking is not
permitted past the entrance gates to the Memorial of Moses. Two new parking
areas have been constructed on the south side of the main road: one just opposite
the entrance gates, and another, largely unused, further east. [Fig. 9] Tour bus
guides and private car drivers need to be encouraged to use these parking facilities
more and not to try to leave their vehicles along the sides of the main road near the
entrance gates. [Fig. 5].

Recommendation: To make the new parking lots more attractive to visitors,

especially the newer lot built by the government further to the east, it is
recommended that the visitor services be improved at these locations.
Improvements here would reduce the demand for visitor services at the
Memorial itself. Three basic improvements are recommended: 1) Increased
planting and benches to provide shade and a place to sit while waiting for
groups to get on and off the tour busses; 2) Toilet facilities to reduce water
usage at the Memorial; and 3) thoughtfully designed, low-profile kiosks to
provide visitor information for the Mount Nebo Archeological Park kiosks
for souvenirs and soft drinks.

Water Supply, Water Usage and Toilets:

Observation: The traditional water supply for the Memorial of Moses has been
rainwater collected in cisterns, augmented in the 20th century by pumping water
up-hill from the nearby Spring of Moses. This supply is no longer adequate for
the needs of the resident staff and visitors and maintenance of the trees and
plantings. Water is trucked in on a daily basis to the Memorial cisterns. This is
expensive and only a limited solution.

Recommendation: Implement a phased long-range program to move tourist

related water consumption off-site to government supported improvements to
the parking areas outside the Memorial gates. Maintain, but do not expand
the four toilets available to visitors to the historic basilica and monastery
ruins. Implement a long range plan to convert all toilets to environmentally
advanced models that do not require water to flush or dispose of sewage.

Souvenir Shops and Food Services:

Observation: Uncontrolled expansion of souvenir shops and food services is

adversely affecting the historic setting of the Memorial of Moses, especially in the
direction of Madaba. Providing shops and food services within the Memorial
grounds would reduce the ambience of peace and spirituality. [Fig. 10].

Recommendation: Sell no souvenirs at the Memorial of Moses except for post

cards, guidebooks and publications that relate directly to the Memorial or to
mission of the Custody of the Holy Land. Provide no food service on-site for
tourists in general. Caring for the needs of pilgrims who are guests of the
monastery would continue.

The government should be encouraged to develop appropriately

designed souvenir and food service facilities at the government maintained
parking lots east of the entrance gates.


Observation: Recent disturbances in the region have made tourists more sensitive
than ever about security. However it is antithetical to the spirit and tradition of a
monastery and religious site to appear aggressively “guarded.”

Recommendation: Keep the security personnel at the Memorial of Moses

“low-profile” in appearance but obvious to visitors. Employ security
personnel who are multi-lingual if possible and train them to interact
regularly with visitors as hosts and providers of useful information. It is
recommended that the government provide more “obvious” security
personnel at the government managed parking lots outside the Memorial.

Pedestrian Access from the Entrance Gates:

Observation: The pedestrian walkway from the entrance gates up the hill to the
plaza on the east side of the basilica is a considerable distance, especially in hot
weather and for the elderly or disabled. [Fig. 11].

Recommendation: Increase the number of benches all along the entire length
of the pedestrian walkway. Position the benches to take maximum advantage
of shade from the trees and other plantings. Also provide at least two, keyed,
battery powered, simple to operate, “golf-carts” for the personal use of the
elderly or disabled only. Such carts are quiet, safe, and deeply appreciated by
those who need them.

Site Interpretation:

Observation: Large and interesting archeological artifacts such as Roman

milestones and a large circular tomb “door” have been saved from loss in their
original locations off-site and placed in the grounds of the memorial of Moses.
Just what they are, where the came from and why they are there is not, in every
case, immediately clear to the visitor.

Recommendation: Provide clearly marked information about archaeological

artifacts that have been brought to the Memorial of Moses from other
locations, such as what has already has been done for the two Roman
milestones [Fig. 12].

Interpretation Center:

Observation: The Memorial of Moses opened the new Mount Nebo Interpretation
Centre in time for the Millennium year 2000 within a rehabilitated space flanking
a former courtyard at the East end of the historic monastery complex. The modern
design of the new facility blends well with its historic envelope and the
photographs, models, artifacts and text panels are well planned and well presented
[Fig. 13]. However, in August 2001 the new facility was closed on a day-to-day
basis and opened for groups only by prior arrangement. When the facility was
closed for most of the day, the temperature build-up in the facility was so extreme
that even a quick visit was almost unbearable.

