Bilad Al-Sham II
Training Course In Mosaic Restoration
Madaba (Jordan) - Suwaydah (Syria)
JORDAN, Department of Antiquities
PALESTINE, Palestinian Mosaic Workshop - Committee for the Promotion of Tourism in the Governorate of Jericho
SYRIA, General Department of Antiquities and Museums
LEBANON, University of Lebanon
ITALY, Cooperazione Internazionale Sud Sud (CISS)
European Commission Technical Assistance Office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem.
Texts anf Photos from:
BILAD AL-SHAM II. Training Course In Mosaic Restoration, Edited by Osama Hamdan - Carla Benelli, 2005
Another important step further for the training of young people from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in conservation of cultural heritage, have taken place thanks to the cooperation among the Jordan Department of Antiquities, the Syrian General Department of Antiquities and Museums and the Committee for the Promotion of Tourism in the Governorate of Jericho, supported by the European Commission Technical Assistance Office for West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem and the Italian NGO CISS. The project of training and restoration followed an experimented program, which already gave many positive results.
In Syria trainees completed the restoration of the mosaic of the Three Personifications, as asked by the Syrian General Department of Antiquities and Museum in 2003. The mosaic, badly pulled out from its location by illegal diggers, to sell it on the international market, was reinserted into its geometric pattern, which decorated the tomb outside the wall of Apamea. Trainees also cleaned the surfaces of two mosaics from Shahba/Philippopolis exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Suwaydah.
In Jordan, work focused on the restoration of the large figurative panel that once decorated the northern nave of the church of Saint George in Khirbat al-Mukhayyat, since twenty years exhibited in the Memorial Moses on Mount Nebo. Of the original composition, photographed in the 1930’s, decorated with vines trellis by the side of a palm tree and with a filia (friendship) composition where the zebu faces a lion, remains the portray of John, the son of Ammonius, as orans, standing with open rising arms. It was in his memory that his parents and family built the church and decorated it with a mosaic floor in 536 A.D.
In Palestine, the team worked in Jericho, to document and clean the mosaic of the church of Saint Andrew, entrusted to the Fathers of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, represented there by Abuna Mena, an Egyptian monk, responsible for the farm and the church, always smiling and friendly.
The meeting with Abuna Mena, gives me the opportunity to underline one of the merit of this project: the possibility for our young people to meet in different environment, to work together in friendship with Christian monks, and to overcome barriers, which are maybe unconscious, because no one have never given them the opportunity to get over the cloister wall of a convent, built also to safeguard the same mosaics which now they are, thank to modern technology, helping to preserve.
The visits, finalized to know the present and future needs of the historical and artistic heritage of the countries participating in the project, have had also the important merit to allow trainees to meet with Political Authorities, Mayors and Officers of the Ministries of Cultural Heritage. It is another way to exchange experiences and opinions on how to tackle together the huge obligation to preserve for all History and Beauty in the future.
This year also, special thanks go to the core of the project, Arch. Osama Hamdan, Ms Carla Benelli and restorer Franco Sciorilli, who are by now mythical figures among young restorers in the Middle East. I am proud to cooperate with them in a project, which I hope will continue to be pursued by Local and European Authorities.
Michele Piccirillo, ofm
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum
Hunting scene, Museum of Suwaydah, Syria
The mosaic panel was discovered in 1934 in Shahba (ancient Philippopolis), near the Public Bath. It dates to the period of Roman emperor Philip the Arab (244 249 A.D.) who was born there. It is now exhibited in the Mosaics and Gods Statues Hall in the Archaeological Museum at Suwaydah (Syria). The mosaic measures 2,44 x 1,32 cm. and it is composed by black, white, red, rose, gray, pale and dark yellow and beige tesserae.
A guilloche divides the panel in four squares: two describe a similar scene of a lion hunting a gazelle and the others show a cock and a hen, near a snake, picking a sprig.
