A team of architects from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and Yale University is set to rebuild and design the 2,000-year-old Gesher bridge compound, which is to serve as the southern entry point for the future Jordan River Peace Park.
Since 2006, regional environmental organization Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) has been working with the area’s stakeholders on creating a transboundary Jordan River Peace Park.
With a goal of eventually becoming accessible to visitors from both sides of the river without requiring visas, the 800-hectare park would stretch from Gesher in the south and Road 90 on the Israeli side from the west, to Shounah and Bakoura on the Jordanian side to the east and slightly past the Yarmuk River in the north.
The park would house the already existing “Peace Island,” Jordanian territory at the junction of the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers, where land is leased to Israeli farmers from Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov.
“At this time when the peace negotiations have seemly been put on hold it’s more important than ever to build spaces and opportunities to meet and interact with our neighbors,” said David Guggenheim, an architecture professor at Bezalel Academy’s architecture department. “The extensive area of the proposed Jordan River Peace Park offers a rich landscape to explore our region’s shared cultural and natural heritage.”
In January 2007, the mayor of Muaz bin Jabal in Jordan and the mayors of the Beit She’an Valley Regional Council and the Jordan Valley Regional Council in Israel signed a memorandum of understanding toward creating the Peace Park. However, the plans have yet to receive necessary approvals on a national level.
The compound contains three bridges that span the Jordan River from the Roman, Ottoman and British periods.
The Roman bridge, erected more than 2,000 years ago, connected three of the Roman and Greek cities of the period: Beit She’an (Scythopolis), Pella and Gadara (Umm Qais). During the Ottoman Empire, the site became home to a rail bridge connecting Haifa and Damascus, while the British Mandate authorities added a third bridge to allow road travel from Tiberias to Damascus.
In addition to the bridges, the compound features a 14th century inn from the Mamluk period, which served as a place of rest for merchants and travelers crossing the river.
Under the framework of the “Promoting Dialogue and Cultural Understanding of our Shared Heritage” EU and Norwegian- sponsored regional program, a design workshop took place in November 2008 to specifically address the needs of the Gesher compound, FoEME explained.
As a result of the workshops, cultural and natural heritage experts, architects and designers have been strategizing since as to how to properly restore the historic site, said FoEME.
A diverse team of experts from Bezalel, the Yale University Urban Design Workshop, FoEME and other outlets are set to work together to redesign the site.
“We’re very excited to be back on the ground in the area of the proposed Jordan River Peace Park to work with our colleagues from FoEME and Bezalel on this important project,” said Prof. Alan Plattus from the Yale School of Architecture and Yale Urban Design Workshop. “We hope to be able to build on the good work that has already been done and we look forward to seeing some of the exciting new developments come to life in the not-so-distant future.”
Gidon Bromberg, the director of FoEME in Israel, echoed the enthusiasm of his Bezalel and Yale colleagues, stressing that the team aims to move forward with both sides of the historic bridges in a parallel manner.
“The further development of the Gesher site speaks to the economic opportunities from tourism that the local communities well understand,” he said.
The Jordanians are already prepared to undertake the investments necessary to declare their portion of the territory in the Bakoura national park, Bromberg explained.
“FoEME studies reveal, however, that only when the two areas are united into a single Peace Park will the full potential of the site be realized to what the Jordanians have labeled to be the ‘Petra of the north,’” he added.