The interpretive exhibits and text panels provide information about the
biblical references to Moses at Mount Nebo and information about the early
pilgrims to the site and the history of the archaeological campaigns and the
significance of the mosaics. However, there is virtually no material presented
about Moses as a historical figure or as a prophet. There is no material that charts
the path or presumed time-line of the Exodus or Moses’ life from Egypt to Mount
Nebo. Considering that the site is named the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo
and considering the importance of Moses in the three principal religions of the
region this absence of information about Moses is difficult to understand.

Recommendation: Adequate staff should be provided to have the new Mount

Nebo Interpretation Centre open to the public on a daily basis. The interior
temperature of the center should be managed so that visitors are comfortable.

The story of Moses and of the Exodus should be presented, if possible,

in a manner reflecting awareness of the varied religious traditions of the
public without avoiding the essentials of the story. The essential question

appears to be “Who was Moses and why is he memorialized here at Mount
Nebo?” It is indeed a sad commentary on the present time if this question
cannot be asked and answered here.

Signage Outside the Basilica:

Observation: The historic monastery site outside the basilica is a large and
complex area. For a first-time visitor it is not easy to “read.” There is a helpful
black and white site-plan guide available to the visitor once inside the basilica.
The site-plan is keyed to numbers, which are repeated on the back of the guide
with basic information given in five languages. [The concept of this hand-held
guide is useful, because it avoids having to have exterior signs in five languages.]
Outside the basilica, however, it is not always obvious just where exactly one is in
relationship to the printed guide [Fig. 14].

Recommendation: Discrete, but obvious, signs should be place outside the

basilica, with numbers corresponding to the site-plan guide. They should be
placed in the location where the numbers are placed on the printed site-plan
guide. The numbers should be sequenced in the order that the visitor is
encouraged to move through the site. Each “stop” should have its own

Multiple numbers, such as 7a, 7b, 7c, etc. should be avoided. Having a North
arrow on the site-plan would be helpful.

Formal titles should be rendered consistently the same throughout the

information presented to the public. For example, the printed site-plan guide
says, Franciscan Custody of Terrasanta, whereas the English version of the
color-printed guidebook, Mount Nebo, says, on the cover page, Custodia Terra
Santa and in the body of the text, Custody of the Holy Land. The Italian
version, La Montagna del Nebo, says, in the body of the text, Custodia di Terra

Information Inside the Basilica:

Observation: The excellent information presented in the color-printed guidebooks

about the interior of the basilica is not consistently repeated, even in abbreviated
form, in text panels in the various parts of the interior of the basilica. The bare-
bones information on the black and white site-plan guide is too minimal to truly

The presence, in the basilica, of mosaics moved from other buildings, is

confusing [Fig. 15].

Recommendation: More informative text-panels explaining the different
parts and periods of the interior of the basilica should be developed. Mosaics
lifted from other buildings should not be displayed in the basilica except in
conjunction with special exhibitions.

III. Conservation

Basilica Shelter:

Observation: The present basilica upper walls and roof covering are the result of
several campaigns of construction, modification and improvement [Fig 16]. The
steel frame is raised on the existing stone walls of the historic basilica. On the
interior, vertical steel columns supporting the steel roof rafters rest directly on the
remaining historic walls of the nave.

The exterior walls of the basilica have had the historic profile of the early walls
leveled-up by the addition of new courses of stone. Then above the leveled stone
walls, new exterior walls of plastered concrete block have been erected to the
eaves of the new roof [Fig.17]. The eaves ends of the exposed steel rafters are
carried on these new walls. Three arched stained glass windows have been
inserted in the new walls above the chancel at the east end of the basilica [Fig. 18],
and a circular window has been installed above the west entrance door [Fig.19].

A series of translucent corrugated plastic panel have been installed in the

corrugated asbestos cement roof covering to provide addition daylight to the
interior. There is no climate control system other than portable oscillating electric
fans. [Fig 20].

From the exterior, the walls present a fairly uniform appearance: the lower
walls are stone, the upper walls, supporting the roof structure at that location, are
stucco. The roof itself is a shallow gable with the ridge running east-west. The
overall appearance of the basilica, whether seen from a long distance away or from
close up, is gentle and accepting. It is not confrontational or harsh, as is the case
of so many other archeological shelters in the region. The post-1963 covering is
clearly modern and does not fool the eye. It is not a historical pastiche. However,
its very simple profile on the horizon does not overwhelm, or contradict the
historic building it protects. The transition from undisturbed stonework to
repositioned stones is somewhat difficult to read.

There are two serious problems with the present shelter: it is very hot and
airless in the interior in the heat of the day, and the presence of asbestos in the

composition of the unprotected roofing panels may pose an environmental and
health problem.