State of conservation
In the past the mosaic has been detached, laid over a cement bedding layer and exposed in the Museum. The panel showed a serious of problems, among which:
- the hardness of the bedding, composed by cement mixed with basalt;
- a protective varnish applied over the mosaic surface, without cleaning it before the application, which accelerate the degrade;
- residues of cement due to lack of cleaning after the re-laying process;
- an excessive weight due to the thickness of the cement bedding layer;
- internal lacunae restored in the past by cement mortar;
- some tesserae were disaggregated and exfoliated.
Restoration was planned to solve some of the mosaic problems, taking into consideration that the complete removal of the cement bedding layer was not possible, for shortage of time.
Works were carried out in the same room of the Museum where the piece is exposed, and focalized on the concept of how to carry out ordinary maintenance on a displayed mosaic.
The following activities were carried out:
- the wooden frame around the panel was removed;
- the cement level around the mosaic edges was lowered from 8 mm to 1 cm by chisel and hammer;
- the cement level inside the lacunae was 5 mm. lowered;
- the superficial layer of varnish was chemically removed using cleaning packs of thinner and water, after the division of the panel in small square of 30 x 30 cm;
- the panel was carefully washed to remove all chemical residues;
- the cleaning operation was completed by manual mechanical method, using chisel, hammer and scalpel;
- external edges of the mosaic were reinforced and consolidated by a 3-4 mm. mortar composed by marble powder, stone powder and lime at 1:2:1;
- internal lacunae were filled by a similar mortar, 3 mm high, enriched by pozzolana, at 1:2:1:0,5;
- chemical cleaning was carried out washing the mosaic with ammonium carbonate mixed with water at 50 g/1 lt., by spray and plastic brushes;
- a final washing was needed to remove all ammonium carbonate residues;
- the mosaic surface was finally protected by an application of Paraloid B72 and thinner at 7-7,5 g/1lt.
Restoration of the mosaics of the church of Saint George, Khirbet al-Mukhayyat, Jordan
The 6th century A.D. church of Saint George, situated in the highest point of the acropolis at Khirbet al-Mukhayyat, was discovered and excavated in 1935 by Brother Mihaic and published in 1949 by Father B.Bagatti and S.Saller of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.
Due to the severe state of degradation of the mosaic floor more than 40% of the original mosaic had already been destroyed in 1977, the archaeological expedition directed by Father Michele Piccirillo removed the mosaic from its original location to prevent further damage, and re-laid it on a reinforced concrete bedding-layer.
The mosaic floor is one of the oldest in Madaba region, and was in extreme need of restoration. Bibliographical research was conducted over the site and the mosaic and its state of conservation was documented.
Restoration work during previous experiences
The restoration of the mosaics of Saint George started as joint training course organized by the Madaba Mosaic School of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Jericho Workshop for Mosaic Restoration (Palestine). The activity started in 2000 and continued until 2002. Since 2003 up to now, the work continued in cooperation between the Madaba Mosaic School and the Palestinian Mosaic Workshop Committee for the Promotion of Tourism in the Governorate of Jericho.
The restoration work was carried out in four phases, one month every year, focusing on the mosaic of the central nave and its frame.
The team worked to remove the cement layer and to re-lay the pieces of mosaic over honeycomb panels. The original design of the mosaic floor of the church was drawn over a plastic sheet, following old photographic and graphic documentation and then the various mosaic pieces were fixed together as in the original drawing, by compatible material. Lost areas of the design were drawn by watercolors.
Due to the lack of documentation and exact plans, some problems emerged in fixing all the pieces. So the team went back to the original site, from were the pieces were detached in 1977, to document the plan of the church and to study if it was possible to put back the mosaics or to exhibit them in another compatible site.
The experience is mainly a training course for experts in mosaic restoration. Trainees from Jordan and Palestine participated to the project in the first two years and then were joined by trainees coming from Lebanon and Syria.
