“Did you plant your Qasayel (garden)?” One would ask his friend, “did you water it?” “Yes.” “Did you sit with it?“ “No.” “Then how will it bloom?!” said Saleh Abu Taweleh, a journalist and researcher of Ma'an.

The Qasayel gardens are a secret treasure that most Jordanians aren’t aware of, but to many Ma’anis like Abu Taweleh, the gardens of the now deserted Qasayel were a piece of heaven on earth that has to be nurtured and cherished.

“People thought the more time you spend in it, the better the harvest. The gardens are souls that needed company and attention,” The 50-year-old Abu Taweleh mused with nostalgia. Qasayel is one of many names for Ma’an’s extraordinary gardens that are surrounded by mud-brick walls. They are unique as no other place in Jordan has this architectural style.

Ma’an, a town 197 kilometers south of the capital was home to the Nabataeans, who ruled and were in control of important trade routes on a north-south axis. Added to that, they were master craftsmen who built the city of Petra.

Qasayel caught the interest of Ammar Kammash, one of Jordan’s most noted architects, for their uniqueness and their “magical mud”. In the 80s, when he came back to Jordan to explore its natural and architectural environment and how they intertwined.

The mudbricks of Qasayel don’t produce carbon dioxide emissions or pollute the atmosphere with smoke. Unlike cement which burns and consumes a lot of energy, it destroys the atmosphere and is resilient to the passage of time, according to Khammash.

Qasayel thrived because corridors of pilgrims on their way to Mecca would stay overnight or for a few nights to take a break. Ma’anis grew and dried fruits to sell to them. They were a source of livelihood. Moreover, mudbrick was the most suitable construction material back then, clay is plentiful and stones are too round to pile safely as walls. One more advantage is that, unlike modern-day cement which is damaging to the skin, mud is hand-friendly, and the whole family can participate in making their home, Khammash said.

For old Ma’anis Qasayel was a place where they made happy memories. “Qasayel was the place where we gathered, played, and picked fruits as kids. The best fruits were the ones in Shami Ma’an Qasayel.” Abu Taweleh a Ma’ani researcher recalls.

The Qasayel gardens were built where water lay beneath the surface of the land. If they dig a meter or two it pours out. The journey of water begins at the Shara Mountains from western Ma’an, till Shoubak and Tafileh these mountains are higher than Ma’an. Thus, the water flows towards it, bringing layers of rock and at times flooding Ma’an, Khammash said.

It is humid and cool, making Qasayel a comfortable shelter from the simmering heat of summer days. Mud also provides the best insulation, surpassing any of the modern concrete substitutes, making Qasayel warmer in winter when occasional frosts may occur. Khammash added.

But the state of Jordan evolved to modernity, in the sense of focusing on cities and urban life. It started altering lives, affecting centuries-old habitats. In the late 1960s, the economy started moving away from agriculture, people sought government jobs, and some enrolled in the army.

Moreover, pilgrims started traveling by car, and sometimes they did not even stop in the city. It became impossible for a family to rely on agriculture for income. Making mud bricks took time and effort. People didn’t have time to keep maintaining the mud and cement gave them a solution since it doesn't need maintenance. Mixing and pressing bricks required extensive labor and time, while cement blending machines could be operated by one worker, saving time and money.

“It is possible to use modern technology to improve mud-bricks. We can have a branch of one of the Jordanian universities in a Qasayel. There must be a university that specializes in clay as research, which means that the clay enters the laboratory and experiments are carried out on it.”

Currently, there is no official direction to declare Qasayel a protected area or a historical area yet. However, given care and attention mud buildings can thrive again, Khammash added.