Concern has been expressed that the present shelter frame and roof is
supported directly on the historic stone walls as opposed to being an entirely
independent structural self-supporting “cage.”

Recommendation: The roof covering material should be entirely replaced

and renewed with an acceptable substitute for the corrugated asbestos cement

Translucent light panels with ultra-violet reducing properties should

replace the present corrugated plastic panels.

In order to increase cross ventilation, these light panels should be

designed to open and close according to a seasonally adjusted time,
temperature, wind speed, and rain computer-operated sensor switch.
Permanently installed ceiling exhaust fans might prove helpful.

The transition between historic, undisturbed stones and reset stones

should be delineated by a slight change in mortar color at the line of

Since this transition point varies considerably throughout the basilica, the
change should be kept subtle but visible to the eye that is looking for it.
Something too strong would resemble a continuous scar around the walls.

It is recommended that the present steel shelter framework and new

concrete block and plaster walls be retained for the rest of their useful life,
unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the historic stonework is being
seriously damaged by their present location.

Removing the present shelter and removing the stones that were reset to
“level-up” the walls and digging independent supports for a new shelter
would be an intrusive intervention at this stage in time. The present shelter
has been in place for many years now and has achieved a very real visual
accommodation with its site. It is not shocking to the eye. It is hard to
imagine a new “cage” that would be as respectful of place as this one already

Ground Settlement and Cracking:

Observations: Extensive attention has been given in the past few years to the
cracking and settlement that has appeared in the basilica and historic monastery on
an east-west line, south of the nave and running through the New Baptistery and
the Theotokos Chapel [Figs. 21, 22, & 23]. Several crack-monitors are currently in
place [Figs. 23 & 24]. Several theories have been put forward to explain this
phenomenon. Some observers have related the cracking to the recent road-
widening that occurred just south of the basilica. This work required extensive
blasting of the rock and major changes in the road level.

In 1999 a thorough geological investigation and documentation of the

Siyagha crest on Mount Nebo where the historic basilica and monastery are
located was carried out by Piergiorgio Malesani and Elena Terzani. xvi This
research identified the geological strata of rock, shale and soil types on the hill and
established their slope and depth. The study suggests a more fundamental and
long-term geo-technical problem. Their report also includes a project for
intervention and consolidation. At first reading, the suggested solution of
underpinning the entire basilica seems to pose serious problems for the
preservation of the as-yet-undisturbed historic fabric of the basilica.

Recommendation: The crack monitors that are already in place should be

inspected to see if they are still in calibration with their position when they
were first installed.

If so, they should be inspected and read on a regular basis and a concise
record made of the continuing movement of the cracks, if any. Attention
should be paid to see if there are seasonal movements of both opening and
closing of the cracks.

Additional crack monitors should be installed at any locations where

additional cracking has appeared since the first crack monitors were put in

When a reliable set of data from the crack monitors has been
assembled and evaluated, qualified geo-technical experts and engineers with
experience with historic buildings such as the basilica should determine if the
cracking and settlement is in fact a danger to the basilica and its shelter or if
it is a seasonal phenomenon which can, perhaps be managed, rather like an
expansion joint, without major new intervention. If major intervention is
unavoidable, all care should be taken to develop a project for intervention

and consolidation that will have a minimal effect on the as-yet-undisturbed
historic fabric of the basilica and historic monastery ruins.


Observation: The high quality of the mosaics in the basilica constitutes one of the
major features of the Memorial of Moses [Fig. 3]. Some of the mosaics, that were
later in date than earlier mosaics, have been lifted and are now displayed vertically
on the interior walls of the basilica. The mosaics of the diakonikon-baptistery date
from A.D. 530 are among the finest in the Madaba region [Fig.25]. xvii Mosaics
from other historic buildings are also presently displayed in the basilica. The
science of mosaic conservation continues to develop. The basilica mosaics are an
interesting study in this development, since they have been preserved over many

Recommendation: Mosaics that are not actually from the basilica should not
be displayed in the basilica, unless they are part of a special exhibition. The
original location of mosaics that have been lifted to reveal earlier mosaics
should be clearly indicated to visitors, so that they can better appreciate the
history of mosaic development in the basilica. Information should also be
provided about the development of mosaic conservation techniques used at
different times in the basilica.

Monastery Archaeological Features:

Observation: Much of the area surrounding the basilica is taken up by the

archaeological above-ground features of the historic monastery. The sequence and
development of these features is addressed in the black and white site-plan guide
and in the color guidebooks. Nevertheless, these features are not easy to
understand or appreciate for a first-time visitor.