This activity is a yearly fixed appointment among restorers in the area, and it is now known as Bilad Al Sham project Training course for mosaic restoration.
Restoration work during the Bilad Al Sham II project - 2005
This year we worked over the northern nave panel. It is a rectangular panel, 4,32 x 2,95 m, decorated with vine scrolls formed by two vines emerging with a palm from a jar placed between two peacocks.
The scrolls contain the figures of a vintner cutting grapes and a young man portrayed as an orans: John [son] of Ammonius. Inside the eastern side of the panel, but not in the scrolls, a lion and a zebu face each other.
State of conservation
The panel was in bad condition, in particular for the following problems:
- Residues of black cement over the mosaic surface;
- Lacunae closed in the past by black cement;
- Decay of tesserae;
- A layer of wax over the entire surface.
The mosaic was standing in vertical along the central nave of the Moses Memorial Church at Mount Nebo, fixed on its roof. Working on a scaffold, trainees carried out the following restoration works:
- Documentation of the state of conservation of the panel, before any intervention. The work was carried out where the mosaic was in exhibition, inside the church. Due to the importance of this phase during this year training course, the activity will be described in a dedicated chapter.
- Residues of cement and mortar over the surface were removed using scalpel, hammer and chisel.
- The superficial layer of wax was chemically removed using cleaning packs of trichloroethylene, a chemical product used to remove oily materials. Due to the location of the mosaic, this activity was particularly complex to be carried out.
- It was necessary to remove the wax from the surface of the mosaic, to fix a cotton canvas to remove its concrete bedding-layer.
- The panel was drawn over a nylon sheet at scale 1:1, using various colors: black to draw main lines; red to define lacunae; blue for cracks; green for external lines; light blue to define the lines where to cut the mosaic for the removal of the bedding. Over the surface of the mosaic, a series of points of reference were drawn, to facilitate the reassembling of the sections after the restoration.
- Due to its heavy weight, to remove the panel from the church, trainees had to cut it into sections. When they started the work, they discovered that the cutting would have been very difficult and slow because there were iron bars inside the concrete of the bedding-layer.
- The panel was finally taken out of the church in seven sections. To avoid the lost of tesserae during the removal of the bedding, the sections were fixed by a cotton canvas, glued over the surface by vinyl adhesive left for 24 hour and then with another cotton canvas fixed by animal glue.
- The cement bedding-layer was removed cutting it in small squares of 6 x 6 cm or 3 x 3 cm. In a first phase, the cement was removed by a big grinder, then, when the cut reached the tesserae, a small one was used, for a better control. Finally all the cement in the back of the mosaic was removed by chisel and hammer.
- The edges of the sections were cleaned to prepare them to be re-laid over honeycomb panels.
- Honeycomb panels were covered by grit and resin, and mortar was prepared for the future re-laying of all the sections.
Restoration of the mosaics of the church of Saint Andrew, Jericho, Palestine
The ruins of the Byzantine church of Saint Andrew are located at the entrance of the oasis of Jericho, near the Herodian remains, along the old road to Jerusalem (the church and its mosaics have been studied by the authors of this booklet, as part of a comprehensive research on the Pre-Islamic Mosaics in Jericho, which will be published by Studium Biblicum Franciscanum ).
In 1935, the Coptic Orthodox Church acquired the ruins of the church, thinking to buy what remained of the House of Zaccheus, the place where, following the Gospel, Christ rested during his travel to Jerusalem. A new chapel was built from 1937 to 1939 over the ancient remains, inserting the mosaic floor inside the new building. The site was identify and published in 1951 by Father Augustinovic as Saint Andrew, on the bases of an ancient dedicatory inscription in the mosaic floor.
The church of Saint Andrew was built over a necropolis. Inside the chapel, three accesses to the tombs, venerated as relics, have been opened recently. The mosaics of the ancient church belonged to the same nave, probably the only one. The decoration of the two main panels is simple and geometric, composed by white, black and few red tesserae. A mosaic tomb inscription dates the entire mosaic at 592 A.D.