Recommendation: Additional information should be placed in appropriate

locations in the historic monastery ruins to improve visitor understanding of
these features and of the monastic life and activities they sheltered.

Integration of New Facilities:

Observation: One of the most attractive aspects of the Memorial of Moses is that
the basilica is an active place of worship and meditation. The modern liturgical
furniture that has been installed in the basilica reinforces the spiritual atmosphere
of the place [Fig 26]. It is an active holy place, not a dead holy place. Additional
modifications will always be required to keep the basilica liturgically up-to-date,
and as the ways in which it is used change over time.

Recommendation: It should be an established policy at the Memorial of
Moses that new space, or appropriate changes to existing space will be
encouraged and permitted so that the active life of the basilica can remain
useful to the community that uses it, as long as such additions and
modifications do not destroy significant historic features or significant
historic fabric.

Bibliography and Endnotes

Battistelli, Fr. Giovanni, OFM. La Presenza Francescana in Terra Santa. Jerusalem,

Franciscan Printing Press, 1999.

Bikai, Patricia Maynor and Thomas A. Dailey, eds. Madaba: Cultural Heritage.
Amman, Jordan: The American Center of Oriental Research, 1996.

Franciscan Fathers. Guide to Jordan, 3rd edition. Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing

Press, 1982.

Piccirillo, Michele and Eugenio Alliata. Uum al-Rasas – Mayfa’ab, 1. Gli Scavi del
Complesso di Santo Stefano. Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1994.

Piccirillo, Michele and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo: New Archaeological

Excavations 1967-1997. Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998

Piccirillo, Michele. Chiese e Mosaici di Madaba: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum –

Collectio Maior – 34. Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1989.

Piccirillo, Michele. La Montagna del Nebo: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum

Guidebooks 2. Amman, Jordan: Franciscan Printing Press. Printed by the
Jordanian Printing Press, 1997.

Piccirillo, Michele. Patricia Maynor Bikai and Thomas A. Dailey, eds. The Mosaics
of Jordan. Amman, Jordan: American Center of Oriental Research, 1993.

Piccirillo, Michele. Mount Nebo: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Guidebooks 2.

Jerusalem: Custodia Santa Terra, n.d.

Pierucci, F. Armando, OFM (music), C. F. Alexander (lyrics, Fr. Michele Piccirillo

OFM (presentation). The Burial of Moses on Mount Nebo: Cantata for Soloists,
Choir, Strings, Orchestra, Flute and Oboe. Geusalemme: Istituto Magnificat,

Trimingham, J. Spencer. Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times.
London: Longman Group Limited and Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1979.

Deuteronomy: 32:48-52. The Jerusalem Bible. (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966).
Deuteronomy: 34:1-7. The Jerusalem Bible. (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966).
F. L. Cross, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 493.
F. L. Cross, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 391.
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. ( (Jerusalem:
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 71-76.
J. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travel to the Holy Land, (Jerusalem: Warminster, 1981, pp. 103-108) quoted in Michele
Piccirillo, Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum,
Eugenio Alliata and Susanna Bianchi, “The Architectural Phasing of the Memorial of Moses”, in Michele
Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. (Jerusalem: Studium
Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 151.
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. (Jerusalem:
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 265.
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. ( Jerusalem:
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 267.
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. (Jerusalem:
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 218.
Michele Piccirillo, Mount Nebo, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Guide Books, 2. (Jerusalem, Custodia Terra
Santa, no date), 28.
Michele Piccirillo, Mount Nebo, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Guide Books, 2. (Jerusalem, Custodia Terra
Santa, no date), 28.
Taken from the statistical count, “Pellegrini - Monte Nebo, 1995-2001”, prepared by the Mount Neo site
custodian Mr. Garbo, August 2001.
“Proposal for the Zoning of the Mount Nebo Archaeological Park:, Amman, January 10,1993, signed by Michele
Piccirillo, Director, Franciscan Archaeological Institute and Gaetano Palumbo, Cultural Resources Management
Consultant -ACOR. (See Appendix 1). See also, Roberto Sabelli and Ombretta Dinelli, “The Region of Mount
Nebo: An Area to be Protected”, in Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological
Excavations 1967-1997. (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 604-08.
Taken from the statistical count, “Pellegrini - Monte Nebo, 1995-2001”, prepared by the Mount Neo site
custodian Mr. Garbo, August 2001. (See Appendix 2).
Piergiorgio Malsesani and Elena Terzani, Monte Nebo: Indagini Geologiche e Geologico-Tecniche - Progetto
Degle Interventi di Consolidamento. (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1999.).
Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Mount Nebo, New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997. (Jerusalem:
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998), 274.