State of conservation and problems of the mosaic
- The mosaic pavement is inside the church, covered and protected by the new building from weather condition;
- Previous restorations, carried out without scientific approach and by material which was not compatible to conservation, had negative impact over the mosaic;
- A diffuse layer of white cement covered the mosaic surface. White cement was used in the past to fill spaces among tesserae and not cleaned after the use;
- A layer of wax, very thick in some parts, was covering the entire surface of the mosaic. It was used in the past with the aim of protecting it and make it brighter;
- There were residues of black cement , used in the past to fix some tesserae;
- The southern part of the church was repaved using cement, until the edges of the ancient mosaic. This caused a condition of rigidity which prevents the natural movement of the mosaic and has as consequences swellings and bulges;
- Near the northern entrance, a cement column has been built inside the mosaic pavement;
- Many tesserae went lost, especially around the opening of the recently fixed tombs;
- Past restoration activities to re-laid some tesserae had not been done in appropriate way and did not respect the original pattern of the decoration;
- An ancient fire left black residues over the surface;
- There are rust residues, due to the oxidization of some iron material left over the surface;
- There are black spots of light concretions and dust;
- Someone have used a grinder or other cutting equipment in the site without taking care of the mosaic, and left scratches over the surface;
- Some tesserae, especially the black one, were affected by decay and pitting because of their composition;
- Some depressions were due to the general weakness of the original mortar used to lay the mosaic and by the collapse of heavy materials over the surface;
- There were two kind of swellings: big ones where tesserae were completely detached from the bedding layer and small ones, inside the mortar, shaped as cells;
- There were some loose tesserae, detached from the bedding layer.
The mosaic was suffering from many problems. We started the work collecting and studying the photographic documentation and the state of conservation prepared in a previous activity carried out by the Palestinian team in 2002.
Then we proceeded as follows:
- Trainees made a test to check how to remove the layer of white cement from the surface. They used hammer, chisel and scalpel. Another test was carried out to check how to remove the wax layer both mechanically than chemically, by scalpel and paint remover. The test was positive in both cases;
- The pavement was then divided in squares, to control the different working areas. The mosaic was washed by water, and then the white cement started to be removed in mechanical way by hammer and chisel. This action was very difficult and slow. The cement was hard and the tesserae were weak, so the work had to be done carefully, taking care not to damage the tesserae. Trainees put a lot of time and patience to carry out the intervention, especially in the western part of the mosaic;
- The parts of the mosaic which were restored in the past, by repositioning tesserae in casual way and by black cement, were removed. The original tesserae and the lacunae were completely cleaned from cement and the original bedding layer was consolidated by water and Primal AC33 at 7%;
- The tesserae were re-laid in the right position by mortar based on lime;
- To fix the bedding layer under the tesserae, consolidation works were carried out by injection or by grouting, using Primal AC33 and water at 7-10%. The entire surface was cleaned to wash out all the chemical residues;
- Consolidation works were carried out over the surface in two ways: the first with water and Primal AC33 and the second adding mortar composed by lime, stone powder and marble powder at 1:1:1. The mortar was liquid and inserted into the mosaic by injection.
To do the injection a small hole was drilled in the pavement (max 3 mm.), at the center of the swelling. The swelling was cleaned by injecting water into the hole to remove all dirt. The swelling was then watered by water and Primal AC33 at 7% and, if it was big enough, liquid mortar was injected inside, to fill it completely;
- All intervention was documented on maps.
Restoration works were not completed over the entire mosaic, in particular the removal of the white cement layer was partial. The mosaic was suffering many problems and the training course did not last enough to face all of them.
Anyhow a huge amount was done and we hope, now that the state of conservation analysis is completed and that the kind of needed intervention is defined, to have next year the opportunity to complete the restoration.
Bilad Al Sham II Training Course in ancient mosaics restoration
Since 2000 the Palestinian Mosaic Workshop and the Madaba Mosaic School have carried out, during the summer, joint training courses on mosaic restoration. Since the beginning the experience was very successful and in 2002 Palestinian and Jordanian trainees were joined by Syrian and Lebanese students. Based on these previous courses, the Bilad Al-Sham project is organizing, since the summer of 2003, training courses for experts in ancient mosaic restoration.
In 2005 fifteen trainees, coming from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, attended a two-months training course held in Suwaydah (Syria) and Madaba (Jordan). Palestinian trainees continued their training in one-month course in Jericho (Palestinian Autonomous Areas).
Prepared and managed by the Jordanian and Syrian Department of Antiquities, by the Palestinian Mosaic Workshop Committee for the Promotion of Tourism in the Governorate of Jericho and the Madaba Mosaic School, the project has been technically and financially supported by the Italian NGO CISS, the European Commission Technical Assistance Office for West Bank and Gaza Strip and by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.
1. To train and update local specialised staff in preservation and maintenance of local cultural resources.
2. To preserve important archaeological remains and safe them by abandon and neglect, thanks to the practical experiences of restoration during the training process.
3. To enhance the huge cultural heritage in mosaics of Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic period of the area, focusing on its variety and diversity.
4. To spread awareness among local population and in Europe about the importance of local cultural heritage and its preservation.
5. To exchange cultural experiences and knowledge between Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
The project included a three-months training course on ancient mosaic restoration and activities of awareness on the importance of preserving cultural heritage.
The training course was structured in four parts: on-the-job training through restoration activities, theory, education site visits and documentation.
Restoration work was an integral part of the training program. The staff and the trainees projected, carried out and documented all the activities of the intervention, which was conducted in Jordan in the Church of Saint George in Khirbet Al Mukhayyat and in the Church of Saint Stephen in Umm Al-Rasas; in Syria on detached mosaics from Aphamea and on the mosaics of the Archaeological Museum of Suwaydah and in Palestine in the Coptic Church of St. Andrew in Jericho.
Theory lectures were also organized in Jordan and Syria. A special section of the training course was dedicated to the importance of documentation in the preservation of cultural heritage.
Educational visits were carried out to enjoy the rich cultural diversity of the area. The results of the training were presented at a Conference in Madaba (Jordan), organized by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and through an exhibition of posters in Sicily (Italy), organized by CISS.
Staff and Trainees
The Jordanian Department of Antiquities, directed by Dr. Fawwaz Al-Kraysheh, participated in the project through the director of the Madaba Mosaic School, Ms. Catherine Hamarne.
The Syrian General Department of Antiquities and Museum, directed then by Dr. Tammam Fakouch and now by Dr. Basam Jamous, participated through Dr. Tagrid Shaaban, Ms. Loda Mahfudh and Dr.Amro Al Adem.
Architect Osama Hamdan, of the Palestinian Mosaic Workshop Committee for the Promotion of Tourism in the Governorate of Jericho, directed the project, under the scientific supervision of Father Michele Piccirillo of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Ms. Carla Benelli, of the Italian Ngo CISS, coordinated the project. The mosaic expert, Mr. Franco Sciorilli, monitored the training and restoration activities. Arch. Suzan Matar followed the training in documentation.
The trainees were: Mr. Yousef Abu Farda, Mr. Mohammad Freij, Mr. Hazem Kanaan and Ms. Samaher Khamis from Jordan; Mr. Hasan Badawi as coordinator, Mr. Hussein Badawi and Mr. Kaisar Mekdad from Lebanon; Ms. Nawal Jarira, Mr. Maher Aljbai and Ms. Leila Al Turk from Syria; Ms. Fardos Al Haj, Ms. Khulud Attili, Mr. Mohammad Hamdan, Mr. Nader Haji and Mr. Raed Al Khalil from Palestine.
Mosaic of Bilad Al-Sham - Exhibition 2004